What Do We Mean by Missions?

God has a mission. God has acted in history—and is still acting now—to reconcile people from every nation and all of creation to himself. He is the primary agent of his mission. He began his mission, and he continues to work it out in greater love and power than we can imagine.

But we are not inactive or unneeded. Missiologist Arthur Glasser writes, "Actually, God has no alternative plan for bringing God's salvation to people apart from Christians being chosen and sent forth…"1 While God may certainly enable exceptions—bringing people to himself through extraordinary means (e.g. dreams)—his primary plan throughout history has been to use ordinary people, like you and me.

God showed his love for the whole world by sending his son to overcome death by dying on the cross and rising to life again. And God has appointed us to be his ambassadors, teaching others about Jesus, his ways, and what God has done through Jesus.

When we use the word missions, we're talking about all of the various ways Jesus' followers join in God's mission; how we work with the Holy Spirit to spread this Good News to all people. Participation in missions is not an optional part of following Jesus, reserved for a select few whom God calls. Throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations, it's clear that God desires all who believe—Jew or Gentile, women or men, slave or free—to become instruments of his mission.

God uses not only strong individuals and nations, but the weak and the poor. God uses not only older established adults, but also younger unestablished students! God uses not only the willing, but also unwilling players like Joseph, Moses, and Jonah. And even Israel in the midst of exile and suffering, is used by God in his mission to the nations.

God uses people who never imagined that they would ever participate in his mission because it's an "all-play" proposition—everyone who is a Christian must participate in God's mission. From the missionary to Myanmar to the mother in Miami, from the social worker in Sudan to the student in San Francisco, God has a part for every Christian in his global mission.

It's this vision which has fueled the Urbana Student Missions Conference from the beginning. Since 1946, Urbana has been a student missions conference where generations have been challenged to give their whole lives for God's global mission. Right now, God's role for me in his mission is as the director of Urbana, working to make Urbana a dedicated space and time where God speaks to young people and clarifies what participation in his mission could look like.

I believe that today's student generation has an important part to play in missions. Missions means spending your life, even losing your life, for something beautiful, life-giving, and bold. Missions simply means taking your place in the reconciling work God has been about from the beginning.


1Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible (Baker Academic, 2003), 323.

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