“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
People who are familiar with the Bible and active in ministry often assume the Great Commission. Make disciples, all nations, baptizing them… we get the drift.
But we cannot assume that everyone in our church family even understands our Lord’s basic marching orders. A recent Barna survey found that up to 51 percent of churchgoers could not identify or define the Great Commission.
Let’s take a very close look at these critical words so that we can better understand Jesus’ charge.
Everything hinges on how you understand the fundamental command to go.
Do Jesus’ words mean that you should go? Or someone else? If every Christian is always going, nobody would ever stay—and surely Jesus isn’t commanding all believers to be perpetual nomads. What else could it mean?
Could it mean that Jesus’s disciples already fulfilled his command, since they “went”? Are we therefore off the hook? While it’s true that Jesus was primarily speaking to the apostles, the Holy Spirit inspired these words of Scripture to be read by us all throughout church history for a reason. Since the rest of the verse hangs on this imperative clause, and there are still more than 2 billion people who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ, we can safely assume the command to “go” remains relevant to us.
The imperative “go” signifies that the whole church should be about the business going. This is why John Piper has famously remarked that every Christian must “go, send, or disobey.”
But in order to send, you should have a game plan.
Where should you be sending? Does Jesus specify the place? Fortunately, he does: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” All nations. Not some nations. Not even one nation. All nations. This includes people groups, language groups, ethnicities, religious blocs, geopolitical nation-states—all of it. Since none are excluded from the authority of Christ, none are exempted from the need for the gospel.
Jesus instructs us to “make disciples”—or literally, to “disciple.” Rather than understanding this as reflecting a certain missional selectivity, as though we are only to make disciples out of as segment of all the nations, the emphasis here is on totality of evangelism and obedience. We are to literally disciple the nations themselves.
This is very important. Discipleship obviously begins with evangelism. So, this command to make disciples includes the proclamation of the gospel. But it also includes showing up the next day, preaching again, equipping and mentoring those who have received Christ, and forming a local church.
There is no meaningful definition of discipleship that excludes the local church.
And there are no local-church-building missionaries unless the local church sends them.
Baptism isn’t a mere optional accessory to salvation. It’s a living symbol that Jesus Christ himself gave us to signify our death and resurrection with him. It’s also a clear sign that Jesus is talking about planting organized local churches that practice the ordinances.
When we send missionaries, we aren’t just sending nice guys to do nice non-profit work. When a church sends missionaries, it should be starkly distinguishable from an NGO. Both are working with poor and marginalized people, curbing the consequences of lostness. But the missionary will be baptizing people. Only missionaries can bring the local church to where it does not yet exist. Nobody else will be doing this.
That’s why it’s so important to send a missionary—not just a Christian to do mercy ministry, but a missionary who is an extension of your local church, who can participate in extending God’s church in the world.
What are you doing to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus has issued his church?
Would you consider sending one of your best and brightest to the mission field?
Would you consider answering God’s call to make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
As you close this week of meditations on the great missionary texts of Scripture, pray this prayer with us:
Father, give our church a heart to reach the lost for Christ. Help us to hold in open hands the most gifted among us for the sake of your kingdom. Give us a vision for sharing the precious grace of Jesus Christ with local communities across the globe. Show us a clear path to meaningful missions work. Enliven our hearts with a passion to reach the nations with the gospel. We are your humble servants. Make our response as clear as your call: “Go.” We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who came from heaven to earth to give himself up for us. Amen.
ABWE exists to fulfill the Great Commission by multiplying leaders, churches, and missions movements among every people.