FULFILLING THE GREAT COMMISSION
Before ascending to heaven Jesus imparted these final words to His disciples and to all of us.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”
Christ’s instruction, known as the Great Commission, was to be the focus and primary ministry goal of the church. Jesus did not commission the church to make Christians, but to make disciples. The Holy Spirit would descend upon, dwell among and within the members of the church, distributing spiritual gifts for God’s glory, and for the edification or building up of the body of Christ.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ ”
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,”
Among these are the gifts of prophecy, teaching and evangelism. The church is called to preach the gospel to the world. The Holy Spirit chooses, calls, convicts and converts the unsaved. God then entrusts these newborn believers into the cradle of His church and commissions or commands the more mature believers to build up the young believers to become mature disciples, emulating the life of Christ.
“It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher…”
Disciple – A follower, one who attaches himself to another; a student or a learner, one whose life gradually and progressively takes on the character of the teacher.
“A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.”
Most churches today emphasize evangelism, and evangelistic events, rather than discipleship. Evangelism is crucial but should not be perceived as the main mission of the church. While the objective of evangelism is salvation, the objective of discipleship is to develop an intimate, abiding relationship with Christ and grow in spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness, teaching them how to correctly tend to the gifts God has given them.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
The most powerful and effective evangelism will result naturally when mature Christians, whose lives within the church and in their homes, workplaces and communities, reflect and glorify God as a result of their abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.
“If, in our orthodox churches, the abiding in Christ, the living union with Him, the experience of His daily and hourly presence and keeping, were preached with the same distinctness and urgency as His atonement and pardon through His blood, I am confident that many would be found to accept with gladness the invitation to such a life, and that its influence would be manifest in their experience of the purity and the power, the love and the joy, the fruit bearing, and all the blessedness that the Savior connected with the abiding in Him.”
-Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
God has designed the church to function like a family, with the children cared for, trained by and, to some degree, accountable to the mature adults. Paul, who often referred to Timothy as his child in the faith, felt the liberty to challenge this young believer about his words and behavior, purity in his personal life, and even his use of the spiritual gifts that God had bestowed upon him (see 1 Timothy 4:12-16). In our self-absorbed society, personal privacy has been elevated far above personal accountability. This lack of personal accountability has left room for many young believers to slowly stray and wander off track with nobody to challenge, to teach, and caution or exhort them of the potential dangers of their choices and actions. Personal accountability should not be confused with ‘shepherding’, where church leaders have absolute control over the members of the church.
“As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.”
-1 Peter 2:2
Most baby Christians will only thrive and grow when they are fed and nurtured by mature spiritual parents. Like children, they need their questions answered, their errors corrected, and personal contact with loving mentors (disciple-ers) who will set the example and take time to give them personal application of biblical truths.
All too often churches today are raising latchkey kids. Through a variety of creative evangelistic efforts spiritual babies are born, then presented with a new believer packet, a paperback New Testament, and a church bulletin containing a list of church activities. They are encouraged to get involved and largely expected to fend for themselves. Some are fortunate enough to have relationships with older Christians to encourage, nurture and help them get established in their faith. However, many do not have this benefit. Lacking spiritual strength and understanding they, like neglected infants, fail to thrive.
“…that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.”
When we look at the condition of the body of Christ today, the absence of spiritual maturity, along with the presence of sin and hypocrisy, the divorce rate, and rebellious children, it is evident that discipleship and accountability has become a low priority in many churches. God is adding to the Church but the lack of focus and strategies in place to disciple new believers has produced large churches filled with immature Christians.