Teaching cannot properly be considered “gospel-centered” unless it has a missionary shape to it. Unless the truths of God’s Word are leading us to mission, we are just studying the gospel as a closed group of like-minded Christians, not an all-embracing group of fervent ambassadors for King Jesus. Miss the mission, and you’ve missed the point of gospel-centrality.
There is no true gospel-centeredness that does not lead to mission, because the gospel is the story of a God with a missionary heart, a Father who desires that all come to repentance, a Shepherd who seeks and saves the one lost sheep. The purpose of God’s Word is to reveal God and His plan to us, in order that we might then be empowered to fulfill His Great Commission. God’s plan is that people from every tongue, tribe, and nation would bring Him glory. When we study the Bible, we ought to see it in light of its purpose—to equip us to be God’s missionaries in our communities and around the world.
The more we grow in our faith and become like Jesus, the more the heart of Jesus should be evident in our own lives. What greater evidence is there of a Christlike heart than passion for God’s mission? What greater evidence is there that the truth of the gospel has soaked into someone’s life than seeing passion for the lost overflow through our witness? The gospel-centered believer will take on the role of a servant, just as Jesus served us through His life, death, and resurrection. We serve our neighbors out of love, doing good to those around us, showing the love of Christ, and sharing the good news of salvation.
Mission mirrors God. We show others who God is and what He is like by the way we live. It’s not enough to talk about the gospel in our groups. We need to recognize that the Bible intends to reorient our lives around God’s mission and equip us to join Him in the work He is doing.
Ask the “How does this lead to mission?” question in order to give your lessons a missional orientation.
The “mission” question is necessary is because it reminds us of the integral connection between the gospel and mission. When properly understood, the gospel is the basis for mission. We celebrate the gospel as people consumed by the gospel. The goal is that our celebration of the gospel will result in greater and wider circles of people who hear the good news and join the mission.
A pastor recently asked me about the missional strategy behind The Gospel Project curriculum. “We’ve got people in small groups who study the Scriptures but aren’t involved in reaching out to their community with the gospel,” he said. “How can I get them motivated?”
In response, I mentioned how our natural tendency as church leaders is to reinforce the commands related to our mission, to tell people again and again what they should be doing. We think, If they aren’t reaching out to represent and proclaim Christ, they must not know what to do.
But is this really the case? In my experience, the problem isn’t that we’ve forgotten our responsibility to love our neighbor and share the gospel. The problem is that even when we know what our duty is, we still don’t do it. The problem is deeper. It’s a want-to problem, not an I-don’tknow problem.
That’s why I’m convinced that focusing most of your teaching on our missional duty isn’t the best way to motivate people to serve Christ long-term. It may result in some initial fruit, but it doesn’t effect the heart-change necessary for long-lasting obedience. An army of begrudging, guilt-ridden evangelists “doing their duty” is not likely to attract many converts. The goal is to see a delight-filled group of Christians overflowing with love for God and neighbor who can’t help but speak of the One who loved them and gave Himself for them.
So what to do? It’s pretty simple, actually. Exalt God. Magnify His holiness. Praise His greatness. Exult in His grace. Don’t spend all your time thinking of creative ways to get across the command of evangelism and missions (though there is a time and place for such thinking). Instead, spend your time exalting the God of mission, trusting that an awe-inspiring vision of His majesty will set your people’s feet on the right course.
Set the magnificent, majestic God of the Bible before your people week after week, and pray that they will encounter Him for who He is.
Adapted from Gospel-Centered Teaching (B&H Publishing Group, 2013)