Just before Jesus Christ returned to his Father he told his chosen apostles that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth [Acts 1:8].

Throughout Acts we see the Apostles engaged in this mission. The reports in Acts indicate that this engagement was very predominantly the preaching of the Gospel and only very, very minimally caring for the physical needs of unbelievers. It is also important to note that as Christ's 'witnesses' our commission is to bear witness to the truth about who he is and what he did. Except where Paul told his own personal story in the context of interrogation by various officials, there is very little evidence that the apostles were interested in sharing what we call 'personal testimony'. The Gospel is not the subjective truth about what Jesus did for me, but the objective truth about the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Revelation this is frequently called 'the word of God and the testimony of Jesus', and it is for preaching this objective content that the early Christians were imprisoned, exiled or martyred. This witness, this Gospel truth, is true, in the absolute sense, regardless of whether, or how, it has impacted us.

We read also that Saul was commissioned to be an apostle [one who is sent] to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17-18]. The purpose of this commission was to open people’s eyes, turning them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they would receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by Christ [Acts 26:17-18]. In line with this commission, the church in Antioch was instructed by the Holy Spirit to set aside Paul [nee Saul] and Barnabas and send them out on mission [Acts 13:4].

Paul’s engagement in the mission of Christ and his understanding of this mission is further understood from his letters:

Several times Paul refers to his commissioning [= being sent] by Christ as an apostle to preach the Gospel [Romans 11:13; 15:15-16; 1Corinthians 1:17; Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2Timothy 1:11], and he committed himself fervently to this [1Corinthians 9:19-23].

Romans 10:9-15 contains strong missional teaching, indicating the critical and essential role of preaching God’s truth, and of people being sent to preach God’s truth, if people are to be saved.

Paul understands and assumes that the church will communicate the word of God to unbelievers [Philippians 1:12 -18; 2:16 ; 1Thessalonians 1:8; 2Thessalonians 3:1]

Paul understands that God’s intention is that through the church his manifold wisdom will be made known to ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms’, giving the church a ‘missional’ dimension beyond the realms of this earth [Ephesians 3:10,11], and indicating that being ‘missional’ includes not just the activity of the church, but its very existence as the church. In fact the praise of God’s glory and grace is the purpose for which the church exists [Ephesians 1:6,12,14].

The lifestyle of believers is to glorify God [1Corinthians 10:31] and to generate the respect of outsiders [1Thessalonians 4:12].

We also read of Peter’s and James’ understanding of the missional role of the church:

The church’s purpose is ‘to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ [1Peter 2:9].

The church is commanded to ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ [1Peter 2:12].

The church is commanded to ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have’ [1Peter 3:15], with the proviso that this mandate also involves living irreproachable lives [v16].

The proclamation of the word of God and the lifestyle of the people of God are instrumental in bringing people to salvation [James 1:18; 1Peter 1:23, 25; 3:1].

Putting these perspectives together we learn from Acts and the New Testament letters that the mission of the church is two-fold:

To tell unbelievers the good news of the kingdom of Jesus Christ in both public address and personal conversation, and
To so live among unbelievers that that good news is confirmed and demonstrated by our lives.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2009, 2021