Missions, As Jesus Sees It
by Rick Mortimer
Churches in this day and age are facing a situation that is unique in all of the history of America, for sure, and perhaps even since the beginning of Christianity.
It used to be very clear what the mission of the church was. According to Scripture, the Church was to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I (Jesus) have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The making of disciples necessitated that ALL BELIEVERS would “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Of all the acts of prewaching, teaching, healing, and kindness that Jesus performed while with the Twelve, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
The mission was clear: minister to people’s physical needs through things like healing, feeding, clothing, and giving shelter, AND minister to the spiritual need by prayer, and telling them of God’s love and Jesus’ atoning, sacrificial death which makes forgiveness & eternal life possible.
Ever since the first century, the Church has been the welfare agency. The Church has been the unemployment office. It has been the food pantry, the homeless shelter, the orphanage, the old folk’s home. It has done these things because of Jesus’ love & compassion flowing through the lives of the believers who minister there. It was the Church that started hospitals. It was the Church that established children’s homes. It was the Church that kept literacy alive and encouraged the common people to learn to read and write. And it has all been done with an eye toward strengthening believers in their faith, as well as bringing those who have not believed in Jesus to a point where they do trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior. This has been the distinctive mark of the Church’s mission for at least 1800 years.
However, the last 200 years has seen a development that has confused the matter greatly. The reasons are many, and frequently each case is slightly different. But suffice it to say that what we see these days are a great many institutions and agencies (especially in the US) that are doing the work of feeding, sheltering, giving job skills, etc., etc., that have minimal, if not any whatsoever, connection or contact with the Church. If anything, these institutions and agencies will accept donations from churches. But all too often they have nothing to do with, or in fact are expressly forbidden, to have any expression or encouragement of any particular religion. Yet thousands of churches and Christians continue to support these institutions and agencies because they believe that the work of the Church is being done, as if the feeding of a hungry child, or finding a place to stay for a homeless family was completely fulfilling the mission Jesus intended the Church to do.
As wonderful and as physically necessary all these works are, Jesus said one more very important thing in regards to all of this. He said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). If all any agency or institution does is meet someone’s physical needs, that is only PART of what Jesus wants us to do. Sadly, many CHURCH institutions and agencies effectively minister to the physical needs of people, and do nothing to strengthen faith or bring those that do not believe to a saving knowledge of Christ. If they fail to do this, they are missing the distinctive mark of the original mission and purpose of the Church.
Christ For India has the joy of seeking to live out the original mission and distinctive mark of the Christian Church. In our mission efforts, we have chosen to be distinctively Christian in outlook and activity in the midst of a prevailing Hindu society. That is to say, we minister to the physical AND spiritual needs of people to accomplish what Jesus directed to make disciples of all nations, to do works of healing and compassion, bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ, so that souls are not lost but are saved for eternal life.
One way that a local pastor and congregation can recover the sense of original mission is to visit a solid mission project. We love to host teams and individuals on our campus in India in order that they might see first-hand the passion for souls that marked the original church. When you experience such “lay-it-on-the-line” dedication to Jesus, pastor and people alike go home with a much higher burden for mission work—even if it is to the folks right next door.
[Dr. Rick Mortimer has 33 years of pastoral experience in four Midwestern congregations. He is also Director of Development for Christ For India missions. You may contact Rick at rickmortimer.org or through Christ For India at https://christforindia.org ]