The neglected part of the Great Commission


by Stan Mitchell

I heard a man declare that he disliked “holding the hands” of those whom he felt should “know better.” He quit local work and became an evangelist “at large.”

I understand completely the frustration of developing spiritual maturity in congregations, but this task is not unimportant. An “evangelist” should complete his work.

When the ostrich lays her eggs, they are a long way from being full-grown birds, able to fend for and feed themselves.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and the son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you …” (Matthew 28:19,20, ESV).

So I have a simple question: Which is the command? Is it “go”? “Make disciples”? “Baptize”? Or “Teach”? This Bible passage contains one imperative (or command), “make disciples,” and three participles: “Going,”  “Baptizing” and “Teaching.”

In other words, one makes “disciples” by “going,” “baptizing” and “teaching” in the same sense as a parent might tell his child: “Go clean your room, vacuuming, dusting and picking up your toys.” The three participles explain how the “cleaning up the room” part is to be carried out.

Jesus never asked us to go to all nations and make church members; he asked us to go make “disciples.” A disciple does not warm a pew, or spend his time making sure church leadership is hamstrung by criticism. He dedicates himself to serving God and God’s people.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once declared, “When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The church cannot obscure its mission by transforming a congregation into an audience, preaching to performance, or worship into entertainment.

Discipleship is a process that includes both baptism and a continuing Christian education, the “teaching them to obey all that [Christ] has commanded” part. The school days of a disciple are never over. One never graduates from Christian education.

Teaching disciples “all things” describes the arduous task of nurturing and developing converts into disciples. This is the neglected part of the Great Commission–teaching!

The New Testament has given us a pretty workable manual for such teaching. Maturing Christians takes time, just as surely as it takes time and the right conditions for an apple to ripen.

Evangelists should not get in a hurry upon converting someone; the Bible refers to new converts as “babes in Christ” for a reason.

Supporting congregations should understand that mission work includes developing and training converts. In one sense, this process never ends.

This entails the routines of preparing lessons writing bulletin articles, visiting the weak and the sick. Building faith in Christians is messy, hands-on, heartbreaking and exhilarating.

It’s also God’s work.

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