The Great Commission does not call churches to act like professional sports teams.
The staff of my church likes to make fun of me for not knowing much about sports, which might be fair. But I do know the goal of every sports team is to win the championship. A team will try to hire the best players, build the best training facilities, and optimize its coaching staff to win its league’s top trophy. Sure, a team is glad other teams exist. Without them there would be no league. But its main goal is to beat those other teams.
Now, I doubt very many, if any, churches explicitly think to themselves, “We have to beat those other churches!” But let me ask a few diagnostic questions to test for an our-team-is-best mentality.
- Do you happily give away your best players to other churches?
- Do you rejoice if, after praying for revival, revival comes to the church down the street?
- Do you pray regularly for the church down the street as well as the other churches in your city?
- Do you give any portion of your budget to revitalizing old or raising up new churches in your city, around the nation, or abroad?
Too often, a grotesque competitiveness among churches marks evangelical churches. But a Great Commission church does not compete with other gospel-preaching churches because it knows every gospel-preaching church is playing for the same team.
So what does a Great Commission church do? I want to offer three strategic steps.
1. Cultivate a Culture of Discipling
First, a Great Commission church will cultivate a culture of discipling among its own members. It helps every member own the responsibility for helping other believers grow in the faith. Pastors equip the saints for the work of ministry, said Paul (Eph. 4:11–12), which means the work of the ministry belongs to all the saints. The whole body, speaking the truth in love, grows as it builds itself up, each part doing its work (Eph. 4:15–16; 1 Cor. 12, 14).
Discipleship is my following Jesus. Discipling is me helping someone else follow Jesus (e.g. 2 Tim. 2:2). And in a Great Commission church, older men in the faith disciple younger men, and younger women seek out the older women. For instance, if you are a single woman, you may offer a stay-at-home mother in your church help with the laundry in exchange for the opportunity to ask lots of questions! If you are a lay-elder teaching an adult Sunday school class, you may recruit a junior teacher. And your goal, in a sense, is to train and hand over the teaching job to him. Then you can go and start another class and bring on another junior teacher.
A Great Commission church possesses the geographic sensitivity implied by Jesus’s command to “go.” For those who stay, “going” may well mean moving closer to the church or groups of its members. That way it is easy to minister to others throughout the week. Where do you live? Are you helping to cultivate a culture of discipling in your church in where you chose to rent an apartment or purchase a home?
“Discipleship is my following Jesus. Discipling is me helping someone else follow Jesus.”
A Great Commission church should be uncomfortable, even provocative, for a nominal Christian. If you show up as such a guest in such a church on Sunday only as part of your casual religious duty, you may not like it very much. You would be welcomed, but its members would not be what you are about. They are about giving their whole lives to follow Jesus, and they commit to helping one another follow Jesus. Such a commitment and such activity is part of the very culture—intentional questions, meaningful conversations, prayer, and continual reminders of the gospel.
2. Cultivate a Culture of Evangelism
Second, a Great Commission church will cultivate a culture of evangelism. On the one hand, members know that the gospel will be preached in every weekly gathering. So, they are excited to invite their non-Christian friends. The gospel radiates through the singing, the praying, and in every sermon.
Are you confident that any non-Christian you bring to your church will hear the gospel? If not, what can you do about it?
On the other hand, a Great Commission church works to train its members in evangelism because it knows they will collectively see more non-Christians throughout the week than will ever be able to fit in the church building. So “success” in evangelism is not simply bringing your non-Christian friends to church so they hear the gospel. Success is sharing the gospel with your non-Christian neighbors and friends.
What does the Great Commission mean to you? It means Jesus has called you to be a disciple maker. He calls you to both evangelize unbelievers and disciple believers. You should be doing this personally at home, at work, in your neighborhood, among your friends. You should be doing this in and through your church.
Therefore, use your fellow church members to help you. Invite an elder to lunch and ask him for counsel. Share and pray with your small group. Go out and evangelize with your friends.
3. Work to Reach the Unreached through Missions
A Great Commission church works to reach the unreached through missions. What’s the difference between missions and evangelism and church planting at home? Really, missions is just what we call evangelism and church planting when it travels across ethnic, cultural, and, typically, national boundaries.
Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations.” I have not said much on this topic because so many other books cover this idea so well. But it’s hard to know how a church might read this command and not commit itself to taking the gospel to nations that have never heard the gospel before.
No congregation can aim everywhere around the planet. Therefore, I think churches are wise to concentrate their own mission efforts on a few places. My own church, for instance, concentrates on several countries in the 10/40 window, which is that region of the Eastern hemisphere between ten and forty degrees north of the equator. It’s the area of the world where there is the smallest percentage of Christians.
If you are a member of our church and you express an interest in pursuing missions, we will be able to put more of our resources behind you if you go to one of the locations we already invest in. We are simply unable to sponsor a hundred people going a hundred different places. By that token, we prefer supporting few missionaries with more money rather than lots of missionaries with only a little money. That enables the missionaries we do support to spend less time raising money and more time doing the work of church planting. Plus, it helps us to have a relationship with them and offer accountability.
What role should you have as an individual Christian helping your church to reach the unreached? Certainly, you should pray for your church’s missionaries. Get to know them when they are on furlough. Perhaps look into short-term mission trips that will allow you to support the long-term workers. Read missionary biographies. And maybe think about going.
There is one last thing you and your church can do for reaching the unreached: look for internationals in your own city. My own church works hard to reach international students, but what international groups live in your city? If you reach them with the gospel right there in your hometown, there’s a pretty good chance they will take the gospel back to where they came from.
Great Commission Church = Church Planting Church
Here’s the broader point: a Great Commission church is an evangelizing and discipling church, but it is also a church-planting and church-revitalizing church. It wants to see the kingdom of God grow through its own ministry, but it also wants to see the kingdom expand beyond its own walls through other churches.
So a Great Commission church is interested in facilitating lots of evangelistic activity going out from itself in order to draw outsiders back to itself. But it is also interested in seeing its efforts culminate in planting or supporting other local churches. It is not satisfied with its own health; it wants to see lots of other healthy, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching congregations.
Such a church encourages other evangelical churches and plants, even if they are several blocks away. And it prays for them by name. It is willing to send out good folks who will help those other churches. It also works to plant or build up other churches on the other side of the world.
“A Great Commission church is an evangelizing and discipling church, but it is also a church-planting and church-revitalizing church.”
A Great Commission church works and prays to raise up men qualified to be elders, and then selflessly sends them out.
It works to align its budget with these Great Commission priorities. Some money is kept for ministry in its own location, but some money is assigned to helping other works, both near and far.
It works to reclaim dying congregations wherever it can.
It works in all sorts of public and private ways to cultivate this team mentality with other gospel-centered churches among its own members. The members and leaders are as happy about a new gospel-preaching church as they are about a new restaurant opening in a land of starvation.
A Great Commission church is a church-planting church.
Mark Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. This is an adapted excerpt from his book Understanding the Great Commission and is republished here with permission.
All Bible references are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation.