Are You Leading the Whole Great Commission, or Just Half ?

Unlike business leaders who are responsible to define the mission of their organizations, church leaders don’t have that freedom or carry that burden. We have already received our mission. Jesus’ words to His disciples, often called the Great Commission, is our mission:

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 everything I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Some church leaders have positioned their churches as existing for the first half of the commission (the “making disciples”) and some speak of their commitment to the second half (the “teaching them to obey”). But Jesus desires His Church to embrace the whole commission. The Great Commission should not be viewed as two separable parts but a unified whole – a responsibility to both reach and teach.

 There is a temptation, however, to attempt to divide the Great Commission and take responsibility for only one aspect of it. Here are three reasons some find focusing on one aspect of the Great Commission an attractive alternative to embracing the whole:

1. With ½ the Great Commission, ministry is less messy.

When a church is committed to “making disciples” of people who are early in their walk with Christ or still exploring the Christian faith and is also committed to helping believers grow in maturity, ministry is going to be messy. There are going to be non-believers alongside mature believers and those with struggles alongside those who feel (often wrongly) that they struggle less.

2. With ½ the Great Commission, ministry is less complex.

The questions a maturing believer asks are often very different than the questions someone new to the faith asks. It is not easy to speak to different groups of people on different phases of their journey, and ministry is much simpler if a leader decides to neglect a group of people. The good news is that the gospel of Jesus is sufficient and poignant for all people, no matter where they are in their journey.

3. With ½ the Great Commission, ministry is less burdensome.

Caring for people at different places on their journey is much more challenging and burdensome than adopting a laser focus for new believers or mature believers. The complexity and the messiness add to the burden.

BUT…

Wrongly dividing the Great Commission into two disparate parts and only focusing on one aspect of the Great Commission is less beautiful and less biblical. A church that reaches and teaches people is a beautiful sight to behold. It is beautiful to see mature believers reminded with what it means to be new to the faith. It is beautiful to see new believers wrestle with some of the convictions those who have been walking with Jesus for a long time hold. It is beautiful to see how the Word of God, by the Spirit of God, is able to speak to people exactly where they are. It is beautiful to see community formed, among people who are very different, on the solid and sure commonality of Jesus. If we attempt to divide the Great Commission and focus on one aspect of it, we lose so much.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, Eric served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

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The Great Commission is NOT these 4 Things

The closing of Matthew’s gospel is not just a tidy end to his book; these last few verses are the marching orders for the church:

The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 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 everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:16-20).

Here is one of those passages that, if we ever wonder what God’s will is for our lives, we can come back to again and again, for here is the answer. What does God want me to do? He wants me to go and make disciples. Just like He said. So I wonder today, in this post, you would think with me not just about what these parting words of Jesus say, but also what they do NOT say. In that spirit, here are four things the Great Commission is NOT:

1. Negotiable.

The lasting command Jesus gave to the church is couched in His authority. Before He said to go, before He said to make disciples, Jesus wanted everyone to know the position from which He was speaking. This is not a life hack; it’s not some good advice; it’s not a request. This is a command, one rooted in the authority of Jesus.

Here we see the Son of God, the King of the Universe, the One through whom and in whom all things hang together. He has died and risen from the grave as the Conqueror of sin and death. And is taking His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father. From that position of authority, indeed all authority in heaven and on earth, He issues this command. Because of His authority, Jesus’ commission is not negotiable for any of us.

We should beware, then, of all the ways we tend to try and negotiate with Jesus. We hold up our circumstances, our supposed limitations, our special instances, but they are of no consequence. That doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t care about them; it does mean, though, that they do not excuse us from this command.

2. Restrictive.

This is a very inclusive command. Jesus began His command with a non-restrictive description of His authority with the word “all.” With His “all” authority, we are to go to “all” nations. And when we go to “all” nations, we are to teach people to obey “everything.” There is nothing left out here; nothing pushed to the side. And here, too, we should be careful that we don’t either intentionally or unintentionally restrict that which is meant to be loosed.

We should be careful that we don’t restrict the “who” of the Great Commission. Like Jonah, there are certain groups of people that are uncomfortable for us to speak to. There are all kinds of reasons for that – maybe it’s our past experience, perhaps it’s our upbringing, or maybe it’s the state of current events. But if we are Christians, then the Great Commission calls us to confront our political, racial, and socio-economic biases. It’s an inclusive command for us to cross the lines we’ve drawn in our hearts.

