The term “Great Commission” is not found in Matthew 28:16-20, but it underscores the importance of Christ’s command, and highlights an important calling for those who continue His ministry in earth.
But what exactly is this commission? Matthew’s commission focuses on discipleship. After Jesus dispatched His disciples, they made disciples by two primary activities: baptizing and teaching. The ministry of discipleship is at the heart of Matthew 28:19-20, meaning this person was a leaner of Christ, a student of their Savior. They came to saving faith and will now be identified with Him in baptism and taught how to keep His words.
Unfortunately, the implications of Christ’s command is waning to the extent where the term “Great Suggestion” may be the fitting title instead. Yet this command is so essential to the life of the church.
Since it is important all believers participate in this, I would like to present a few indicators to help you discern whether or not a local church views Matthew 19:19-20 as the Great Suggestion instead of the Great Commission to His church.
- Your Local church Encourages You to Invite the Unsaved
I understand some believe there is no wrongdoing if someone were to invite the unsaved. Unfortunately there is a problem with this. The fellowship of believers is exclusively for sinners saved by God’s grace. The word “church” alone makes that clear. So the unsaved come at their own risk. While not intentionally, they should be quite uncomfortable if we are truly exalting and honoring God. Fear or anger should strike their heart when they hear the exclusive claims of the gospel.
Biblical churches do not seek to make attendance comfortable for sinners. Instead it is a gathering of people singing songs, and collecting money to pay the pastor who is not leading them in truth. The purpose of our gathering is clear. We are to encourage believers to come be built up in the faith (Eph. 4:11-16; Heb. 10:24-25). As they are built up in the faith, they will become useful to God for gospel proclamation and discipling others. So if your church urges you to invite unbelievers without first encouraging you to declare the gospel to them, they may be pursuing the Great Suggestion and not the Great Commission.
- Your Local church Does not Teach the Importance of Extended Discipleship
I used the term extended discipleship to underscore ongoing discipling of others beyond pulpit preaching/teaching. Preaching and teaching the body of Christ is the foundation of discipleship, but discipleship does not end there. It extends beyond that and into Bible studies at the local church throughout the week, and maybe in fellowship groups if possible. The leaders who engage in this will train other men and women to do the same (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:3-4).
What can happen, and sometimes to the detriment of the church’s spiritual health, is the pastor either thinks his preaching is the cure all or he goes solo in extending discipleship beyond the pulpit. But the body of believers must be taught from the pulpit the importance of the one anothers, and that all believers are called to do their share.
- Your Local Church Schedules Evangelistic Events
This one is rather interesting and maybe a bit controversial to mention. Although not as popular today as it was in the past, the crusade movement has accomplished some good. There are some people I know who came to saving faith at a particular crusade. My focus is not on the event itself but rather the collateral damage it may cause. When your church schedules special evangelistic events, they, although inadvertently, may be selling the idea that all believers are either not capable of doing this or do not have to do it.
When listening on the radio recently, a pastor told the audience that if they have a friend who have not heard the gospel, invite them to attend the crusade. That statement alone promotes gospel passivity and attacks the necessity of all believers evangelizing. Local churches should invest more time training their people how to evangelize the lost. Personal evangelism will have a more lasting effect than a one-night event filled with heightened emotion and distorted guitars.
- Your Local Church Believes if God Saved them, He will Help Them
I call this the ‘leave the brother hanging’ approach. This may be due to ignorance on the part of believers, but they will say, the Lord saved them, so He will help them. But this is far from the truth. The fact of the matter is, when Jesus commanded the disciples, he never said to get the sinner saved. That is God’s initiative. We are to declare the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the work in salvation is God and God’s alone. But once they have been saved, the call was to baptize and teach. This is a stewardship given to every believer once they themselves have been taught. Baptism and teaching are the two elements of Jesus’ commission to the disciples and to us. And yes, while God alone is their help, He has given us a stewardship––to faithfully teach Christ’s commands to them. Failure to do this is to see the command of your Savior as a great suggestion instead of the mission to faithfully fulfill.
- Your Local Church Has no extended Discipleship Ministry
If there is no ministry beyond the pulpit preaching, the chances for spiritual maturity will be slim. While preaching from the pulpit is absolutely indispensible to discipleship, it does not and cannot replace the other avenues of discipleship. The ministry of teaching people from house to house and on a personal level is to be the norm and not the exception. This goes hand in hand with pulpit proclamation.
Effective preaching, as Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones once said, can resolve many problems through the Holy Spirit’s work. It is the preacher’s greatest ally in counseling and sanctification. Yet there is no replacement for the personal work of discipleship, especially the form of discipleship that calls for the full participation of all believers. The command given by Christ, although directed first to the original disciples, is applicable to everyone, and is to be done by every follower of Christ. For that reason, let us faithfully participate in this work so that when we stand before God in judgment, we will not be found with the Great Suggestion party but as Great Commission participators.