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Monday, May 08, 2017

The Great Commission Strategy

We are, by definition, supposed to be "Jesus followers". That is, as Christians, we should be like Christ. So it would likely be wise if we examined His life and His strategies and adopt them ourselves. At the end of His time on earth, Jesus gave His disciples what we call "the Great Commission". Yes, we even capitalize it. It was, in a sense, our marching orders.
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt 28:18-20)
We, in our infinite wisdom (read "sinful nature"), have managed to shorten that to "evangelize ... you know, if you feel like it." But that wasn't the commission. It was much bigger. Now, sure, to "make disciples" requires "evangelize" -- "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15) -- but considering that the fulfillment of the Great Commission is like saying, "I've completed the race because I crossed the starting line." So, Jesus gave us the Great Commission and we, as Christians, ought to so do. But we ought to do it as He did. How did He do it? What was Jesus's strategy for doing what He commanded us to do?

Most obviously, Jesus picked twelve men. Now, He had lots of disciples. He had hundreds at various points in time (Luke 6:17; Acts 1:15). Paul said He even appeared to "500 brethren at one time" after His resurrection (1 Cor 15:6). There was a broad component to His ministry, but it is undeniable that there was, within that broad ministry, a narrow focus on 12 and, even within that twelve, a few -- Peter, James, and John. These twelve were chosen and did not choose Him (John 15:16). They weren't the cream of the crop, the smart, the wise. They weren't special in any discernible sense. Fishermen, a tax gatherer, a fanatical Nationalist (Simon, the Zealot), unknowns; they weren't special people. They doubted Him, denied knowing Him, betrayed Him. But they were willing to follow Him.

Jesus spent 3 years in His recorded ministry. From all indications, He spent almost the entire time with these men. There were others, to be sure. There were women. There were crowds. There were needy people. There was even time spent alone. But for the vast majority of His time He was with these men to some degree. They represented a major investment of His life while He was with them. In this He gave Himself away. His personal life was more or less sacrificed. His focus was outward, not inward. His mission was His ministry.

There is a standardized method of teaching available in a variety of places and applications. First, the teacher masters the task. Then, the student observes the teacher doing the task. Then the teacher observes the student doing the task. Finally the student does the task alone. Jesus did this in a big way. Sure, He taught with words. Just look at a red-letter Bible. Lots of words. But He also lived a life that demonstrated what He taught. As an easy example, Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12) and then gave the blind man sight (John 9:1-7). Far beyond that He was the walking, breathing demonstration of "Love the Lord your God with all your heart" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." He taught by living submission, commitment, integrity, humility, forgiveness, and more. He taught by example a daily, real, personal relationship with God. Perhaps His strongest teaching tool was living it.

Then, after spending time with Him, listening to Him and observing, Jesus sent them out. On one occasion He sent out the 12 (Luke 9:6) and followed it with a review (Luke 9:10). Later He appointed 72 "two by two" to go ahead of Him (Luke 10:1-16). They returned and reported what had happened (Luke 10:17). So Jesus 1) mastered ministry, 2) practiced ministry in the presence of His disciples, and then 3) had His disciples do ministry while He watched.

Ultimately, Jesus expected His disciples to produce disciples. He expected them to reproduce. He told them, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) He warned, "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." (John 15:6) He didn't merely teach them; He had expectations for them, expectations He taught them to meet.

There's an interesting story in Mark. Jesus went up on a mountain and "summoned those whom He Himself wanted." Among those "He appointed twelve." Why? We're not left to guess. It says He appointed these twelve "so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons." (Mark 3:13-15) That was Jesus's plan. Minister to many, but choose a smaller number of men to be with, to share Himself with, and to teach to minister themselves. This was Jesus's strategy for His own Great Commission. To boil that down to "Go and preach the gospel" is to boil away all but the start of it. If Jesus meant merely "Go and preach the gospel", His ministry could have ended when it began (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15). Jesus said to make disciples. And He didn't merely command it; He lived it. He demonstrated it. He illustrated it. The baffling question, then, is why it is that we are not doing it.


Paul G said...

Hi Stan, a very big AMEN from me :-)

Anonymous said...

My church always encourages the laity to ring doorbells in the neighborhood. Every few years I will pass by someone preaching through a megaphone on a street corner-- a way of reaching thousands of people in a day. The cheaper ones can be had through Amazon for under $100.

Stan said...

"Ring doorbells" is fine and even perhaps "preaching through a megaphone on a street corner", but this is not "make disciples", especially as Jesus did it. It is the start of making disciples, but it is not making disciples. It is merely making converts. What modern Christianity appears to be doing very, very poorly is making disciples ... so much so that large numbers of us don't even know what that means.

