“Clearly Jesus did not leave the work of evangelism subject to human impression or convenience. To his disciples it was a definite command, perceived by impulse at the beginning of their discipleship, but progressively clarified in their thinking as they followed him, and finally spelled out in no uncertain terms. No one who followed Jesus very far could escape this conclusion. It was so then; it is so today. Christian disciples are sent men and women—sent out in the same work of world evangelism to which the Lord was sent, and for which he gave his life. Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life. It is the heartbeat of all that we are called to be and do. It is the commission of the church that gives meaning to all else that is undertaken in the name of Christ.” – Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism
Archives For Great Commission
It is no secret around SBCers on social media that IMB trustees are planning to (if not already) vote on who they believe should be the next president of the International Mission Board. And it is also no secret that David Platt has been a top candidate for the position this time as he was the last time the position was available a few years ago. There are some who are not happy about Platt’s potential nomination, and they have voiced their reasons why they feel the way they do. I would like to offer an alternative argument on what I do believe David Platt is the best candidate to lead Southern Baptists most important agency (IMB).
If you spend any time with David Platt, the first thing you realize is that guy is genuinely humble. As prideful human beings, we are fairly discerning to spot false humility. However, as the Lord has continued to give David influence in the evangelical world, it seems that God has also given David increasing self-forgetfulness as well. This is a rare thing in our evangelical celebrity age, and I believe this to be the first and most compelling reason why David should be considered for the position. He is not overcome with power or position. He is not lifted by the praise of men or brought low by their criticisms. He is marked by a life of otherness that makes everything about him attractive to those who know and love Jesus Christ.
David has demonstrated an extremely high level of competency on the key areas surrounding this position–namely, head, heart, and hands. He has one of the sharpest minds in the country with a rigorous commitment to Scripture. His knowledge of God’s Word and competency in handling difficult ecclesiological and missiological issues are paramount in global missions and engaging the unreached peoples of the world. When it comes to his heart for the unreached peoples of the world, David is a man with fire in his bones. You cannot hear him speak without being warmed by the heat that flows from his heart. We need a leader who will light a torch under the glacier of the SBC to melt cold hearts to embrace the mission Jesus has given us. When it comes to his hands, David has invested his life in some of the hardest places of the world. He does not merely talk about it. He’s been there. He has experienced the plight of the poorest of the poor. He has preached to those who have never heard. He has and continues to train dozens of men and women to live cross-culturally. And he is aggressively leading his church in exemplary ways on what a Great Commission Church looks like. Whether head, heart, or hands, David Platt, in my opinion, is without comparison in the SBC.
- From Strangers to Missionaries: A Neighborhood Strategy for Mission
- Re-entering Every “Place” for Gospel Advance
- From Strangers to Missionaries: Fleshing It Out (1)
- Dunbar’s Number and Your Diversified Relationship Investments
- From Strangers to Missionaries: Fleshing It Out (2)
Other Supplementary Articles:
- Missional Margin (Part 1) (Part 2)
- Missional Moleskine: Your City Travelogue
- Evangelism in Every Place
- Being on Mission in Community
- Make a Relationship Investment Plan
- Cultivating Community Contacts
- My Jericho Moment
- Life Is Too Short to Be in a Hurry
- The “Chiastic Structure” of Missional Discipleship
- Owning My Own Square Mile
I hope this series has been helpful to you. I know it has been challenging and fruitful for me. I hope to continue to write more in the future on this important topic. After all that could be said, the simple fact is that Jesus is Lord. Those who confess Him as Lord are called to live under his reign and rule, bringing that kingdom come through life on mission by the power of His Spirit. It is impossible to have Jesus as Lord and not have His Great Commission in your life. May God help us take greater ownership of the call to make disciples of Jesus because His glory motivates us our hearts and His grace transforms our lives.
When it comes to the Great Commission, there are basically three responses a church can have. A church can do nothing, something, or one thing.
A church that does nothing believes the Great Commission does not apply to them. In other words, they make the argument that the command of Jesus to His disciples then was for a particular people in a particular time and has no direct implications to Christians today. Therefore their church members are off the hook, so to speak, when it comes to making disciples. The exceptions to this principle are the “great” Christians who obey the command of Christ to make disciples. The “great” aspect of the Great Commission refers to the elite special forces of the Christian faith which, of course, excludes most, if not all, of us.
