I grew up at Lakeview Church on the West Side of Indy under the pastoral leadership of a pastor named Tom Paino. To say Pastor Tom had a passion for global missions and The Great Commission would be like saying Peyton Manning is sort of good at football (you notice, I avoided Tom Brady like the plague there).
I like to say we “slow baked” in the Great Commission. We marinated in it like mom’s Sunday pot roast. It was unavoidable. The international décor of the building, pictures of the 300 or so missionaries our church supported on the lobby walls, weekly stories from itinerating missionaries, and annual “missions conventions” celebrating what God was doing around the world.
Global missions and the great commission weren’t a strange topic for us; it was just what Christians were supposed to be passionate about. Sermons rarely seem to pass without an appeal to take the Gospel to all the people of the world. Jesus said “all nations,” and we were going to do our part to see that reality come to pass.
Maybe some of you grew up this way as well. But it’s not just the church that has become globally aware. In this unique moment in history, the power of the internet has made the world small. Social media has connected the globe in both beautiful and terrifying ways. If there’s a mud-slide in a small village in Southeast Asia, the news – including graphic photos and videos – can go viral in seconds.
When my parents were kids, it took days or even weeks for some of the biggest news to hit their newspapers. Now it’s at our fingertips in mere seconds. Fifty years ago, the world was only as big as your small town. Today, the world is literally at your fingertips.
In its way, the secular worldview has grasped a passion for the nations. As followers of Jesus, we must make sure we never lose ours! The greatest injustice globally is the disproportionate access to the Great Commission by thousands of people groups worldwide.
Is Missions Morally Questionable?
That’s why two Barna surveys from 2018 and 2019 on global missions and evangelism shocked and troubled me. According to Barna’s research:
But perhaps even more disturbing…
Not only does half the Church not know about Jesus’ command to make disciples among all nations, a whole bunch of us apparently think it’s morally questionable anyway!
Perhaps these responses reflect pushback against some historic Great Commission strategies that may have been more rooted in Western colonialism than the Gospel. Maybe they reflect discomfort with that caricature of a street-corner bullhorn evangelist. Perhaps it’s because some of our mission efforts have focused solely on salvation counts and not on the holistic resurrection power of the Gospel in individuals, families, and communities.
Perhaps. But I fear something worse.
Amid mass globalization, I fear The Church may be losing its heart for the nations. As my friend Dick Brogden, LiveDead founder and now a missionary to Saudi Arabia, likes to say, I fear we’ve “turned the Great Commission into the Great Suggestion.”
If we really love people, won’t we move heaven and earth to tell them how their sins can be forgiven, how they can find union with their Heavenly Father, and how they can function in the fullness of the resurrection power of Jesus?
The answer is YES!
What is the Great Commission?
So what is the Great Commission? The Great Commission is the last instructions of the resurrected Jesus’ to his awe-struck disciples as he ascended into heaven. These instructions aren’t just for individual Christians or “professional” pastors and missionaries. Jesus’ words were aimed at all of us who call Him Lord. It’s a commission for all believers!
Let’s look at Matthew 28:18-20:
“Jesus came and told his disciples,?“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Go and make disciples of all nations.
The Greek word for “nations” here is ethnos, or people joined by similar customs or culture. We can better translate and break these down, not as geopolitical “nation-states,” but as “people groups.” And Jesus said to go to all of them.
The Joshua Project estimates there are as many as 7,400 Unreached People Groups (defined by less than 2% Evangelical believers). Many UPGs have zero or just a fraction of a percent. These 7,400 people groups total 3.1 billion people (billion with a b) and represent 42% of the global population.
For many of these people groups, we’re not just talking about general disinterest in Christianity or only having a small number of churches or Christians around them. We’re talking no access to the Gospel. If you are born into many of these people groups, you can live and die without ever as much as meeting a Christian, let alone hearing the life-giving message of the Gospel through a believer’s great commission work.
Jesus told every believer to move out and make followers of every ethnos! The call of every Christian is the glory of God among all nations!
Since Genesis 3, the Bible tells the story of a loving Father in desperate pursuit of His lost children. If we are the people of God, then we must have missionary hearts because God is a missionary God.
As Dick Brogden says: “What must define us, energize us, and propel us forward is to see every tribe, tongue, people, and nation reached through the Great Commission.”
On an island off East Africa’s coast, a business English school functions as a marketplace blessing to the local community. It offers English language lessons to locals desperate to get higher-paying jobs in the community’s robust tourism industry and acts as a hub for a band of Great Commission workers planting the Church among the 99.99% Islamic residents.
In 2019, just before Covid hit, I had the joy of visiting this island. As we reviewed our plans for the week, I noticed the leaders had circled Saturday night on our itinerary for a “special surprise.” And was it ever.
A few months earlier, a guy named “Charlie” had been hired by the school as a translator. Through his consistent interaction with the teachers, Charlie gave his life to Jesus. While Muslims are very open and interested in talking about Jesus, converting to Christianity is an abomination.
We sat with Charlie for a few hours and listened to his story. Because of Charlie’s decision to leave Islam, he lost his wife and his home. His brothers threatened to kill him. Charlie was literally left alone with only the clothes on his back. Yet even amidst the horrific persecution, he refused to renounce his faith and allegiance to his Savior.
Cue the “special surprise.” On Saturday, we gathered at the team leader’s home and walked with the small group of missionary English teachers, across the road and down a small dirt path and climbed down a steep rock embankment to a little inlet of the Indian Ocean.
There we witnessed the pastor of the tiny indigenous church baptize its newest member. This was the equivalent of seeing a stadium full of people give their hearts to Christ in other parts of the world. And all of this happened because a group of missionary English teachers believed what Jesus said, to go and make disciples among all people groups.
I have a picture of Charlie’s baptism hanging on the wall in my office as a Great Commission moment I never want to forget.
This is What Matters
This is our great commission. This is what should keep us up a night. When we zoom out and look at the Global Church, the central question must be, “who is not here yet?” Which ethnos is not represented? And what can we do to engage Jesus’ Great Commission calling to go and make disciples among all nations?
“For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.’ But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’” –Romans 10:13-15
Let’s recommit ourselves to what really matters, my friends.
Love our neighbors.
Make disciples of every nation.
Not one aspect of the true Christian vocation has changed in 2,000 years. No distractions. No sideways energy. Faithful worship. Faithful service. Through the Great Commission, let’s make much of Jesus among every people group. Let’s get to it.