Paul G said...

Again an AMEN to your comment Stan :-)

Paul G said...

Oops! I nearly forget, and when they make disciples, they mostly make disciples unto themselves and not unto the Lord Jesus Christ.

Eric B. said...

Quite frankly, most American Christianity doesn't even have the Gospel right. So most are being "evangelized" with a false gospel, or , at best, a partial gospel.
I agree that people aren't being discipled, but if they were, would they be taught correctly?

Stan said...

I might agree with you, but in what way do you think "most American Christianity doesn't even have the Gospel right"?

Eric B. said...

There is the prosperity gospel, the self-esteem gospel, the social gospel, and Catholicism. Those encompass the overwhelming majority of "christianity" in America today. They overlap and bleed into each other and some of what is taught in those bleed into what is left.
And what is left is full of "judge not" christians, "live out the gospel" christians, and "more American than Christian" christians.
I'm going to assume for time's sake that you know what those "gospels" and types of christians are.
I've found in my local community that morality is what people think the gospel is. That we should "live out the gospel" and people will see how good we are and want to be like us. Or that Christianity is superior to the other religions because of our morality and people will do the smart thing and choose Christianity.

Eric B. said...

The latter is arrogance, as Michael Horton explains:

It IS arrogant to assert that Christianity is unique in its wisdom for living, that Christians as a whole live better than non-Christians as a whole, that only Christians are good friends and neighbors, and that only they really care about--or at least have the right answers for--the pressing issues and temporal needs all around them. Some non-Christians I know have better marriages and families than many Christians. When we defend Christianity as "the only way," we have to be careful to first point out that, properly speaking, CHRIST is the only way, and that He is the only way TO RECONCILIATION WITH GOD, FORGIVENESS OF SINS, THE NEW BIRTH, AND ALL THE BLESSINGS OF OUR INHERITANCE IN THE NEW CREATION. Non-Christians can follow good advice; they can turn over a new leaf and improve their actions and even their moral character. The Nation of Islam has a fine track record of turning gang members into upstanding citizens. What these groups, programs, religions, and therapies cannot do is transform people from enemies of God into friends, from condemned criminals into redeemed heirs, and from citizens of the kingdom of death into citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Only in Christ can we be forgiven and made new, not just better.

It is arrogant to assert, "I found it!" or to give the impression that we are better people. It is arrogant to suggest that we are saved by belonging to the right group and performing the right rituals. However, the gospel announces that God has found us--sinners--while we were running from Him. The door is wide open to all sinners. There is no path from us to God. However, God has found a path to us in His Son. We are not testifying to our moral, intellectual, or spiritual superiority. On the contrary, we are proclaiming the God of grace that saves sinners. Precisely because the gospel is Good News for sinners and not a good plan for good people and groups, it is not something for which we can assume any pride.

-- Michael Horton in "The Gospel Commission" p102-103

And the former is not possible, as I tried to explain to a pastor friend of mine a few years ago who liked to recite the quote "Preach the gospel, if necessary use words."

The gospel can NOT be lived out, maybe the effects can, but not the gospel itself.

The gospel is that you have broken God's laws and deserve to go to hell. But God is kind and merciful and sent His Son to live a perfect life in your place, and to die a horrible death in your place. His body was laid & sealed in a tomb. 3 days later He rose from the dead and if you put your complete trust in what Jesus did and repent from your sins you will be saved from the wrath of God and spend eternity in Heaven with Jesus.

Exactly what can you do to convey THAT message?
What action will communicate that information?
Being nice won't, donating money won't, feeding the hungry or helping the homeless won't. There are plenty of JW's, Mormons, even (gasp) atheists who do all these things. We have been given a message that requires that we PROCLAIM with words.

Our lifestyle should SUPPORT our evangelism. Our lifestyle cannot BE our evangelism.

Sorry this got a little longer than I anticipated. Hope I answered your question.

Stan said...

Yes, there are, indeed, a lot of "alternative gospels" which Paul says is not a gospel (Gal 1:7). There is the ever-popular "saved by works" version which people will embrace at the same time they claim "saved by grace". There is the other side, the "I can be saved and have no change at all" side, the "antinomian" side that claims that we have no response in behavior. There is the non-Christian Christian gospel that says that God loves everyone and wouldn't send anyone to hell, "so don't worry about it" (universalism). All kinds of false gospels masquerading as "the Gospel".