Have you ever asked “what is missions?” or more poignantly “what is the goal of missions?” If not, you are in good company. Well, at least abundant company. Many Christians have never really thought about what missions is and what the ultimate goal of missions should be. Sure we all know that it is about going and serving God in the jungle of Africa or something. We may hear reports or read letters about schools, wells, and hospitals our missionaries are building. And of course we should know that the goal is to convert people to Christianity, right? What if I told you that God’s word declares that missions has to be much more than that?
John Piper says it best in the first few sentences in his go-to book on missions, Let the Nations be Glad: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.” You see, if our goal in missions is only to save lost sinners we are missing the bigger picture. Because God is infinitely holy and righteous He is justifiably much more interested in His own glory than He is in anything else. And although all creation proclaims the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), mankind (being made in the image of God) was specially designed to worship Him in a way that the rest of the cosmos cannot. Therefore, the purpose of the global Church of Christ ought to be bringing glory and honor to God through worshipers of Him.
From creation all the way through the redemptive story of the Bible, we find that God works unilaterally and through His chosen people to proclaim His glory among every tribe, tongue, and nation. Although all Christians are called to share their faith and evangelize people around them to grow the church where they are, it is clear that God has commanded the Church to “go make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, emphasis mine). We also know from Revelation 7:9 that every tribe, tongue, and nation will be worshiping God in heaven. God gets the most glory when He is worshiped by the most diverse collection of cultures and peoples from every corner of the globe. Jesus, in Matthew 24:14, clearly states that the gospel must be preached to all peoples for the end to come.
So, what about the work of missions? The emphasis must be on sending missionaries to every tribe, tongue, and nation for evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. That is what Paul and the early church did (Acts 13-14) and it is what Christ commanded all Christians to be a part of in the Great Commission. Therefore, if building hospitals, schools, orphanages, and wells is a means to the proclamation and advancement of the gospel to the tribes, tongues, and nations, it is, by definition, missions. If it is not, then it is charitable and compassionate work that may be quite needed but is not missions.