But we should also be careful that we don’t restrict the “what” of the Great Commission. It’s not lost on Jesus that some of His teaching is hard to stomach. He saw it happen when He taught Himself – every time He stepped up to a crowd it was always thinner when He got done as people were confronted with the full implications of following Him. Ironically, we might talk ourselves into restricting some of the teachings of Jesus to try and make Jesus more palatable to those around us. But Jesus doesn’t need our help with that; He’s not asking for our help – in fact, He’s not asking at all. He’s commanding our faithfulness.

3. Complicated.

The Great Commission is not negotiable; it’s not restrictive; it’s also just not that complicated. We are to go. We are to share. And we are to bring others along the road of following Jesus. That’s it. And when you look at it like that, it’s really not that complicated. One might wonder, then, why we tend to make it so.

If we think about other parts of life that we tend to overcomplicate we might come up with a reason or two. For me, I know one of the reasons I tend to overcomplicate something is out of sheer procrastination. I know something needs to be done and I feel either unprepared or unexcited about doing it. So complicating an issue like that is a neat way around actually getting busy – it’s because the more I talk around something, the longer I don’t have to actually do it. And as an added bonus, it actually looks like I’m doing the very thing I’m subconsciously avoiding.

4. Easy.

But it’s at this point that we should recognize the difference between simple, and easy. Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it doesn’t take effort. And cost. And pain of one sort or another. That’s true in obeying Jesus’ instructions. More times than not, they’re actually pretty simple. But there is difficulty in their simplicity.

It will cost us to obey Jesus’ commission. We will have to go, and if we have to go, then we will have to leave. And we will have to make disciples, and if we are making disciples, it will mean we have to give up some other things in our lives we are spending time and resources on. Make no mistake – living out Jesus’ Great Commission requires a drastic reordering of our lives. That’s not easy, but Jesus’ promises us it’s worth it.

These words of Jesus? They’re not negotiable, restrictive, complicated or easy – but they are the words of the One with all authority. So we must ask ourselves when confronted again by this familiar passage – are we following Jesus, or aren’t we?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

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5 Permissions of the Great Commission

Jesus gave His commission to the early church in Matthew 28:18-20. Though it is one of several commissions given by Jesus, the church-at-large has come to call this statement: The Great Commission. Let me remind us what it says,

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 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 everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (CSB)

In the Western portion of the world where I live, we preach The Great Commission and plenty of affirming nods are given. However, it is not practiced very well. To fulfill The Great Commission, we need change. Allow me to offer five potential changes we need and one reminder to encourage you in the changes.

Change #1: Move from working as campus chaplains to advancing as kingdom missionaries. Churches are not to hide on campuses. Jesus tells us to “go” with a verb that means continual activity. Wherever there are people in our communities and around the world, the church needs to be present as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom. We should treat a church campus as a launching pad instead of an Evangelical monastery.

Change #2: Move from participating in religious programs to becoming lifestyle disciple-makers. We often default to building programs because they are the paths of least resistance. Meanwhile, disciple-making is messy. Programmatic growth can be accomplished even when it is the last-ditch effort of a spiritually sterile ministry. The numbers in attendance fool us into thinking that Kingdom growth is occurring. The metrics that numbers equal success is simply not enough. We need to switch to a desire for relationships that result in eternal transformations.

Change #3: Move from a perceived home field to active global engagement. We do not live in a spiritual Promised Land. Rather, the church is in exile in a spiritual Babylon. As a believer, you may live in a country with religious freedom and even one built on Judeo-Christian virtues but you do not yet fully live in the Kingdom of God. Our commission is to take the gospel to our community and not stop there. God calls each church to the peoples of the world (see, people groups, ethnic groups, all nations). Your church should consider itself as a missionary outpost in your community and a global sending center for God’s work in the world. Each believer is not here to simply keep the church programs populated. Each believer is commissioned as a global missionary to pierce the darkness with the light of the Gospel.

Change #4: Move from creating consumers of religion to community builders of the church.Christians are the purveyors of hope because of our own spiritual transformation. In baptism, we declare that we’ve surrendered to the sovereignty of Christ. Secondarily, baptism is a public alignment with a church family. At my baptism, I said, “I’m one with you in God’s mission.” As individual believers and as congregational families, we need to kill the consumer mentality. It should die a quick death so we can have a hyper-focus on the need for the lost to be saved and the church to be built by Christ’s work through us.

Change #5: Move from being knowledge junkies to Jesus followers. Too often, our knowledge has outpaced our obedience. As church leaders, it is easier to desire behavior modification from masters of biblical trivial pursuit than deal with accountability for life change. But that is not discipleship. In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard said, “The gospel of sin management has produced vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else.” We need to move from just playing mental games with the Bible to becoming obedient to the Bible. Jesus wants followers. He began the apostles’ work with “Come” and ended his training with “Go.”

