Ed Stetzer: Connecting Students to God’s Mission

Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer (Facebook)

When we begin talking about mission, many people think of mission trips. That's not a bad thing. One of my most formative experiences was a youth mission trip among the poor in Prestonburg, Kentucky.

Mission trips can be helpful to us in considering the mission of God and potentially can lead students to think more deeply about their roles in the mission. However, mission (not plural) is bigger than trips, but not so big that students cannot understand it or be involved. If students can learn algebra at school, they can learn theology at church. If they are learning theology but not putting it into practice, we are failing them. Maybe we haven't challenged our students enough in terms of missional living.

Mission (not plural) is bigger than trips.

To help them understand mission and put it into practice, we need to consider what the mission is, how we might point students toward it, how they can begin being involved right now, and how we can prepare them for an entire life on mission.

What Is Mission?

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Definitions matter when we talk about mission (I'll have a more extensive blog post on this subject on Monday). If we want students to be involved in something, we have to know what mission actually is.

God is a missionary God. As believers, we need to understand what God desires and what He is doing for His purposes in the world. Then we see how Jesus engaged in and called us to that mission—and we join Jesus in His mission. The obvious question is: How can we engage students in the privilege of joining Him in that mission? First, we have to help them see the two aspects of it.

God is a missionary God.

The mission includes gospel proclamation—sharing the good news of the gospel through many means, including cross-cultural missionaries, outreach campaigns, church evangelism, student events, one-on-one gospel sharing, and many other possibilities. It also includes gospel demonstration, where we demonstrate the implications of the gospel lived out in our lives by caring for the poor, the hurting, the marginalized and more.

As Christians, we are sent out with these two facets of mission because that is how the Father sent Jesus (John 20:21). More than 40 times, Jesus indicated the Father had sent Him. Then near the end of the Gospel of John, at the culmination of Jesus' earthly ministry, He says, "Oh, that stuff I've been talking about how I've been sent? Now I'm sending you" (my paraphrase).

So, How Was Jesus Sent?

Two passages in Luke may help us from the two big categories of how we are sent by Jesus into the world. Now certainly these are not the only categories, but they can help us better understand all the others.

Jesus Came to Serve the Hurting

In Luke 4, Jesus announces and inaugurates His public ministry by saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." In this, He identifies His mission with the Old Testament reference to the great and wonderful day of the Lord, particularly contained in the Book of Isaiah.

Jesus came to bring freedom for captives, sight to the blind and minister to the hurting. Simply put, Jesus came serving. If we're going to join Jesus on His mission, as John 20:21 tells us, we are going to serve the hurting.

Jesus Came to Save the Lost

Yet Luke 4 is not the only (or primary) place Jesus articulated His ministry. In Luke 19:10, Jesus clearly said He came to share the good news. He said, "I have come to seek and save the lost." Jesus came serving, but He also came saving.

This means much more than simply praying a prayer and being saved. Yet the promise that Paul later would write in the Book of Romans, "Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (v. 10:13), reminds us that, before Christ, men and women are dead in their trespasses and sins, but having heard the good news of the gospel, they can by grace and through faith receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus came bringing that message, that saving message, to a lost and hurting world.

Perhaps the easiest way to sum it up is this: Our mission is Jesus' mission. We join Jesus on His mission—what He modeled and what He sent us to do—in our case, showing and sharing the love of Jesus. How do we get students involved in that?

Later this week, we'll look at how this practically applies to how we lead students in living on mission.

Ed Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit edstetzer.com.

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