Last week, I wrote how the Great Commission is God’s strategy for the full conveyance of the gospel and the resulting transformation, including the transformation of those conditions that foster and sustain poverty in America.
Ironically, that very same day Barna Research, in partnership with the Seed Company, released their headline findings from a study that examined the U.S. Church’s ideas about missions, social justice, Bible translation and other aspects of spreading the gospel around the world. According to the report:
When asked if they had previously “heard of the Great Commission,” half of U.S. churchgoers (51%) say they do not know this term. It would be reassuring to assume that the other half who know the term are also actually familiar with the passage known by this name, but that proportion is low (17%). Meanwhile, “the Great Commission” does ring a bell for one in four (25%), though they can’t remember what it is. Six percent of churchgoers are simply not sure whether they have heard this term “the Great Commission” before.
The Great Commission spells out the central purpose for all believers. Upon being saved, our lives belong to Jesus Christ who died to purchase our freedom from sin and death. He redeemed us so that we might become useful in his Kingdom (i.e., his in-breaking rule and reign on earth). If 51% of the people sitting in our churches today remain ignorant of the “central purpose for all believers,” what does that say about the future of the church in America?
I often find that there is some confusion surrounding the Great Commission that leads many to equate evangelism with the Great Commission. To be sure, evangelism is an essential part of the Great Commission but this final charge of Christ to all who follow him includes much more. Evangelism can create converts but it doesn’t necessarily create disciples and that is what Christ commanded us to do!
Joey Shaw, global disciple maker and author of, All Authority: How the Authority of Christ Upholds the Great Commission, offers a helpful distinction between making “converts” and making “disciples.” He writes:
The most interesting thing about the Great Commission is that it does not command us to make converts of Christianity. Instead, we are to make disciples of Jesus. The difference between convert making and disciple making is crucial. Converts change religions. Disciples change masters. Converts follow a system. Disciples follow a Person. Converts build Christendom. Disciples build the Kingdom of God. Converts embrace rituals. Disciples embrace a way of life. Converts love the command to “baptize them” in the Great Commission, but that is all. Disciples baptize others but only in context of “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” Converts love conversion. Disciples love transformation. (Joey Shaw, “Five Common Myths About Disciplemaking,” Verge Network, https://www.vergenetwork.org/2014/05/15/5-common-myths-about-the-great-commission/ , accessed April 3, 2018)
So again, poverty and the deprivations common to our inner-cities are no match for the kingdom of God, but the kingdom of God does not advance into the world apart from the three-stage fulfillment of the Great Commission. This is the root of our strategy: Proclaim “good news” to the poor; form them into churches or join them to our church partners, where we, together, will teach them to obey all Christ commands.” As this happens in the inner-city, then and only then, will you see the eradication of poverty in its current form!