Three Things to Teach Students About the Missio Dei
When I was a teenager, I was aware that the good news of the gospel meant Jesus had saved me from sin. Still, I didn’t realize until later that the gospel also meant Jesus had saved me into a mission with him. I was too focused on trying to be the most popular student and the best athlete in my school. (My tall and lanky frame had other ideas, unfortunately. In a single school year, I face-planted at a track meet and had a timeout called during a football game to look for my glasses, which had been flung from my helmet in a tackle. The glories of eighth grade!) This temptation is strong for our students as well, as they look for their identity in what others think instead of what God has declared in his Word.
Students may pursue the perfect GPA in hopes of getting accepted to their dream college. Or they may seek to be the best at their activities and hobbies. Excellence glorifies God when it’s pursued according to His design. But these false identities of good grades and performance can never ultimately satisfy. We need to offer our students a robust understanding of the gospel and how it gives them a new identity as his adopted children with a new purpose.
One of my seminary professors, Dr. George Robinson, has said when people talk about the gospel and only mention how they have been saved from sin, but not into a mission, they are missing the point. The gospel is the good news that announces how Jesus has defeated sin and death on our behalf, declaring he is King, and how he has offered salvation to all who repent and believe. This good news about the redemptive mission of God—what scholars have termed the Missio Dei— is a story that in which the redeemed have an active role to play.
The Message of God’s Mission: The Gospel and Scripture
Throughout Scripture, we see that God is on a mission to save His bride with a redemptive love rooted in the person and work of his Son. “Mission is not just one of a list of things that the Bible happens to talk about, only a bit more urgently than some,” writes Christopher Wright. “Mission is, in that much-abused phrase, ‘what it’s all about.’” Our students need to see that the Bible is much more than a book filled with do’s and don’ts; instead, it is a redemptive story in which God has called His people to join Him.
In order for students to live as everyday missionaries, they must have an accurate and biblical view of God. Job declares the sovereignty of God over all things in the midst of suffering when he writes, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (42:2). Similarly, the psalmist writes, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (115:3). It is our responsibility to be obedient to what God has commanded us to do; however, God’s purposes are not in doubt or dependent upon us. This is good news! Our God plans the future and accomplishes it.
If students believe that God is sovereign, they will understand they aren’t given their platforms by chance. As youth pastors, we are called to help them understand their mission field is wherever God has sovereignly placed them: their schools, their neighborhoods, and their workplaces.
A senior in high school I know experienced this call to live on mission. He was a student at large public school while also playing two sports, giving him multiple missional opportunities. He came to me saying, “I want to get into gospel conversations with my teammates but I struggle knowing how.” Through some gospel conversation training and the Holy Spirit empowering him, he is now on the FCA leadership team and has shared the gospel with more than 10 of his peers.
The Means of God’s Mission: The Local Church
A biblical view of the local church is also crucial to equip students to be missional. The local church is God’s Plan A to see the gospel reach the nations—and there is no Plan B. Student ministries should not just have a missions program; they should have a missionary DNA. This means from that even in weekly programming, intention must be given to sending students to reach other students. Often teenagers want to share Christ with their friends but don’t know how. As youth pastors, we must build relationships with our students and then lead by example with a heart to reach the lost. For our students who are in Christ, location, not identity, is the only difference between their lives and the lives of missionaries overseas.
It is one thing to send students on mission trips (which can be a wonderful thing); but it is even better to view every student who has trusted in Christ as a missionary to be mobilized. We see this calling in John 20:21 when Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Jesus was sent by God to save his people. Jesus has now ascended into heaven and he sends us to be his witnesses to the nations. Because we are rooted in the local church, everything we do in youth ministry should be driven by a goal of seeing the gospel spread from the local middle and high schools to the ends of the earth.
The Method of God’s Mission: Disciples Making Disciples
In Matthew 28 Jesus gives the Great Commission, instructing his disciples to make disciples. According to Jesus, then, disciple-making is at the heart of this mission. The mission of God is accomplished through multiplication, not addition. In order for our students to be empowered to make disciples, we must teach them the authority and power of God. Our students also need to know that the Great Commission is a command to be obeyed, not an option to be considered. This means we give attention to disciple-making. The youth pastor must be a leader of leaders by equipping adult leaders to disciple students.
A full calendar doesn’t always mean a healthy and thriving student ministry. Events can develop a sense of community among the students and provide an opportunity for them to invite their friends. Still, youth pastors and adult leaders should ask themselves; “Is this event aligned with the vision and mission to make disciple-making disciples?” If not, consider eliminating or reshaping the event.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul tells Timothy; “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” The gospel will reach the nations through investing in a few and teaching them to do the same. Being a disciple and a disciple-maker are inseparable.
Jesus has no half-hearted followers, and he doesn’t merely become an add-on in a teenager’s life. When someone becomes a Christian, this person now receives the identity of a disciple-maker and missionary. If our students began to grasp an understanding of the mission of God and its implications on their lives, God just might use them to change the world for his glory.
 Christopher J.H. Wright,The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, (Westmont: InterVarsity Press, 2013).