What Does a “Great Commission Church” Look Like?
The Great Commission — disciple the nations (Mt 28:19) — is the mission Jesus gave the church until his return (see Sept blog). This blog is called Great Commission Leader because I want to encourage and be a resource to Christian leaders to embrace their call of fulfilling Jesus’ mission for the church, to be a Great Commission leader. So what does it look like at the local church level? What are the key elements of a “Great Commission Church?” I believe there are two essential factors.
Maintain a Culture (and Structure) of Discipleship
Discipleship must be in the DNA of the church from the start, and we must do everything to maintain that focus! To be sure, making disciples is broad enough to include many activities, from evangelism to children’s ministry, media ministry to altar ministry, small groups to large services, etc. But the natural tendency of local churches is to shift from discipleship to programs as it grows. I understand to a degree this is a necessary aspect of growth, but here’s the key we must remember — what we consider growth, gathering a larger congregation, does not mean we are making disciples. And if we’re not effectively making disciples (and raising leaders) then we’re not fulfilling the mission of the church. We must be adamant in maintaining a discipleship focus!
If you plant a church, you might make disciples. If you make disciples, you will plant a church. — Eric Hoke
Concerning structure, let us consider Jesus’ ministry. He had three levels of disciples — three, twelve, and seventy — and we can apply this in our churches. It’s not enough to just get people serving, although that is very important. How are we investing into our people personally when they are “between meetings?” We can have a network of discipleship relationships that under girds all our other activities. I like the system we call 3D groups (3 Disciples) that is modelled after Jesus’ relationship with Peter, James, and John. Jesus clearly had a closer level of discipleship with those three than the other nine of his disciples. A 3D group is an ongoing discipleship and accountability relationship between four or five people. At the next level, small group ministry is comparable to Jesus’ relationship with the twelve. And trained volunteers with a pastoral focus can care for groups of seventy through whatever structure best fits the character and culture of the local church.
Be Active in the Three Arenas of Acts 1:8
I firmly believe a “Great Commission church” must understand and function in the Acts 1:8 principle — “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” A true Great Commission church should be focusing effort in all THREE arenas (no, it’s not four, more on that below). This means allocating some time and money in all three arenas.
In recent years, I have witnessed a swing toward local focused outreach and missions. This, of course, is very admirable as we want to impact the communities where our churches are at. This is our Jerusalem and it understandably deserves our primary focus. However, it has also been my observation that this renewed local focus in missions has clearly come at the expense of attention given to “the ends of the earth,” international missions.
The latter half of the twentieth century was perhaps the zenith of the international missions focus in the American church, but the turn of the century marked a turning point. It was spoken so frequently in relation to missions that the American church needs to “pass the baton” to the church in the rest of the world that that is exactly what we did! Financial commitment to world missions has gone down just like the international flags have come down in our church buildings and fewer candidates are going to the field. The command of Jesus to GO and disciple the NATIONS still applies to the church in the United States!
And finally, there is the in between arena of “all Judea and Samaria” that is not so obvious as it first appears. Many interpret this as two regions thereby creating essentially four concentric circles given in Acts 1:8. But grammatically and geographically this is not so. Grammatically, there are three phrases, “Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, the ends of the earth.” Geographically, Judea and Samaria are completely in the same region. So why did Jesus specifically mention them both? And why did he say ALL of Judea and Samaria? It’s because they were culturally very different, and, in fact, Jews despised the Samaritans! Jesus wanted to make sure that his disciples went to the people that were near to them physically but very different culturally. That is a word we still very much need to heed in our churches today.