The Old Testament Template Book: Chapter 3

We’ve Lost Our Mission

“For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”
Luke 14:29-30

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:4

A friend taught me the very important lesson, when given a new job to do, of always asking, “What does a job well done look like?” You cannot possibly do well what you do not understand. If the church is to do what Christ has left us here to do, we must know what our job is and what it’s to look like when we have finished.

Towards the end of His life Jesus prayed this prayer, “(Father,) I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”His Father had sent Him into time and space to accomplish specific objectives. He knew what they were, and He completed them. The entire work of reaching the world was not accomplished at his death, but Jesus understood that He was not sent to do everything. Much of the Father’s mission would be carried on and completed by the church He would leave behind. But, for the time being, His specific role as Son and Messiah was complete.

After nearly thirty years in missions, I marvel at this text. So often as Christian workers we do not even know what our job is. If something needs to be done, it must be our responsibility to do it. I don’t remember ever hearing a minister say, “I completed my work.” Jesus, however, did not think that everything was His responsibility. He knew what the Father had sent Him to do, and He knew when he had completed it. We can learn much from this in our own lives and callings. Do you know what God has called you to do?

Another thing that strikes me from this text is that the Father was glorified by Jesus finishing His job. When I am introduced as a speaker, my hosts often string together a long list of accomplishments from my life. They are trying to give the audience a point of reference and reasons why they might want to listen to me. While that is much appreciated, it is so important that I not become impressed with my own P.R. God is not looking at the past; He is looking at the finish. He is challenging me to not only begin well, but to finish well. Then, and only then, will He be glorified in my life and through my work for Him. On a personal level, these are sobering challenges and good questions to raise in prayer on a regular basis. Are you doing what God called you to do? Will you finish it?

What Is “The Work” Of The Church?
Beyond this personal lesson, we can also apply these questions to the institution of the church. What is the work of the church? How do we know if we have finished it? How do we evaluate and measure a generation’s obedience as the body of Christ? What are our specific goals and how do we develop strategies and evaluate their value? Answering these questions is key to transforming a huge church into an influential church in the 21st Century. Historically, some have said our work is to get people saved and to build the church globally. Others have said we are to be more concerned with man’s material needs such as food, shelter, and protection. But what does God say? What does the Bible teach as the mandate for our existence on this planet? If we know what God’s Word says, we can build our future on solid foundations.

The Golden Thread Of Purpose: Reach and Teach
At the end of His life on earth Jesus gives instructions to His disciples. This is their record of what He said:

Matthew 28:18-19
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Mark 16:15
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

Luke 24:45-47
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Many have reduced these objectives to two simple mandates saying that Christ has called us to “reach every creature” and to “disciple all nations.” This would fit with what seems to be God’s emphasis throughout the Bible for man’s very existence.

There is a continuity from Adam to Christ… a golden thread of purpose for our existence. To Adam and Eve, male and female, God speaks these words:

Genesis 1:28
God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

To Abraham and his descendants God spoke time and again, saying things like this:

Genesis 22:17-18
I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.

It seems clear that this multiplying and blessing emphasis, the quantitative and qualitative approach, are in God’s purpose and plan for man from His creation. We are here to fill the earth and steward it to God’s glory. This purposed statement did not disappear or dissipate with the fall of man and the coming of sin, although sin would now have to be dealt with.

We can look at the work of the church in two dimensions – the breadth aspect of reaching every creature, and the depth aspect of blessing and discipling all nations. Of these two areas, we have understood the growth dimension of our job really well in the last two centuries.

The Quantitative Task: Reaching Every Creature
The quantitative task of the church can be measured, mapped, and graphed. This has been, perhaps, the most exciting century in church history for globally measuring and targeting the unreached. We have amazing amounts of information to help us evaluate our job of reaching. Whole organizations have been formed in the last 30 years solely committed to tracking and documenting how we are doing as a generation of Christians in fulfilling our mandate to reach every person on earth with the Gospel.

