At one time or another, all Christian leaders are confronted with the command of Jesus found in the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 19-20) that says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Being involved in missions for all my life, I have often thought through this verse. I find it interesting that these are among the last recorded words of Jesus and therefore seem to carry a little more weight. My father, whom I love dearly, is still alive, Lord willing for quite a long time to come. But, I can imagine that if he was near death and he had something important to say to me that I would listen even more carefully. I would do so because I know how much he loves me and that whatever he had to say in his limited time left would be very important to him; I’d listen!
With that in mind, I carefully digest this command. As a Christian leader and one who is involved in training others worldwide, this verse has become central to my understanding of Christian work and purpose. I have come to understand that there are three questions presented in this verse whose answers provide the framework for the task to which Jesus has called us as pastors and leaders. The questions are:
1. What is a disciple?
2. How does one make them?
3. How are they sent to all nations?
The first question is, “What is a disciple?” Jesus calls us to “make” them. So, I must first understand what their characteristics are. A simple definition is found in Pastor Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life.” A life of discipleship is understood in terms of living out the five purposes. A disciple is one who:
• Is pleasing God every day, this is true Worship. They realize that they are planned for God’s pleasure.
• Is an active member of a local body of believers, which is Fellowship. They understand that they are formed for a family.
• Is learning to be more Christ-like in their behavior every day, which is Discipleship. They realize they are created to become like Christ.
• Is serving sacrificially within the local body of believers, which is Ministry. They know how they have been shaped for service and live it out continually.
• Is sharing God’s love, forgiveness and hope with people who do not know Christ, which is Mission. They declare openly and confidently, “I was made for a mission.”
The second question is, “How does one make a disciple?” If we use the definition of a disciple above, then it follows that we must be about inserting these purposes into the lives of the people whom we have the privilege to lead. I strongly believe that this is the work of the church. We set up an environment that leads people along a developmental path such that these purposes become fully integrated into their lives. We preach the purposes from the pulpit, we model them in our lives, we provide opportunities for our people to live them out individually and in fellowship with others, and we expect them to mature and envision and equip others to this same life of obedience. Without going into all the detail, this is the teaching of Pastor Rick Warren’s, “The Purpose Driven Church.”
The third question infers that the “go” requires us leaders to “send.” So, “How are disciples sent to all nations?” I’ve come to believe our task as pastors and leaders is to be strategic and intentional about infusing the five purposes into the lives of our people so they can truly be disciples. For the purpose of mission, and if we are to be obedient to Jesus, we must strategically and intentionally send our people into the world, locally and globally, to carry the Good News to a hurting world.
Here at Saddleback Church, we’ve labored to understand the task of mission and how to be effective in helping our people live out this purpose while also having meaningful impact in the spiritual, social and physical needs of communities worldwide. It has become a collaborative, church-to-church effort that has sprung from Pastor Rick’s vision that we call the PEACE Plan:
Planting churches that promote reconciliation
Equipping servant leaders
Assisting the poor
Caring for the sick
Educating the next generation
I’ve heard it said that the best way to do mission is to do church, and the best way to do church is to do mission. I think that sums up the Great Commission quite well!
Graphic by Quinn Miller.