This response also attempts to use seemingly good theological arguments to make their case. God is sovereign, and He’s got the whole salvation thing under control. He does not need our help. If He wants more disciples, He will make it happen. This argument, although is partly true, actually does not really appreciate the sovereignty of God as it is revealed in Scripture. God is not only sovereign over the ends but also the means as well. God will make it happen, and He will do so by making it happen through means—through His people who are called to join Him on mission. Playing the sovereignty card on doctrinal table is an ungodly way to justify disobedience to the commands of Christ.
Let me begin by saying that I’m a big advocate of both the marks and the mission of the church. In fact, I want to believe we all are. But what I have observed in evangelical life is that those who emphasize the marks of a healthy church are often (not always) weak on the mission, and those who emphasize the mission of the church are often (not always) weak on the marks of a true church.
As I have argued earlier, the marks and mission are not in opposition to one another. Jesus is both the builder (mission) of the church as well as the perfector (marks) of the church. I want to pursue genuine biblical health that will, by virtue of being healthy, be growing and bearing fruit. I also want to pursue fruitfulness that is consistent and a consequence of faithfulness to God’s Word. As Tim Keller puts it, we should evangelize as we edify and edify as we evangelize. Churches should be comprised of disciples of Jesus who have a simultaneous pursuit of God (holiness) and pursuit of man (mission), and these two should not be divorced from one another. Jesus calls us to follow Him (marks of a true disciple), and He will make us fishers of men (mission of a true disciple).
Indeed, when one comes to think about discipleship in relationship to the marks and mission, it is compelling to see how disciple-making merges the two together. What is the mark of a true disciple? Christ-likeness (increasing conformity into His image). What is the mission of a true disciple? To make more disciples of Jesus (by the power of His Spirit and instrumentality of His Word). What kind of new disciples are we seeking to make? True disciples who bear the marks of a genuine, devoted follower of Jesus. It stands to reason then, that a biblical church bearing true marks of health, will consist of disciples not only becoming like Christ but also being used by Christ in His mission.
What troubles me is that often times churches who seek to emphasize numerical growth are very loosely connected or concerned with the marks of a true church. Theology and ecclesiology is reduced to a tool in the pragmatist belt, to be used like a spare tire in cases of emergency, rather than the engine that drives the vehicle. Because the goal is growth, whatever means to secure that goal is deemed appropriate (I think you will see a good bit of this, by the way, in how churches treat Easter).
On the other hand, often times churches who seek biblical depth and health are loosely connected or concerned about the mission of the church. Evangelism, disciple-making, and church planting are not cultivated and celebrated as central to the life and focus of the church. Whereas intentionality exists in expository preaching and the membership process, there is not as much intentionality when it comes to missional engagement and the discipleship process. Because the goal is health, churches can feel justified with missional atrophy so long as the church is valuing purity.
If we believe in the mission, then we must care deeply about ecclesiology, so that we know what God considers to be a church and how it is to be governed. If we believe in a true church, then we must care deeply about mission so that true churches serve the purpose for which we exist in the world. I want both, but I admit that I feel the tension and the breakdown that exists in the evangelical world.
I want to be careful here not to make broad generalizations and stereotype every church that exists. Bear with me as I simply try to elaborate on an observation that I hope will generate substantive discussion and even more importantly, a learning experience so that we as practitioners can have a healthy and robust praxis in our respective local churches.
Am I missing it here? Are my observations off base? What are your thoughts?
Every Christian is a disciple of Jesus. It’s our new identity. Our calling is to make disciples of Jesus. It’s our purpose and mission. When we live in our identity and live out our purpose, we are disciples of Jesus who make more disciples of Jesus. In short, we are disciple making disciples.
One of the great encouragements we have to live as disciple-making disciples is the powerful promises of God. They are God’s provision to keep us from living in unbelief. Have you ever considered how the Great Commission is sandwiched with the power and promise of Jesus?
Jesus begins, “All authority (power) in heaven and earth has been given to me.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Everything that ever existed or will exist is subject to Me. Nothing is too hard for me.” Therefore (“because I’ve made this provision FOR YOU”), go and make disciples. The power of Jesus entails a promise in making disciples that no heart is too hard, no sinners is so enslaved, no eyes are so blind that Jesus can, with a word, utterly and entirely save and transform their life. Let Saul of Tarsus enter your mind, or Lydia, or Matthew, or perhaps even your own life.
Jesus ends, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” There will be moments in living for Jesus that you feel all alone. Taking up your cross may mean laying down everything and losing everyone that liked the old you (not the one that makes much of Jesus). But Jesus, knowing the challenges we will face, gives us greater comfort to overcome those challenges. Internally, we experience the promise of Jesus through the witness of the Spirit who again and again testifies of our adoption into the family of God. When we proclaim the good news to sinners and face being ostracized, the same Spirit who empowers us to witness is the same one who comforts us with the adoption love of God, crying out “Abba, Father!” Externally, we experience the promise of Jesus through the good hand of our providential God. We know that God does all things well and orchestrates the events and circumstances of our lives for His glory and our good. Therefore, we can enter the unknown not having to know what the future beholds, but rather risk our lives in making disciples because the One who holds the future knows my name.
Let me give one other example of the promises of God for making disciples.
Think of the kindness of God that He would illustrate His promises through ordinary things we see every day. How often do you see birds in the air? How often do you see grass on the ground? Did you know that birds and grass are ours to see the promises of God? How different would our lives be if every time we say a bird or blade of grass, what came to our mind was, “Promise! Promise! Promise!”?
Yet when we are living with eyes of faith, we will indeed see it the way Jesus taught us. Could it be the reason we are not making disciples of Jesus is because we fail to believe the promises and power of God? Why were they given to us? According to Jesus, they were given so that we would not get preoccupied with our lives but rather the kingdom of God. Unbelievers worry about daily provisions of what they will eat and what they will wear. Disciples of Jesus have a heavenly Father who makes provision for these things, and His promise is that “all these things will be added unto you” when you “seek first the kingdom of God.” The promise that “all these things (the legitimate stuff that often keeps us from making disciples) will be added unto you” should liberate us to live sacrificially and single-mindedly in pursuit of the kingdom of God. And how often do we need to believe that promise? Every time we see a bird flapping in the air or a blade of grass blowing in the wind.
A failure to make disciples isn’t just disobedience to Jesus, but it is unbelief in the power and promises of God. The purpose of God for our lives (making disciples) was sandwiched between these two realities because they were intended to press down on our purpose and smother us with Jesus’ omnipotence and nearness. May God give us eyes of faith to see the world the way Jesus intended it and cause to join Him in the mission of seeing His kingdom come through the making of disciples through the power of His promises.
Some of you who read the title of this post saw the words “chiastic structure” and are wondering what in the world that has to do with making disciples on mission. Hang with me for a second. I’m not going to drag you into Hebraic literature and poetic structures, but I do think such a title warrants a little explanation.
A chiasm is simply a learning device to draw connections and parallels in concentric fashion, usually working from the outside in. Examples would be ABC-CBA (the two A’s parallel, the two B’s parallel, and the two C’s parallel). This is also a way of drawing emphasis, usually the center being the most important pairs of parallels.
Reflecting with my disciple-making team, I believe there is a chiastic structure to missional discipleship. In other words, I believe there is biblical symmetry in how we enter missionally and how we make disciples by joining them to invite us into this life on mission. In order to make the parallels memorable, all of the parts of the structure begin with the letter “P” (and all Southern Baptists say a hearty “amen”). Here’s the chiastic structure:
Last week, I wrote about “owning my own square mile” based on coming to terms with God’s purposes and providence/plan for my life. I genuinely believe that a high view of God’s sovereignty does not marginalize mission but actually mobilizes mission. God’s purpose is that His people who represent Him on earth–His character, His Ways, and His gospel. God has a plan to bring about His eternal purposes culminating in the glorification of His Son from every nation, tongue, and tribe. That plan is through the local church to proclaim the gospel of God which brings about the obedience of faith to those becoming like Christ in all things. God is the great Evangelist who plans salvation (Father), purchases salvation (Son), and personalizes salvation (Holy Spirit).
As a disciple of Jesus, I’m called to follow Him on mission to love God and love others, to become a fisher of men, laborer in His harvest field, ambassador of His gospel, and soldier in His army. My life should be characterized by the pursuit of man–of sinners far from God–who become the object of my affection, the subject of my prayers, and the prospect of kingdom advance. In order for this pursuit of man to become meaningful, I must pattern my life after the priority of the kingdom of God and making the gospel of first importance. Because I have been sent into the world by Jesus (John 20:21), my life should reflect a pattern indicating a pursuit for sinners because of God’s purposeful and providential placement.
Below is a video of Kevin DeYoung, Greg Gilbert, and Ryan Kelly talking about the mission of the church. DeYoung and Gilbert have a forthcoming book coming out on this subject, and it will certainly be one worth reading.
However, I think Doug Wilson is on to something about seeing things a little differently as it relates to the mission of disciple-making. Wilson argues:
The commission is not to “make disciples” in our modern individualistic sense. That is included, and amen to it. But the commission as the Lord worded it says that we are to disciple the nations. To say that cultural transformation is not part of this is to completely overlook the direct object of that verb. We are to disciple the ethnoi, their hearts, souls, and minds, but also their court systems, and their film industries, and their politics, and their art studios, and their publishing industries. This certainly means discipling their citizens, and we start with that. But it is just the beginning.
If the point of this video is to start with personal evangelism, then absolutely. If the point is to head off those who want to have a bunch of missional stuff that by-passes gospel declaration, then great. But when we make individual disciples, and we move on to the institutional structures of their cultures and societies, we are not changing the subject. We are not moving on to another area. We are not abandoning the Great Commission. We are just getting started.
What do you think? Is cultural transformation included in the work of making disciples (which is at the heart of the mission of the church)?
This coming Sunday, I will be preaching on a difficult passage from Matthew 10 dealing with being persecuted, hated, and some even killed because of Jesus. This is hard for several reasons, not the least of which is that we are living in a country where real persecution, hatred, and martyrdom is seldom if ever found. Additionally, it is tempting to read such passages of Scripture and not feel the weight of what Jesus is saying. The “hard” passages are not hard because we have so easily dismissed them and made ourselves the exception to what Christ tells us all who follow Him are expected to experience. Finally, I believe there is has been a wrongful separation of mission from discipleship so that one can be a listener or learner of Christ without be a laborer in the harvest fields or lead in the mission.
In any case, I think William Carey rightly understood the expectations all believers should have when on mission to make Christ known. Consider these words, which I believe are consistent with the sending of Christ and rather inconsistent with the status-quo that both he faced then and we face today, and may our lives be wrecked by the realities of missional life in the advancement of the kingdom of Christ.
“A Christian minister is a person who in a peculiar sense is ‘not his own’ (1 Cor. 6:19); he is the ‘servant’ of God, and therefore ought to be wholly devoted to him. By entering on that sacred office he solemnly undertakes to be always engaged, as much as possible, in the Lord’s work, and not to choose his own pleasure, or employment, or pursue the ministry as something that is to subserve his own ends, or interests, or as a kind of bye-work.
He engages to go where God pleases, and to do, or endure what he sees fit to command, or call him to, in the exercise of his function. He virtually bids farewell to his friends, pleasures, and comforts, and stands in readiness to endure the greatest sufferings in the work of his Lord, and Master.
It is inconsistent for ministers to please themselves with thoughts of a numerous auditory, cordial friends, a civilized country, legal protection, affluence, splendour, or even a competency. The slights, and hatred of men, and even pretended friends, gloomy prisons, and tortures, the society of barbarians of uncouth speech, miserable accommodations in wretched wildernesses, hunger, and thirst, nakedness, weariness, and painfulness, hard word, and but little worldly encouragement, should be the objects of their expectation.” (emphasis mine)
– William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use the Means for the Conversion of the Heathens
David Platt, lead pastor of The Church at Brookhills, was the guest preacher for the 2009 Great Commission Lectures at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From those in attendance, Platt’s messages were powerfully used to impact the lives of all who were in attendance. I encourage you to download them and listen for your own advantage. Here are the links (MP3s):