Yea, I know. I’m may already be getting a wrinkled brow and frown from you just from the title of the post. The Great Commission (it’s all in caps), is the proper name for the pinnacle sending statement by Jesus to his disciples. Matthew records it saying, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Obviously, this is a pretty significant instruction from Jesus, one that we certainly need to pay attention to as the church.
The problem is that this statement has been used to primarily define what the church calls “Missions Ministry”, or something akin. Most churches divide their ministry operations into separate areas of “Missions” work and local ministry work (to include everything else). I think it was author and missiologist Michael Frost that said something like, “Our methods will tell us about what we believe.” (I tried to find the quote but couldn’t). Whether Frosty said it or not, it’s a very true statement. Our church structures and methods reveal what we believe about things like the Great Commission.
Is missions work an effort just for the church to do overseas or is it more holistic to include all ministry efforts? What if our whole church budget was seen as a missions budget? What if missionaries were both local and overseas? Here’s a real biggie…what if every person in our church were viewed as a missionary?
This brings us to what I think is a better Great Commission scripture. Not that what Matthew reports in chapter 28 is subservient to this, but in our day and time of western Christianity and ecclesiology, where church is seen as a building and address rather than the called-out people of God, and is defined by a once per week event at our building, this may give us a better picture of mission. In John 20 we read:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
– John 20
This passage ends up being a pretty good representation of the current state of the church. In verse 19 we see that the disciples were lock behind closed doors for fear of the Jewish leaders, at that time being the culture surrounding them. While many may not see themselves as locked behind doors for fear of culture, the church is certainly at odds with culture in many ways. There has never been a time in western history where we’ve faced a more post-christian context in America. Recently, Barna reported on the most post-christian cities in America (read here). It showed how many of our cities are in a time where faith, especially Christian faith, holds less and less relevance to our culture. It seems the church is behind closed doors, possibly afraid to engage the culture they have actually been sent into as missionaries.
Jesus, as if to say “unlock the door and get out there”, tells the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Seems like a very Great Commissionesque sounding statement to me. Perhaps for our time, where there are gatherings of believers that define their faith by the weekly meeting behind closed doors, we need to take notice of John 20:19-21 a little more. Could Jesus be asking us to open the doors and get out there…be a ‘sent’ people, just as He was sent by the Father? I think so…
So what can we do about this?
First, we as church community members must ask ourselves if we are hiding within our meetings and worship services, for fear of engaging the messy culture around us as peace-bearers and gospel carriers. We perhaps could be focusing as much energy on living a life of intentional and incarnational carrying of the gospel, as much as learning how to share it verbally with those that are interested. Perhaps if we live the gospel in tangible ways, we’ll get the opportunity to actually share it verbally as well.
Second, we need to take notice of what John says, that Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This idea of Jesus breathing on them to receive the Spirit reminds me of Genesis and the account of creation, when God breathes into the dust of the ground and gives man life. This word there for breathe has a similar thought process, where we receive God’s Spirit from his breath. If we are fearful of culture, or don’t know how to engage messy cultural issues, we should ask God to breath his Spirit upon us and send us out as the Father sent him. I believe this is his desire, his mission, his Great Commission.
Ephesians chapter 1 tells us that God is in the process of bringing all things on earth and in heaven together under one head, him. This process of redemption is his mission in action, and we’ve been invited to join in the mission, in fact we’ve been ‘sent’ from behind the locked doors of fear.
If the church in America hopes to skirt a post-Christian age, which is even debatable that we could skirt it, then we must reengage the church’s original calling. We’re not a location of events and feel-good knowledge-building. We are the sent people of God, just as Jesus was sent. Every person that attends a service should leave feeling the call of mission…the call to be a missionary. Anything short of that is short of the Great Commission (whichever one you like better). Unlock the door and step into a great calling, on mission with God.