The Great Commission that Jesus gave to His disciples is often quoted when discussing world missions. Jesus sends His disciples out to make more disciples,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)
I remember sitting in a seminary class and the professor began talking to us about the Greek and the idea that the word ‘Go’ in the Great Commission could really be read, “As you go,” or “While you are going.” This opened my eyes to an understanding that Jesus command doesn’t only apply to world missions, but to living our lives as missionaries. As we go, we make disciples.
This is an eye opening truth that brings some meaning and purpose to those of us who reside in the security of suburbia. This is not written as an opinionated diatribe towards those who live in the suburbs. I live in and minister to people of the suburbs. It’s a reminder that all peoples matter to God, and that you don’t have to go to obscure lands to make disciples. To be honest, if you are not an effective missionary where you are, as you go, then what makes you think you have any authority serving as a missionary elsewhere?
To serve as a missionary in a suburban context has several inherent complications. People in suburbia enjoy their individuality and privacy. They are busy and often living beyond their means. We need to realize that we have a mission at hand, not in a far off land, but down our street, in our schools, in the stores and restaurants we patronize. There are people all around us who are separated from God and need to know and love Jesus.
I often receive questions on how to be a missionary in a suburban context. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we consider our calling to make disciples as we go:
1. People Matter to God: This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s good to remember that God has sent us into the world as His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) to bring the message of reconciliation. We are not sent to only reach those like us, but to minister to all whom we come in contact with.
2. Places of Impact: We are creatures of habit. We all have places that we frequently go to eat, shop, and play. Remember, the people who work in these places are often dismissed, but this is a great place to start building intentional relationships. Not only is it important to minister to them, but also they can connect us with other regulars.
3. Go Out in Pairs: The mission we are on is a communal mission and an individual one. We are not just inviting people to ‘church’, but calling people out of darkness into light, from death to life, from isolation to biblical community. Jesus sent His disciples 2-by-2, so we should be intentional about being on mission together. Examples of this include BBQ’s, play dates, library activities with kids, work out spots, etc.
4. The Golden Rule: Remember what it was like to be lost? If not, then you should begin there. Isolation from God may give the appearance of freedom, but ultimately leads to death. We need to do for others what we would hope they would do for us, especially when it comes to sharing spiritual truths.
5. People are NOT Projects: One of the most arrogant things we can do is to treat people as projects. People do not need to be ‘worked on’; they need to be loved on. What are ways that you can serve them, speak to them, and treat them that in a way that communicates your love for Jesus and your love for them?
6. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: We never know when God is going to regenerate a person. That’s not our business. What we are to be about is making disciples as we go. Befriending people, serving people, and pointing people to Jesus with our lives and our words. This could take years in some instances. Perhaps it is just as much about your sanctification as it is about their salvation.
7. Jesus Saves People / You Are the Mid-Wife: I’m often stunned how bad theology leads to ineffective evangelistic lifestyles. People get paralyzed when they believe that they are the one’s to save people. What I mean is, when people believe that it’s up to them to lead a person to the Lord, they get stuck with fear, or prideful with their ‘success.’ Keeping in mind that God is the sovereign King who is able to save even the hardest of people, should give us rest in His provision. Our calling is to be faithful to the Gospel, to share the faith, and to serve as midwives to those who are born again.
While these points are valid regardless of your context, it is important to note that while we are in a unique context living in suburbia, we are not relieved from the commission at hand. We must be faithful to present Jesus in our lives, words, families, and deeds. We live in a fallen world that is in great need of redemption and restoration. The question is whether you will make disicples as you go, or will you wait for other, more professional people, to do it for you? Let’s not fall into the suburban stereotype of outsourcing local missions, rather, let us invest into our communities, connect with our neighbors, and continually strive to be intentional about seeing lives transformed by Jesus.