As a missionary for the past 23 years I am very familiar with the ‘Unfinished Task’ or ‘Task Remaining’ in relation to Jesus’ Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28. For most people, this almost always refers to the task of taking the gospel to all unreached people groups, the least reached, and those residing in the ’10/40′ Window’.
This was what lit my fire in the early 1990’s as Michelle and I sought to pursue a ‘missionary call’. At the time there was the added fervour of the AD2000 Movement whose rallying cry was: ‘The gospel for every person and a church for every people by the year 2000‘. Our desire to take the gospel to those who had never heard about Jesus led to us taking some radical steps. We sold everything and moved with our three young children to China! Now, more than two decades later and with a lot of other places, adventures and challenges under the bridge, Michelle and I are still living our lives related to this ‘Unfinished Task’, this time without our grown-up children, and in a completely different part of the world on the edge of the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona.
However, while this understanding of ‘the Task’ is still something contained within my heartbeat, over the years it has grown to encompass more than just reaching people with the good news. As already stated, the Unfinished Task that motivates most missionaries and many other Christians is largely centred on ‘soul winning’ and evangelism. The thinking is that once every Unreached People Group (UPG) has been ‘reached’ with the gospel, the task given by Jesus – the Great Commission – will be completed and He will be able to return to planet Earth. With over 2 billion people still considered ‘unreached’, on this basis there is still a long way to go.
Allow me to put down an important marker here. Going into all the world (every PLACE) and communicating the good news of the gospel to every person (all PEOPLES) are vital components of the Great Commission. However, if we stop there I believe we will fall short on what Jesus commissioned His disciples to do.
What I’ve discovered from not only a close reading of Matthew 28:18-20, but also from gaining a clearer understanding of the BIG picture of the whole biblical narrative, is that the gospel we have been entrusted with is not just a ‘gospel of salvation’ for the individual. It is the gospel of the Kingdom which impacts the whole of life and all of creation. It is the good news that God through Jesus Christ has become King who has ushered in a whole new world (a new creation), which we are to share and advance on Earth, as it is in Heaven. With this understanding our focus shifts from trying to escape Earth in order to go to Heaven (with as many other people as we can win for Jesus), to helping to bring God’s Kingdom purposes and the rule of Heaven down to Earth!
But how is this to come about if so many Christians believe things are going to get so dark that the Light of the World (in us) will not be able to overcome it? How will the gospel of the Kingdom be advanced if the Church (ekklesia) is focused on such pessimistic, fatalistic, and escapist end-times theology? Why should we bother with seeking God’s will and intentions for all that He has created if, as soon as Jesus appears, He will rapture us away and then light a divine match to destroy this rotten old Earth?
If we are to join God in His eternal purpose to make Earth a colony of Heaven, it is time such theology is Left Behind. It is time that the Church embraces all 3 dimensions of Christ’s commission – Places, Peoples, and Spheres of Society. The failure to also ‘disciple nations’ has been a fundamental omission of western evangelicalism, which for decades has focused on ‘winning souls’ and ‘planting churches’ without also engaging in Kingdom Mission (see https://catalystmin.org/resources/). We have mistakenly made the gospel we preach exclusively about adding people to the Church while ignoring to disciple our cities, states, and nations. We have done this to our peril. Thankfully God is stirring some of His people to wake up and recognize the results of our folly.
The famous reformer, Martin Luther, is attributed to saying, “If the gospel does not address the issues of the day, then it is no gospel at all.” These words have appeared prominently on our ‘home page’ for years because they represent a vital truth. One that the Church needs to embrace fully if it is to the agent of the Kingdom that Jesus had in mind. And if the task He set before us is not going to remain an unfinished one.