We know that there are more than six billion people on the planet today. We know that more than ninety percent of those who have never heard the Gospel live in what missions call the 10/40 window. This window lies between the 10th and the 40th latitude from West Africa across all of Asia. Within this window lies most of the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucian world. We know that fewer than five percent of the world’s Christian missionaries work inside of that 10/40 window and the remaining ninety-five percent or more work where less than ten percent have never heard the claims of Christ. This gives us a very clear picture of where we are to pour our energies if we are going to complete the task of reaching every creature in our generation.

In addition to our awareness of the population and geographic challenges of this task, we know today that some 11,000 languages in the world still have no witness of Jesus. We know which of these groups have already been targeted by translation ministries and how long it will take them to be reached. Computers, language, and mapping programs have made this an exciting area of research giving meaningful tools to workers in the field. All of it helps us to evaluate the job the church needs to accomplish and the strategies needed to do it.

We can compare the job of reaching every creature today with the job for the first generation church. We know that in Paul’s day approximately one church existed for every 400 or more people groups that needed to be reached with the gospel. Today more than 400 churches exist for each unreached tribe. In the first generation church, one Christian believed we were to reach the world for every seven who needed to hear. Today there are seven Christians for every person who has never heard the Gospel. Yes, more people live on the planet today than in all prior human history, but more Christians and more churches are trying to reach them than at any point in human history. The quantitative task of “reaching every creature” in this generation is advancing. We can be proud of the church’s commitment to this in our age. The work must continue and increase, of course. Our job is to finish, to reach every creature, if God is to be glorified in our generation.

But what about teaching, blessing, discipling all nations? What does this job mean and are we doing it?

The Qualitative Task: Discipling All Nations
Along with telling the disciples to reach every creature, Jesus, at the end of His life, re-emphasized man’s second mandate. He tells them to  “make disciples of all nations.” God’s destiny for man, for Israel, for nations, and finally for the church was never size alone. He was concerned with our quality of life. If reaching individuals is the quantitative task, then discipling them and their communities is the qualitative work of teaching and applying truth to life-producing growth and maturity.

What does it mean to disciple a nation? What does a discipled nation look like? These are difficult questions, difficult because qualitative evaluations are harder to make. When is a person mature? When is an act great? How do you determine when an economy is developed? What is poor? What makes a painting good? These questions are even harder in this age because for the last one to two hundred years we have been focusing almost solely on the quantitative growth of the church. The result is that we have perhaps the largest church in history – and the shallowest.

We may not know what it means to disciple a nation, but surely we know what it does not mean. When we look at Dallas, Texas or Malawi or Rwanda or any other Christianized community or country today are we willing to say, “This is what it looks like when we are finished”? Is this God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? Surely not!

If we are to glorify the Father in our generation we must know what our job is, and do it. We are reaching the unreached, but those reached individuals, communities, and nations are living in unacceptable conditions. Dr. George Kinoti of Kenya says, “The wretchedness of the African people dishonors their Creator. Therefore, every Christian has a moral responsibility to do his or her very best to correct the situation.”2

It is not enough to reach the unreached. It is not enough to plant churches amongst those who have no churches. We are to disciple individuals, and through them, disciple their communities and nations. If we do not, we are not fulfilling the purpose for which we were created and given eternal life. Moreover, if we do not disciple the nations, God is not glorified in our generation. He is glorified when we finish the work He has left for us to do. Saving souls and planting churches is a beginning. But the quality of those churches and the impact of the lives of the believers on their communities is the litmus test of the quality of our work for Christ. Right now we are failing to do our job well. Christian pollster George Barna finds there is “no significant difference” between the behavior of people in the United States who call themselves born-again Christian and those who do not make that claim. Muslim evangelists in Africa ask, “What does Christianity do for the people?” The answer today is nothing. Nothing changes. The churches get bigger. More and more people get saved. But nothing changes. They are still poor, diseased, uneducated, and left in political and economic chaos.

We must grieve, weep, and mourn this state of affairs in the church today, as Nehemiah did over the condition of Jerusalem.3 We need to fast and pray because the body of Christ and our communities world-wide are in “great trouble and disgrace.” We need to rise up, put on the mind of Christ, and become all He intended the church to be.

The question is, “How do we do that?”

1. John 17:4

2. Kinoti, Ibid

3. Nehemiah 1:3-4