There has been a great resurgence of both Reformed theology and the work of missions in young people over the past couple decades. This is no coincidence. Big God theology leads to risk-taking work to reach the unreached. For those of us who are confident that Jesus has sheep that are not in the fold that he must bring in also (John 10:16), are committed to sending and going to the nations with the gospel, which draws Jesus’ flock home.
This dual resurgence of both Reformed theology and missionary zeal among young people has people looking forward to the accomplishment of the Great Commission. Could millennials really be the final push of taking the gospel of the kingdom to the ends of the earth? Oh, how I pray this to be true of my generation.
But along with a desire for big God theology and a push for missions, millennials are more individualistic than generations before them. Much of this is due to the rise and reign of the Internet. The Internet has led many young, restless, and Reformed Christians (myself included) to take the gospel to the ends of the earth from a dorm room, office chair, or couch. We can watch Netflix and share the gospel simultaneously. And we have mastered this gospel multitasking.
Still, I fear that the Internet and our reliance on it has slowly but surely stagnated the surge of missions work. When we convince ourselves that we can proclaim the gospel to the nations from a laptop, we will be less likely to jump on a plane to move to an unreached people in the Middle East. We begin to convince ourselves that we can “Go and make disciples” without language learning or culture crossing.
I fall into the trap of individualistic thinking often. I see that hundreds from various nations read my blog and convince myself that I am reaching the nations right where I am. Now, of course we can reach the nations from home. It is not required of us to sell our homes and move to the Amazon Rainforest. But, biblical discipleship and the fulfillment of the Great Commission cannot be done from a dorm room or a study. We young, restless, and Reformed can smoke cigars, grow beards, and read Spurgeon all day long, but until we turn our hearts toward the nations, our big God theology will continue to be too small. However, when we do set our gaze on our global God, he will turn our gaze to the nations and show us that some of us must go.
For a while, I got in the habit of trying to spark gospel conversations through social media. I would either message people I noticed posting particular statuses, or I would get involved in Facebook debates. It was and still can be a great way to engage people with the gospel that live miles away. The Internet is an amazing resource for which I am truly thankful, because we are no longer limited to our geographic locations to proclaim the gospel. But I have learned through study and experience that truly impactful discipleship cannot happen through text messages or Twitter mentions. Truly impactful discipleship happens in the nitty gritty of life. Truly impactful discipleship happens face-to-face, hand-in-hand. When we go out to coffee with our lost friends rather than bash them on Facebook, we can truly impact their souls for Christ. When we cross a culture or an ocean to learn a language and live among a people, we can truly impact them with the gospel.
In his introduction to the book, Cross: Unrivaled Christ, Unstoppable Gospel, Unreached Peoples, Unending Joy, David Mathis argues that the fulfillment of the Great Commission “won’t happen over the Internet.” He captures my concerns perfectly.
[T]he computer will never replace the missionary–because the Commission doesn’t call for mere exchange of information, but for good old-fashioned disciplemaking.
Discipling the nations requires more than dropping a translated tract or piping in a recording, or even a well-produced video. Disicplemaking requires more than a low-bandwith, user-friendly website in multiple trade languages. Disciplemaking means getting your feet wet, and your whole body, in baptism, and teaching not just what Jesus commanded, but to observe all that he commanded. It means doing the long-term grunt work to entrust the gospel to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. It means older women training younger women holistically. It means being “among” the people we hope to reach with the gentleness of a nursing mother and the strength of an encouraging father. It means an eagerness to share not only the gospel, but our own selves, providing a life example to imitate, and empowering the disciples to practice what they have learned and received and heard and seen in us. Full-orbed disciplemaking cannot be accomplished remotely. It won’t happen over the Internet (Cross, p. 6).
I desperately hope my generation accomplishes the Great Commission. But if we do it, it will not be because of our clever quotes and blog posts. It will be because of our sacrificial commitment to give our lives for the sake of the joy of all peoples–peoples that we touch with our hands and love with our lives.
Mathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba.