Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This topic for this first meeting is “Mission, Identity, Essentials” — and I want to say right away that these are not three different realities so much as they are three interconnected ones. All three of them together form an introduction to Cities Church and what we’re about. And what I want to do in the next half hour is just walk through how that works. And it really does start with Matthew 28:18–20, what is called the Great Commission.
When we use the word “mission” at Cities, this is what we have in mind. If you’ve been listening out or reading up over the past few years, you’ve probably heard the word “mission” several times. It has become sort of a new buzz word within the evangelical movement, and like with any buzz word, sometimes over-usage can lead to a watered-down meaning. Well, I want to clear up any misunderstanding at Cities. When we use the word “mission” we have a particular thing in mind — we are talking about the Great Commission, about Matthew 28:18–20, when Jesus sends his church out into the world to make disciples.
This passage is the mission statement of our church. The Great Commission is our mission, and we like it that way because we think Matthew 28:18–20 is way more comprehensive than it might appear at first glance. Mission, in terms of Matthew 28, is not just about what we do We’re tempted to read it that way, but it is about much more than that.
The word “mission” itself is from the Latin word “missio” which means sending. We see that in verse 19 in the command “Go.” That is Jesus sending us. And like with every sending, there are three pieces involved. There is the sender, the act of sending, and the ones sent. And all of these pieces are included in Matthew 28, starting with the most important of all, Jesus as the sender. The passage is explicit that Jesus is the one who sends, and that the sending only happens because of who he is.
The Supremacy of Jesus
Notice how Jesus begins in verse 19, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore…” Because he has all authority. Because Jesus is the resurrected King, the conquering Messiah, because Jesus is the true and better Adam who has inaugurated a new humanity, he tells us to go.
If he wasn’t who he is, we wouldn’t be here, and we wouldn’t be doing this.
One of the big background stories of how God led us to plant Cities has to do with this point. It was just about five years ago when God first put it in my heart and Melissa’s to consider planting a church in Minneapolis. God had already been stirring in David Mathis’s heart, and Michael Thiel’s heart, and David had asked me to think about it. So it was sort of in the air, and then one morning I was reading Revelation 5 — and for those of you who are familiar with Revelation 5, it’s just an amazing description of the supremacy of Jesus. And as I rest this chapter, and read verses like:
 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Rev 5:11–14)
After I got done reading these words, the thought came to me: I would plant a church for a king like that. In fact, what would I not do for a king like that?
And that’s when Melissa and I both became like: Okay, Jesus, we’re in. Just show us how.
And I decided, starting at that point, to begin every conversation I’d have about church planting with the supremacy of Jesus. So I’d grab coffee with guys who wanted to talk planting, and strategy, and the first thing I’d say is that: Jesus is king, and right now he reigns over everything, including this city. Jesus owns Minneapolis and St. Paul. He owns it all. It’s his. That’s the only reason church planting makes any sense. Now let’s talk.
And then when the founding six families met in February 2014 I started with Revelation 5. We read the chapter and I said there are two things we should ask about Revelation 5: 1) Do we see what it says about Jesus?; and 2) Do you believe he is real?
Because if we see who he is, and we believe he is real, there’s nothing we won’t do for him if he wants to. And when I made my proposal to the Bethlehem elders last November, I started with Revelation 5. And all along we sort of picked up this saying at Cities that is super simple but deeply true: it’s that Jesus is real. We say that a lot (and I want to keep saying it). That Jesus is real, and what we need most is for Jesus to be more real to us than anything else. Because he has all authority in heaven and on earth. Because he is King, he is alive, he is regaining, and he’s coming back. So that’s where we start. That’s where mission starts.
Then, of course, there is who the sender sends. That is his disciples. You see that in how verse 16 starts. Jesus was with his eleven disciples. He’s talking to his eleven disciples, who became the apostles, who were the church and leaders in the church. I think these two words, church and disciples, go together: the church is the community of Jesus’s disciples. “Disciple” means adherent, or follower, and to be a disciple of Jesus is to be a follower of Jesus. That is who Jesus tells us to make. Make disciples, or in other words, make followers of Jesus.
Jesus tells his followers to go and make more followers of Jesus, and the question we must ask is: what exactly does it mean to follow Jesus? What is a disciple of Jesus?
And it’s important that we know what we’re talking about here — because there is a lot of churches that talk about making disciples and discipleship, and they are saying and doing something entirely different from what we’re saying and doing. Many times, if we’re not careful, churches will say that they’re making disciples of Jesus when really they’re making disciples of American entertainment wrapped in Christian packaging.
Well, we look in the Gospels for a portrait of what is means to follow Jesus, and I think the Gospel of John gives us one. So this is who we are as disciples, and the kind of disciples we want to make. [See how mission and identity are connected?] This is where how mission and identity are connected. Identity is immediately next to the foundation of Jesus’s supremacy. Before we can really talk about what we are supposed to do, we have to understand who we are — who Jesus calls us to be — and who he commands us to make.
1. Worshiper of Jesus
Most fundamentally, to follow Jesus means to worship him exclusively. This is at the heart of Jesus’s ministry on earth. As he told the woman at the well, the Father is seeking true worshipers who worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24). If we will follow Jesus, we must worship God — through Jesus, because he is our Mediator (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5), and Jesus himself, because he is God (John 10:30; 20:28–29).
This is the fundamental perspective of a disciple because it is more ultimate than anything else we are or do, and most distinctive in our context. As far as ultimate, worshiping Jesus — or gladly reflecting back to him the radiance of his worth — is the greatest act for any creature. As far as context, nothing will stand our more in our idol-littered society more than being an exclusive worshiper of Jesus. Lots of people are cool with Jesus (at least their idea of him), and are even okay with the “ways” of Jesus — Jesus the Moral Teacher, the Nice Guy, the Judge-Not-Lest-You-Be-Judged Motivational Speaker — that Jesus is everybody’s homeboy. But that is not the real Jesus. That’s a manmade figure — a far cry from the portrait Jesus gives of himself.
To follow Jesus, to be his disciple, means, mainly, first and central, to worship him. Making disciples of Jesus means gathering his worshipers.
2. Servant Like Jesus
The Gospel of John shows another picture of the Jesus we’re to worship, and this time he is kneeling before his disciples to wash their feet (John 13:5). Jesus is a servant. He came to earth not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as the rescue for sinners (Mark 10:45).
And as a servant, Jesus says of his disciples, to his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14–15).
In one sense, the posture of servant should characterize Jesus’s disciples on all fronts. But in another sense, being a servant like Jesus has a particular focus on disciples serving disciples. It’s a family thing. “Let us do good to everyone,” Paul said, “and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Jesus really cares about how we as his disciples treat one another.
This is when he gives us “a new commandment,” just after he washed the Twelve’s feet, John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (see 1 John 3:23).
To be a disciple of Jesus means to serve like him. It means to serve, primarily, by looking at your brothers and sisters and going low in acts of love, even when it’s an inconvenience to yourself, even when it flip-flops the world’s social order and expectations. Making disciples of Jesus means making servants who love one another.
3. Missionary with Jesus
John gives us another helpful picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in John 17. This is the commission of Jesus, when he says of his disciples, to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21; John 17:18). This means that Jesus’s disciples are on a mission. It means, in the broadest sense, that they are missionaries, that they are envisioned and empowered to step into this world (not of it, but sent into it) as his witnesses (Acts 1:8).
Jesus was sent for a purpose — to reveal God and redeem sinners (John 1:14, 12). We too, as his disciples, filled by his Spirit, are sent for a purpose — to tell his good news (Romans 10:14–17). Our mission is an extension of his. And in fact, our mission is actually with him. It’s not something else, some alternative, some Plan B. But, filled with his Spirit, we are really missionaries with him. Because he tells us at the end of Matthew 28:20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So a disciple of Jesus s is a worshiper-servant-missionaries who wants to make more worshipers-servants-missionaries.
And as his people, as sinners saved by his grace, as those rescued and brought into fellowship with God, as followers of Jesus, we are worshipers of Jesus, servants likes Jesus, and missionaries with Jesus.
We start with Jesus, and we find our identity in light of who he is and who he has called us to be. Worshipers-servants-missionaries. And this is the sort of thing that we want to grasp at an affectional level.
It’s one thing to check this off theoretically. That is when we hear it and say, Yeah, that sounds good. Then it’s another thing to understand this practically. That’s when we start trying to live this out: Okay, worship Jesus. Yes. All right, I’m going serve my brother. I want to tell my neighbor my story. That’s good, too. But then there is understanding this at the affectional level, where we wake up in the morning and make our coffee and we look in the mirror and we think: By God’s grace, I am worshiper of Jesus, a servant like Jesus, a missionary with Jesus. That’s what we want.
And because that is what we want: we have let this form the three essentials of our church. We call them essentials and what we means is values of values. These are the three things that we really really care about. Here they are:
We worship Jesus; we serve one another; we seek the good of the Cities.
Do you see where we got this from?
Starting with the supremacy of Jesus, he sends us disciples on a mission to make disciples. Which means, that we who worship Jesus, and are servants like him, and are missionaries with him, we go out and make worshipers, servants, and missionaries. And if we do that as a church, that means that we should really care about worshiping Jesus, serving one another, and seeking the good of the Cities (which is a better way of saying evangelize the Cities). Those are our essentials, and that’s how mission, identity, and essentials are all connected.