In this three part series of posts we will look at the task and the scope of the Great Commission. Special attention will be paid to the role of local churches in fulfilling that commission. These posts were originally written for the fellowship of churches I am a part of. I have attempted to adjust them in order to make them applicable to all local churches that are involved in radical evangelism, personal discipleship and church planting. I am afraid that I was not able make successfully expand all of the examples, so some of them will only apply to a small percentage of local churches. But I think the posts are food for thought nonetheless, so I have decided to post them anyway. I hope they help spur you and your church towards fulfilling the Great Commission.
The Lord Jesus has given his Church clear marching orders. We are to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that He has commanded us.” This commission can be summed up in three words, win, build and send.
Many local churches around the world have been faithful with what was handed down to us by our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of this unswerving focus to the vision of win, build and send through church planting, I believe these churches have earned the commendation of the house of the Rechabites mentioned in Jeremiah chapter 35.
The Rechabites were commanded by their father, Jonadab, to abstain from wine and to dwell in tents all of their days. When brought to the Temple of the Lord by Jeremiah, they refused the wine that was offered to them by the prophet. They alluded to the command of their father as the reason for their refusal. Jeremiah pointed to their faithfulness as being in complete contrast with the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel. The Rechabites had obeyed their father and for this reason the Rechabites were given the promise of preservation due to their covenant keeping.
Congregations faithful to the simplicity of the Great Commission, like the Rechabites, know who they are and what they are commanded to do. They are committed to radical evangelism. They understand that men are lost and that the Body of Christ must go outside the four walls of the church building to seek and save them. They are not content with reaching those that are easy to deal with; but they have the heart of the Good Shepherd that prays, “Give us those that no one else wants.” They win people to Christ through Gospel proclamation!
These congregations understand that when people come to Christ that is not the end of the journey, but the very beginning. After these lost souls come to Christ with all of their filth and darkness the Church is then called to work with God as He refashions them into the image of Jesus. They don’t just make converts who believe in Jesus, but they make disciples by teaching them how to obey all that He has commanded us. These kingdom communities are committed to building lives through personal discipleship!
They note that the Great Commission is included among his commandments; so they understand that they haven’t taught their disciples “to obey all he has commanded” until these disciples are themselves making disciples and walking in the destiny God has for them. Each soul is destined to be a co-laborer with the Lord and so they practice radical release by sending workers throughout their region. As God’s kingdom representatives on earth, local congregations must send laborers into the Harvest!
Though Christ uses many organizations and groups to accomplish many wonderful things, his main work is to “build his Church.” Since the manifestation of the universal Church of Jesus Christ is the local church, we must recognize the importance of these congregations in God’s plan. It is through the local church, in conjunction with other local churches, that Christ “builds up his body and equips the saints for ministry.” It is within the power of the local church to reproduce itself, and so fulfill the Great Commission. We must value the ministry of the local church!
Narrow Focus and International Reach
God told us to tend His Garden, even as he told Adam to tend Eden. In the Garden of Eden Satan tried to broaden Adam’s vision. He suggested to him that he could learn more by stepping over the boundary set up by the Lord. “Go ahead, try this fruit, it will make you wise,” Satan enticingly told him. In like manner, the Serpent of Old has often enticed the Church to stray from the simple task of making disciples as they endeavor to reach the unreached. Due to the perceived impossibility of making disciples and planting churches in the restricted nations of the world, many have set their minds to the task of figuring out what should be done in these lands until it is possible to do what Jesus told us to do.
God has raised up many mission organizations to help aspiring missionaries get to the mission field. This movement was necessary due to the inexperience many local churches had concerning missions. Local congregations felt ill-equipped to train, support and shepherd missionaries. Many godly men and women with a passion for the nations rose up and established mission organizations to fill this void. Over the last few hundred years these organizations have been responsible for training, sending and covering laborers into almost every nation on the planet.
These organizations have been a Godsend, but there have been some unintended consequences. Instead of learning the ropes from these organizations so that they could take up the baton, many local churches in the Body of Christ have relinquished their God given role in the mission field. A large percentage of local congregations have become totally dependent on organizations in the missionary endeavor and have completely outsourced missionary training. Nowadays, many missionaries are not trained in the local church environment, but in Bible schools and training programs. Because of this many modern missionaries arrive on the pioneer field with little practical ministry experience. Since their training did not take place in a local church they lack the experience of operating within a local body. Activities that are commonplace for local churches who are faithful to the Lord’s Commission such as evangelism, discipleship and leadership training, are still very theoretical to these new laborers as they step foot on unreached soil. Many times theological teaching, sociological theories and grand “missions” strategies are more on their minds than the simple vision of evangelism, personal discipleship and church planting.
The pioneer mission field is a hostile place. The Devil has many ways to discourage evangelism, discipleship and church planting. If the implementation of this vision (win, build, send) is not already second nature to the new missionary before he arrives in the hostile environment of the restricted nations, it is unlikely he will be successful in walking it out in that context. The pioneer mission field is not the place to learn how to make disciples and plant churches.
Prepared for Impact
I have elsewhere shared that before I was sent out from my local church, Praise Chapel in Dallas in the year 2000, I had already been to the mission field through a mission organization. And before joining that organization I had spent two years at Bible school. This organization provided me basic language training, a one week orientation to life in China, and a conference once a year for fellowship. I was placed on a team of five people. This team consisted of two couples, one other single guy, and me, the baby of the team. We had weekly fellowship times in which we encouraged and counseled one another. I was given absolute sovereignty as to how I would proceed in my ministry. It was my duty to seek God and find out what I should spend my time doing in terms of outreach.
I praise God that I had been discipled while in high school under a fruitful ministry (First Wesleyan Church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma) that knew how to win souls to Christ. So I did win some souls while I was in Chongqing that year and a half, but I didn’t know what to do next. I could answer some of their questions, but I didn’t know what else I was supposed to do. Two years of Bible school and the support of a large organization were insufficient in helping me establish a kingdom community on the mission field. Since I was one of the most fruitful members of the team, others didn’t have much criticism to offer me on my methods. So I was left to give birth to spiritual children without knowing how to build a spiritual home. I knew how to do basic evangelism and discipleship, but I didn’t know how to plant a church. I had no vision imparted to me, so I was left to figure things out on my own.
Since most missionaries are members of organizations as opposed to being sent directly from a local church, many find themselves in the same boat as I was. The fact that I had some personal discipleship in my high school years actually made my situation even better than most. These laborers are sincere and beloved of God, but due to their lack of intimate fellowship with a local church guided by the clear vision of win, build and send, they often struggle to know what activities to focus on. Many are unclear about what to do on the mission field because they didn’t receive hands-on training from their local church.
Our local churches must commit completely to the Commission of the Lord and stubbornly refuse to know anything other than win, build and send. This staunch narrow mindedness will protect us from the ineffective approaches to ministry that many in the pioneer field fall prey to. The local church that is committed to evangelism, discipleship and church planting has something to offer that all the missions’ organizations don’t. We must see the potential God has placed in the local congregation and not be intimidated by the seemingly vast reach of large organizations.
People in the unreached areas of the world have the same needs as people anywhere in the world. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to try and find out how to reach these people. They need the basics of evangelism, discipleship and leadership training, and this is just what many simple and obedient congregations have. The faithful local church has been trained and equipped by God for the task of IMPACTING the unreached nations of the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even if they aren’t aware of it.
Prepared for Influence
Those laborers sent into the mission field from local churches, instead of being sent by parachurch organizations, not only have what the unreached need, but we can be used to sharpen our co-laborers as well. When my pastor sent me to Northwest China in 2000, there were certain expectations that he had in his mind. I explained that though I had learned Chinese to some degree, I would need further study in order to be fully equipped to share the Gospel. He just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t use the little I already had to reach the lost while continuing my studies. All my explanations fell on gracious, but deaf ears. This sanctified narrow-mindedness put a fire under my feet. I realized that I was under obligation to at least attempt what he expected. So submissively I started evangelism in my half fluent Chinese from the first week I arrived in my target city.
I discovered two things in that season. Firstly, I came to understand that my Chinese was enough to get the Gospel point across, especially when mixed with the elementary English ability of the Chinese I was ministering to. People in this dark place were open to the Gospel even when it came through stammering lips. Secondly, I found that some of the other missionaries were made uncomfortable by my boldness. I was surprised to find that some of my co-laborers saw aggressive evangelism as a dangerous practice in this restricted area.
I found a kindred spirit in a young Korean missionary named David. He was gifted in evangelism. In his zany way he could get almost anyone to think seriously about the Gospel. I was usually at his side helping them understand what to do after they decided to follow Christ.
David had arrived before me and had already been written off as a dangerous example by some in the missionary community. He just refused to understand the need to “be careful.” The restrictions placed on Gospel proclamation by the communist government didn’t faze him. Due to the fact that he was Korean and somewhat distanced from the majority of the Western missionaries, he was considered an acceptable threat by those opposed to his methods. But when I, as a Westerner, followed his blazed trail, some of the other laborers felt I was going to get everyone kicked out of the country. I was approached and asked to “calm down and share less.” I was told that my activities could put everyone in danger of losing their residence permit. By then I had seen the fruit of our radical evangelism and was in no sense tempted to “calm down.” My response was not well received and some began to warn incoming missionaries to keep their distance from David and me.
Nevertheless, as we shared the Gospel people got saved! Some of the missionaries opposed to our methods were shocked by this result. For many years the college campus where most of our outreach was focused had been deemed closed and hard, along with the rest of the city. It wasn’t long before these missionaries again approached me. This time they were seeking to work together! David was soon returning to Korea and had entrusted all of his fruit to me. By the time these other workers approached me I was well aware that I needed help, and by God’s grace was wise enough to accept their olive branch. I had the vision that ensured fruitfulness, but others had the experience and resources to ensure the fruit remained. This inaugurated a new season of fruitfulness and unity among the missionaries on our side of the city.
The DNA of a local church faithful to the simple vision of win, build and send affected the Lord’s Vineyard. I had arrived in the region with the narrow vision of my Rechabite tribe. And through the sanctified stubbornness learned from my pastor, I set my face like flint to the goal of winning, building and sending. Those that at the beginning opposed me were in the end my greatest co-workers. They came to see the need for such a simple and clear vision. And when they offered their assistance, by God’s grace I was able to see that “two is better than one.” This fusion of the right vision, with an increase in the numbers of laborers putting that vision into practice, makes a lasting difference. The faithful local church has something unique to offer the pioneer mission field. Not only does it offer the life-giving Gospel for the lost and dying, but it also carries an infectious and fruitful vision for the other tribes in the Body of Christ. The local church has been prepared for INFLUENCE!