When I moved abroad I expected to learn a new language to speak with my neighbors. I didn’t come with an expectation to learn a new way to speak with fellow workers. But conversations with co-workers can be just as confusing as conversations in a new language. They both can be noise to my ears and not “comprehensible input.”
Some of the rub comes from professional jargon and business concepts that creep into our work (“comprehensible input” is linguistic jargon, by the way). These new words and ideas are needlessly difficult because so much of our work is already defined in Scripture. But therein is a more basic problem. We have a shared vocabulary of biblical terms and concepts, but we use them differently. And the preaching and teaching of these words is central to our task.
The International Mission Board (IMB) has recognized the need for its workers to share a vocabulary of key terms and concepts for missions. The organization just published a document of these definitions with a stated purpose:
The purpose of this document is to provide biblically faithful and denominationally loyal definitions for terms and concepts that profoundly affect who we are, where we go, what we do, and how we train. We want a biblical understanding of these terms and concepts to be clearly articulated and consistently understood across the IMB so that we can wisely apply God’s Word in all of our work together.
The document defines these ten words and ideas for missions: gospel, evangelism, conversion, disciple, disciple making, calling, missionary, missionary team, unreached peoples and places, and church.
Below are brief versions of the definitions in the IMB document (in total, 500 words). They are a great place to start. For the full definitions and Scripture references, see www.imb.org/beliefs-key-terms/.
- The Gospel
- is the good news that the only true God, the just and gracious Creator of the universe, has looked upon hopelessly sinful men and women and has sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin through his substitutionary death on the cross and to show his power over sin and death through his resurrection from the grave so that everyone who turns from their sin and themselves and trusts in Jesus alone as Savior and Lord will be reconciled to God forever.
- is the proclamation of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit with the aim of persuading people to repent and believe in Christ.
- is the divinely enabled personal response of individuals to the gospel in which they turn from their sin and themselves and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
- are followers of Christ. They have turned from their sin, trusted in Jesus as their Savior, have died to themselves and surrendered their lives to him as Lord. Christ lives in them, resulting in six primary marks of a disciple: transformed heart, mind, affections, will, relationships, and purpose.
- Disciple Making
- is the Christ-commanded, Spirit-empowered duty of every disciple of Jesus to evangelize unbelievers, baptize believers, teach them the Word of Christ and train them to obey Christ as members of his church who make disciples on mission to all nations.
- Call to salvation: The gracious act of God by which he draws people to become disciples of Jesus and members of his church. Call to mission: Everyone who responds to God’s call as a disciple of Jesus receives Christ’s command to make disciples of Jesus. Call to station: Christ calls disciples to specific stations in and through which they exalt him on mission: family, singleness, church membership. Call to service: God directs disciples to make disciples in a certain way, at a certain time, among a certain people, in a certain location or through a certain vocation.
- A Missionary
- is a disciple of Jesus set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church and affirmed by the mission organization to cross geographical, cultural and/or linguistic barriers as part of a missionary team focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places.
- A Missionary Team
- is an identifiable group of disciples who meet together regularly, care for each other selflessly and partner with one another intentionally to make disciples and multiply churches among particular unreached peoples and/or places.
- Unreached Peoples and Places
- are those among whom Christ is largely unknown and the church is relatively insufficient to make Christ known in its broader population without outside help.
- A Church
- is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by his laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.