 One Empowering Reminder: The authority and presence of Jesus is what makes all of this a reality. Jesus has all of the authority and promised to never desert us. With His declaration, we can race after His commission. We know that none of the five changes are possible by our own wit and self-determination. Jesus, however, loves to do the impossible. His authority and presence at work in your church will bridge an impossible divide and accomplish miraculous Kingdom work.

I hope that all of our churches will once again lean into the beauty and the mission of Jesus’ work in this world.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Nation

Philip Nation

serve as the Director of Advancement and Global Impact Churches with the Baptist World Alliance and frequently speak at churches and conferences. I earned a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 2010-2012, I was the national spokesperson for the Back to Church Sunday campaign from Outreach. Over the years, I’ve served as a pastor, minister of education, and a church planter. My latest published work is the video-based Bible study Pursuing Holiness: Applications from James. In 2016, I published Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out with Moody Publishers. I’ve coauthored two other books: Compelled: Living the Mission of God and Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. I was also the general editor of The Mission of God Study Bible. Along the way, I have written the small-group studies Storm Shelter: Psalms of God’s Embrace, Compelled by Love: The Journey to Missional Living and Live in the Word, plus contributed to The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Lifetime.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

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Jesus Doesn’t Send a Christian to the Nations, But a Church

The Great Commission was given to a community.

Western readers have tended to read the Great Commission passages (especially Luke 24 and Matthew 28) in light of the autonomous individual. We interpret the commissioning scenes as tasks assigned to individual Christians.

But a proper focus on the corporate dimension of these accounts helps us understand the commissionings in light of the identity Jesus bestows upon a community.

Jesus does not send a Christian to the nations, but a church.

A “Fulfilling” People

By seeking and saving the lost in His ministry, Jesus has formed a new people, the true Israel, who will finally fulfill God’s purposes in the world, in light of God’s own work in fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham. Jesus sends a community to the world, in fulfillment of his work in Israel.

A Foreshadowed People

The communal witness of the church is foreshadowed and promised in the Old Testament, and it sees its arrival as the Holy Spirit descends to fulfill God’s promise in the New Testament. To interpret the commissioning texts as applying only to individuals is to miss the rich, biblical overtones throughout the Scriptures that envision a community serving as salt of the earth and light of the world.

A Gospel-Formed People

The church is united as a witnessing community, but it’s the gospel we witness to that constitutes our identity. After all, the gospel is centered on the Sent One who witnesses to the Father. The person and work of Christ make possible the existence of this witnessing body.

A God-Exalting People

The terminology of witnesses in Luke 24 likely echoes the Lord’s words to Israel in Isaiah 43:10-12:

“You are My witnesses” – this is the Lord’s declaration – “and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me. I, I am Yahweh, and there is no other Savior but Me. I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed – and not some foreign god among you. So you are My witnesses” – this is the Lord’s declaration – “and I am God.” (HCSB)

Don’t miss the high Christology on display here. By adopting the same words of Yahweh to Israel, “You are my witnesses,” Jesus is associating Himself with God, and He is associating his followers with Israel.

The implication is that Jesus is the embodiment of Yahweh and His followers are the true Israel who will finally fulfill the task given to God’s people. Witness flows from knowing Jesus.

A Spirit-Empowered People

There is an eschatological dimension to the corporate nature of the “witnesses.”

It is true that Acts 1:8 focuses on the geographical expansion to the ends of the earth, not the eschatological promise of Christ being with the disciples to “the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Still, there is a strong element of eschatology in Acts 1:4-8, since Christ’s last words in Acts are preceded by a question from the disciples regarding the timetable of the kingdom’s restoration to Israel. Their desire to know the timing of God’s kingdom coming in its fullness is rooted in Jewish eschatology. When Jesus brushes off their question, He does not do so because it has no validity, but because He desires to focus on what the disciples are to be (and therefore do) in the meantime.

The disciples will indeed be an eschatological people, not because they know the signs and the times, but because they are indwelled by the Spirit who empowers their witness to the ends of the earth. John Stott is right to describe the church as the “pilgrim people of God.”

The corporate witness of the church is missionary in its purpose and eschatological in its framing.

Presence and Proclamation

The most concentrated power of witness is in the corporate, common life of the church united on mission for Christ. The church that is truly “present” in a community will necessarily proclaim the gospel. The communal identity of the church is essential as an undergirding of our proclamation as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.