I guess you could call a lot of things about the story of the life of Jesus great. His coming was great. His miracles were great. His baptism was great. His compassion was great. His death was great. His resurrection was great. Great doesn’t necessarily mean grand or fun to look at or posh or attractive. Great can also mean of significant consequence.
For instance, “The Great Commandment” is what Christians have entitled Jesus’ declaration that loving God and loving people are the most important elements of the law. There’s also what Christians have called His “last words,” so to speak. Found in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus affirms His authority and asserts His intentions for the ongoing mission of His followers. He commands those who follow Him to make disciples as they are going throughout life, teaching and baptizing, living His teachings while teaching them to others and calling those others to the same public commitment. These three verses have been a stalwart of protestant evangelical promotions since the days that the “re-baptized” took an involuntary swim in the rivers across Europe. These three verses have been called “The Great Commission.”
Jesus commissioned His followers with a purpose and focus for their everyday living. They were to learn and live the ways of Jesus together, encouraging others to follow Jesus and learn and live His ways together, so that others would follow Jesus and learn and live His ways together, and so on. That is how the movement Jesus called the “church” would go on, for quite some time, and continue through today. And that is why that commission is so great, because it is so central and so significant to the mission of the people who follow Jesus together, known as the church.
There has been one very impactful flaw, in my opinion, in the promotion and follow-through of this Great Commission in the last 100-plus years or so. At least in baptist life, which is the base of my background in church culture. That flaw? What baptists have made synonomous with “The Great Commission.”
I have heard three synonyms. “The Great Commission” is “missions.” “The Great Commission” is “evangelism.” “The Great Commission” is “discipleship.” Of these three, I would suggest that the latter holds truer to the Matthew 28 text than the two former synonyms. However, as I wrote about in a previous post, even that latter one to me is lacking. The bottom line _ The Great Commission is simply to “make disciples.”
I have always appreciated how my dad has taught this word “disciple.” He is a Greek scholar. You wouldn’t know. He doesn’t flaunt it. Ask those who have known him at New Orleans Baptist Seminary. They’ll tell you. That way you will know it’s not just his biased son. Anyway, he has always emphasized that the word literally means “learner.” Thus, the definition for “discipling” that I gave above.
And that is “The Great Commission” – discipling. Locally and globally, as we go, 168 hours per week. Living sent daily.
Earlier today, a friend of mine tweeted this message:
mtg with NAMB’s task force looking at how to promote the Great Commission among and in our churches.
It struck me in such a way that it prompted me to “direct message” him a few thoughts. He probably thought I was stalking him, because I sent six messages in a row. However, you can only type 140 characters or less on Twitter. So, really, it wasn’t that long.
Nonetheless, here is what I direct messaged to him.
Hey bro, I would suggest to start by redefining “The Great Commission” emphatically as discipling rather than missions, evangelism, or discipleship. No offense, but if NAMB thinks that local churches don’t promote “The Great Commission,” then they are out of touch. It’s what they are promoting AS “The Great Commission” that needs to be addressed. A construct shift.
I would suggest that the promotion needs to focus on a construct shift, or the result will be no different than before. Once the construct is shifted, the values and behaviors will follow. In that effort, here are three possible emphases to include in the promotion:
- As already stated, “The Great Commission” is discipling. Let’s unpack that for people. The GPS promotion is a valiant effort, but do we really think pastors are going to select that piece of mail as the one not to toss in the trash can among the stack of junk mail that sits on the desk? It’s going to take more than mail, no offense to the author of the GPS stuff. It’s going to take actually “going.” It’s going to take ongoing “teaching” through relationship. Kind of like what Jesus emphasized in “The Great Commission” – as you are going, make disciples. I suggest that people will “learn” (as they are discipled) that kind of everywhere and anyone mentality if it is taught to and modeled for them in coaching. The result will be a rethinking of and a renewal of “The Great Commission.”
- Furthermore, “The Great Commission” is AWD. That’s “all wheel drive.” It’s on all the time. You don’t switch it on. You don’t turn it off. It’s not like “four wheel drive.” It’s “all wheel drive.” All the time.
- Further-furthermore, if we are going to carry out “The Great Commission,” we may have to change where we are “going.” If our “as we are going” never takes us into the midst of the culture that church sub-culture tends to so heavily criticize and separate from, then we will not make disciples. Both among the church and among culture at large, we need to allow people to become. Jesus did. Met them right where they were. Did life with them there. Told them and showed them He was their friend. Then laid down His life to prove it (John 15:13). He told us to love people in the same way.
“Evangelism” is still important. Being messengers of the “good news” is a part of discipling, because discipling includes “pre-conversion” relationships and people who don’t follow Jesus observing the love of those who do. “Missions” is still important. Going all over the world to love people and share with them the “good news” of Jesus and serve them wherever they are is a part of discipling, because discipling includes “as we are going” both locally and globally. “Discipleship” as it is called is a part of “discipling,” because teaching followers of Jesus more and more about His ways is a “post-conversion” element of discipling. It’s interesting, because some of you reading this equate “discipling” with “discipleship,” but Jesus didnt. He never divided these concepts up. Never spoke of them in three different ways.
When I think of “discipling” as Jesus used the word, it involved all three. Most importantly, it involves doing life together with both people who don’t follow Jesus and people who do, living the teachings of Jesus at all times in love and speaking the teachings of Jesus when prompted to do so in conversation. To emphasize one of those three is not “The Great Commission.” To emphasize only one of those three would not be true to how Jesus taught discipling. Therefore, it would be lacking His intent to emphasize just one of those three as “The Great Commission.” So, the synonym for “The Great Commission” is “discipling.”
What would you suggest that the synonym for “the Great Commission” is? What would you suggest needs to be done to promote it? Please leave your thoughts.
I guess I am passionate about this, since this is my 2nd “southern baptist” post in like two weeks. I hear the talk of the “Great Commission Resurgence.” Here’s the thing. If baptists are going have a “Great Commission Resurgence,” then we may need to start by giving adequate time promoting what “The Great Commission” actually is.