The Great Commission has at least three key points of emphasis: 1) A Discipleship emphasis (…make disciples…) 2) A Global emphasis (…of all nations…) 3) A Local Congregation emphasis (…baptizing them…)
These three points of emphasis are not a checklist of tasks to be performed in order. It is not as if we are to first make disciples, then go to the nations, then establish churches. Rather, these three points of emphasis work together simultaneously. When any of the three are emphasized over the others, an imbalance occurs and the Great Commission is not being accomplished.
For instance, if missions is emphasized over discipleship, we may win souls and yet never see them grow into Christ-like believers. Likewise, if missions is emphasized over the church, the missions will become unsustainable and unsupported. The same could be said of discipleship endeavors that do not emphasize the church or missions. Without assimilating the disciple into a local, New Testament church, the discipleship is lacking in accountability and longevity. Without investing a global vision into the disciple, the long-term effect may remain local and never make an impact on the nations. Further, when churches are inward focused and neglect global missions, they deny their very calling and squelch the moving of the Holy Spirit. And, when churches avoid the responsibility to make disciples, they fail to pass on the baton of faith handed to them by the previous generation.
A Great Commission church, on the other hand, will emphasize discipleship, mission, and the church simultaneously. Such a ministry not only reflects the Great Commission, but obeys the Great Commission as well.
The Discipleship Emphasis
The command of the Great Commission is to “make disciples.” Everything else describes how to go about the task. For instance, When Jesus said, “Go,” it wasn’t because the disciples were idle. They were already going. Instead, He was telling them what to do as they were going. Jesus knew the disciples would come into contact with people everywhere they went. Like us, they were going to work, going to the market, and going to visit friends. Every person we encounter in life is a potential disciple. Churches must not fall into a “wait until they come to us” mentality. Instead, disciple-makers must “seek out” opportunities to invest in others. That’s the idea of go. But what exactly is a disciple to begin with?
A disciple is a learner who becomes like his/her teacher. When Jesus commissioned the apostles, they knew exactly what He meant by the word “disciple” because Jesus had discipled them. Christ’s method of discipleship went beyond sharing information. Jesus transformed the apostles by sharing His life with them. That is what He calls us to: Life-on-life training, pouring ourselves into others. If we want to see real change in our disciple’s lives, we must open our houses, simplify our calendars, share our possessions, and offer our attention. Consistent interaction is required for iron to sharpen iron. Discipleship goes beyond telling someone how they should act; it’s spending enough time together that they can watch how you react. It’s more than telling someone how to think, but letting them watch you process a situation. It’s weightier than describing the character of Christ, its displaying the character of Christ.
All of life is a learning opportunity and as a general rule, more is caught than taught. As you pour your life into others your efforts are multiplied and each disciple becomes a part of your spiritual legacy. And as your spiritual legacy grows and multiplies, it combines with other legacies until disciples are made in all nations. Our hearts must be set on continuing the work of discipleship until disciples are made of all nations. Short of this, our work is not complete. Christ’s goal is both ambitious and attainable through the work of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8, Jesus prophesied, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. When Christ returns, He will completely rule every tribe, tongue and nation! (not just some tribes, many tongues, or most nations)
Interestingly, the church is the only institution to which Christ gave the Great Commission. Only the church is qualified, called, and equipped to make new disciples, provide them with nurture, and then send them out to make more disciples. And when those new disciples are made, new churches are formed to nurture and send them as well. Christ’s plan for perpetuating the work to completion runs directly through local churches. This is seen in the phrase “baptizing them.”
The Local Congregation Emphasis
The ceremony of baptism began long before Christ came to earth. It symbolized a person’s complete immersion into a way of life. It pictures the old man being buried and the new man being raised to life as a new creation in Christ. For believers, baptism is a public proclamation of a person’s commitment to follow Christ on a life-long journey of transformation. Baptism is the entry point toward church membership. By identifying with a local church through immersion, the disciple is pledging a commitment to Christ and to His Great Commission. The church, therefore, becomes a community of disciples mutually edifying one another as they live on mission together. Their unified goal is to see the Great Commission fulfilled.
The Global Emphasis
When Christ directed His apostles to make disciples of all nations, He wasn’t introducing a new idea. In fact, the idea of world-wide-worship has been around since the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 1:28, God commissions Adam and Eve to ““Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” with offspring created in His image. Later, in Genesis 12, God promised to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. Habakkuk prophesied that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea,” and Isaiah likewise proclaimed, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Therefore, when Jesus gave the Great Commission, He was drawing on the promise of old. Only now, the promise was being presented as a command with a strategy. The nations will be reached for the Gospel through local churches making disicples!