Congratulations! If you clicked on the link to this article, there is some part of your heart that is responding to Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations. These words are often referred to as the “Great Commission,” as they were the last words Jesus spoke as He ascended into heaven, having accomplished salvation for all who would believe.

That word – commission – is a great place to begin as we answer the question, “Do we have to go overseas to do missions?” Paul used this word in Acts 26:12 to describe how he was sent out by the chief priests to persecute the followers of Jesus. The Greek word is epitropē, and denotes "a turning over (to another), a referring of a thing to another" (epi, "over," trepo, "to turn"), and so a committal of full powers, a commission” (Vines Dictionary).

Jesus’ words perfectly illustrate a divine commission, a committal of heavenly authority and a turning over the responsibility to speak to the world about His mission to seek and save the lost.

Matthew 28:18-20 – “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

These words were spoken to the original eleven disciples (Judas having rejected his opportunity to participate in the kingdom of God) but they are also for us – the disciples Jesus prayed for in John 17:20, as He asked the Father to sanctify, protect, and unify His followers.

We can be grateful for those eleven brave men who undertook the commission, obeyed Jesus, and went out into the world to preach the gospel. They were joined by many others – Stephen, Paul, Barnabas, Matthias, Silas, Luke, Philip, Priscilla and Aquilla, Timothy, Epaphroditus, John Mark … the list could go on. Because they were faithful to proclaim the good news about Jesus, and succeeding generations picked up the baton they passed down, you and I were able to hear the message of salvation and believe.

All Christ-followers are obligated to accept the commission of telling others about Jesus. But does this mean we all must go overseas to be obedient to this call?

Here are three reasons I believe Scripture teaches the answer to that question is an emphatic “no.” And in fact, our obedience to Jesus’ command depends on a correct understanding of what missions really is.

1. We Don’t “Do” Missions; We Are Always “On” Mission

If you say the word “missions,” most likely an image of a far-off land comes to mind, somewhere remote that takes at least a plane ride to get to. You probably think of staying in less-than-desirable accommodations, eating strange food, and being unable to understand the local language. And yes, these descriptions are accurate for a lot of mission trips.

We also think of a “missionary” as someone unique – a job reserved for people who are really spiritual and special, and willing to leave behind all the comforts of home and live in a different culture.

We misinterpret Jesus’s words when we think of missions as something we “do.” It’s understandable; trips and outreach events are measurable and attainable and make us feel like we accomplished something for God’s kingdom. And while these are certainly one way to carry out missions, I don’t believe they are only what Jesus had in mind.

I’ve often heard the word “go” in Matthew 28:19 taught as better read, “as you are going.” The Greek tense of this word is aorist, which indicates simple action without reference to time. According to one dictionary, this tense usually signifies action prior to that of the main verb. The “main verb” in this sentence is “make disciples.” The idea is whenever we go – wherever we go – we are to make disciples.

God is sovereign over where we go. “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). God knows when we sit down and rise up; He understands our thoughts, scrutinizes our path, and is intimately acquainted with all our ways. He has enclosed us in, behind and before (Psalm 139:1-5). Just as Jesus went about preaching and teaching in the villages, we, too, are always on mission, carrying the gospel as we go.

Where do you go? You go to work every day; you go to the gym, to the grocery store, to your home in your neighborhood. All around you are people who need to hear the gospel. You are always on mission, no matter where you are. God has strategically put you in places where your particular story and style of evangelism will meet the needs of those He is calling to Himself.

Luke 9:60 – “But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’”

2. The Command Isn’t Just to Go, but to Make Disciples

“Make disciples” is a command, an imperative. The phrase is from the Greek mathēteuō, and also translated as “teach.” It means to instruct with the purpose of making a disciple, one who follows another’s doctrine.

We can’t separate the doctrine from the teacher. To make a disciple is to teach others to not only follow what Jesus taught, but to follow Jesus Himself. Mathēteuō means not only to learn but to become attached to one’s teacher and to become his follower in doctrine and conduct of life.

Making disciples requires more than just a gospel presentation. When we lead someone to faith in Jesus, we are obligated to help them grow up in that faith – to disciple them. In some cases, it may not be possible for us to do that personally, but whenever we present the gospel, there should be preparation made for follow up. Someone once made the statement, “We might be making converts, but are we making disciples?” If we see missions as only the occasional event we help with at our church, or a project to “do” by signing up for two weeks overseas, we’ve missed what Jesus meant when He told us to go and make disciples.

Colossians 1:28 – “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”

3. Jesus Made It Clear That Our Mission Field Is Right in Front of Us

If we truly believe God is sovereign and orders the steps of our lives as we follow Him, is it not reasonable to believe that He will get us to the places where the gospel needs to be proclaimed? Without a doubt, God calls us at times to go overseas and proclaim the good news – some for a few days, and some for a lifetime. As we learn to live “on mission” and walk in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will indeed go into all the world as the body of Christ and make disciples.

It starts a bit closer to home, though, according to Jesus.

John 4:35-38 – “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.’” (Emphasis added)

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples after leading a Samaritan woman to faith. To the casual observer, He just happened to meet her at the well, but we know this was a divine appointment. Led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus had to pass through Samaria on His way to Galilee (John 4:4). God had the Samaritan woman in mind, and it was no coincidence that she arrived at the well just as Jesus did, tired and thirsty from the walk.

Jesus lifted up His eyes and right in front of Him was a spiritual harvest. He engaged the woman in conversation, turning her attention to spiritual things in the most natural way, and presenting the truth about Himself, the Messiah. Her heart was opened, and she believed. From her excited words of testimony, the whole city heard the good news. Many came to faith.

Jesus didn’t want His disciples to miss this very important lesson. Lift up your eyes and look…the fields are white for harvest. The mission is right in front of us. It’s before us, behind us, and around us, as we walk through this life as disciples of Jesus ourselves. There might be a harvest overseas, and we quite possibly will have opportunities to labor in that field for a brief time. The real harvest, however – the field that God has planted you in – is right in front of you. You only have to lift up your eyes.

How Do We Grow as Disciples of Jesus Living on Mission for the Gospel?

Start where you are.

Where has God planted you? Pick one place – your neighborhood, your office, your family, your classroom, your team. Who is in your life on a regular basis? Lift up your eyes and ask God to show you the harvest in front of you.

Start praying.

A spiritual harvest can only be reaped through spiritual means. God must do the work in a person’s heart. Begin praying regularly by name, specifically, for the people whom God has put on your heart.

Start speaking.

The gospel must be preached. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). That popular quote, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words” is only half right. We indeed ought to preach the gospel at all times, but it is always necessary to use words to explain the gospel.

Our actions may demonstrate the love of God and draw people towards Him, but entrance into the kingdom requires an invitation, which can only come through words. Living on mission means being ready at all times to tell your story of conversion and to explain the simple gospel when God opens a door of opportunity to a seeking heart.

Ephesians 6:19-20 – “And pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

1 Peter 3:15 – “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

You might be thinking, missions is for those who have the gift of evangelism. To be blunt, that’s an excuse. Jesus has commanded all His disciples to live on mission, aware of the lost around us, and ready not only to proclaim the gospel, but to teach and mature those who respond, making disciples. By all means, we should pursue the many opportunities to become better equipped. My husband and I lead a ministry for that very purpose. But if you are a Christ-follower yourself, you are already equipped. The Holy Spirit lives in you and will speak through you if you are willing to live on mission.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Yakobchuk Olena

Author Sheila Alewine is a pastor’s wife, mother, and grandmother of five. She and her husband lead Around The Corner Ministries, which serves to equip Christ-followers to share the gospel where they live, work and play. She has written several devotionals including Just Pray: God’s Not Done With You YetGrace & Glory: 50 Days in the Purpose & Plan of God, and her newest one, Open The Gift, as well as Going Around The Corner, a Bible study for small groups who desire to reach their communities for Christ. Their ministry also offers disciple-making resources like One-To-One Disciple-Making in partnership with Multiplication Ministries. Sheila has a passion for God’s Word and shares what God is teaching her on her blog, The Way of The Word. Connect with her on her blogFacebook, and Instagram.