Re-reading “The Great Commission”

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Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

– Matt 28:18-20 –

I grew up thinking “The Great Commission” was a mandate for Christians to pack their bags, move overseas, convert the natives, and teach them to memorise the Bible (don’t laugh at me – I grew up in an evangelical, Bible-memorising, missionary-sending church with a passion to “win souls to the Lord”). I figured pastors and overseas missionaries were the only ones obeying the text, and set my heart towards missions work from an early age (as a woman, the role of “pastor” wasn’t open to me, back then).

However, over the years I’ve learned to re-read this section of the Bible, and three main points have leapt out at me (that I never saw when I was younger).

1. It’s not just talking about overseas missions.

It’s easy to get confused by the reference to “all nations” and think Jesus was telling us to pack our bags and head somewhere “over there” – where we need to spend many years learning the language and culture and customs, and probably will never be fully accepted as a local. Sure, there’s room for that approach, but it’s one part of the big picture. God has cleverly placed each one of us within a community, within our extended family, in our workplaces and schools and sports teams, as a minster of reconciliation. We already know the language and culture. We already have connections and relationships. We are strategically scattered throughout the nations, to have maximum impact and be part of an unstoppable, grassroots movement. What brilliant planning on God’s part!

2. Discipleship begins before conversion.

This one gets me really excited. This changes everything. We can start to invite our unchurched friends and relatives into a God-centred, others-focussed way of life long before we see any outward signs of conversion. I find my unchurched friends are very open to joining me in my “ministry” (welcoming newcomers and looking after some of the lonely people in our area) – more open than many of my churched friends (and often more socially appropriate). In the process, they start to change and become more open to God and His ways, and some of them have made a commitment to Christ (the Holy Spirit’s doing, not mine!). I never invite anyone to church anymore – I find they invite themselves when they are ready for that form of input. I’ve learned I am not responsible to “convert” anybody – that’s up to God – but I am responsible to actively and intentionally model God’s ways for others to observe and follow.

3. It’s about obedience, not memorisation.

Nearly every “discipleship” course I’ve ever done has involved memorising verses and sections of Scripture. Most churches I’ve been part of have been obsessed with “Biblical literacy”, and knowing what Jesus said, rather than just going out and doing it. There is a place for knowing your Bible, but Jesus instructed us to teach people to obey, not memorise. Those two key words make all the difference. I’ve realised my friends don’t have to quote a single memory verse in the process of hands-on, real life obedience.

 

Re-reading the text has opened me up to a bigger picture, a more sustainable and effective plan for reaching the world than most churches currently practice. Jesus set a movement in motion when he gave “The Great Commission” – a model for naturally-occuring reproduction of “Jesus-followers” throughout the world. He never intended his people to farm out their responsibilities to the paid professionals – he wants all of us to intentionally and organically live as disciples, who make disciples…who make disciples!

4 thoughts on “Re-reading “The Great Commission”

  1. Points 2 & 3 – Wholeheartedly agree…

    Point 1 – As long as we understand that “all nations” are all “ethnic groups,” and might very well require leaving our own cultures. Yes, God has “cleverly” placed us in our contexts, but He has also cleverly exposed us to a myriad of distinct opportunities and experiences that might be useful “elsewhere.” The Great Commission is not necessarily talking about overseas missions, but it’s not necessarily not talking about them either.

    • Absolutely! Thanks for the feedback, Miguel – I meant that to read “it’s not just about overseas missions”, and I’ve changed that now (oops).

      My husband and I trained to be missionaries at Bible College. God has led us to stay put, but my husband now works with heroin addicts, and I spend a lot of time with women who have arrived here from other cultures, so our background still drives us.

      Sorry for the poor wording. I thank God for the pioneering work done throughout the world by committed missionaries. I was just trying to remind the rest of God’s people to get off their butts and get involved as well!

      Blessings,

      – Kathleen

  2. “Just trying to remind the rest of God’s people to get off their butts and get involved as well.” WHOAAAA…….Kathleen, in all fairness, I would venture to say that God’s people are actively involved ministering to others daily and serving in ways that don’t promote self. They may not be doing what I’m doing, or what I think they should be doing. But, let’s extend grace and allow people to hear God’s voice for THEMSELVES and follow HIM. After all, isn’t that what your posts are all about?

    • Hi Stephen, I guess I was being a bit cheeky there – I’m so sorry to offend. I was responding to Miguel’s concerns that many churches are now advocating staying over going. That’s fine, as long as they are still emphasizing the role of each person in God’s mission where they are.

      I’m sure you’re aware of churches who unintentionally communicate that only the professionals are in a position to change the world around them. They’re the ones I aimed my comment at. We are all missionaries, co-workers in God’s plan.

      Thanks for the feedback,

      – Kathleen

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