The Great Commission
Before entering the ministry, I was an engineer for a Japanese corporation in the acoustic elements field, specifically for the cellular market, in McKinney, Texas. From the first day, the CEO, Mr. Mike Nomura, taught us the company’s mission statement—that is, their vision and their goals. “If you follow this mission statement,” he told us, “you should have no problems and nothing but a successful career with us.”
Years passed in the immersion training period while we learned more about our acoustic elements products. The time arrived when I entered the international marketing sales team and started visiting different manufacturing plants around the globe. In every country, at the various manufacturing sites I visited, I found the company’s mission statements posted prominently in the foyer of all the company’s buildings. It was impossible to miss them. I discovered there was a close link between following the company’s mission statement and success in sales.
I entered the ministry because I was magnetized by another mission statement—minted by Jesus Himself. It is expressly stated in Matthew 28:18–22,“‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” 1
In the Great Commission, God gave us all the authority (Greek ἐξουσία, exousia, which means “the power to act”) that we need. We have never been called to be philosophers of His divine commission but, rather, disciples in action. The Scripture says in 1 John 3:18, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” The Greek word used here for “deed” is ἔργον, ergon, which means “action.” It is very easy to say God is love, but that message has power only when it is demonstrated by actions. In James 2:24 we are reminded, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (NASB). We’re not talking salvation by works; we’re talking, instead, about a salvation that works—that works for the saving of others, as we have been called by Jesus to do. Anything less is unfaithfulness to the gospel.
After pastoring a university church in Peru with 3,000 members and 5,000 students, I received three calls to pastor Hispanic churches in California, and a call to pastor a largely English-speaking congregation in Indiana. I knew I had to give God a chance in Indiana, so that if success came it would be “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6, NKJV). This church had not conducted public evangelism for 30 years. Over the course of time, the average number of baptisms in the church went from 1.2 per year to 12.75 per year. Tithe increased from $253,000 to $465,000. Our secret? No secret. We instituted the slogan “Don’t die without bringing someone to Christ.” We wanted to fill members with the desire to make their walk with Christ tangible by bringing someone to Christ. We made evangelism intentional instead of accidental. We followed the phases of discipleship based on the cycle of agriculture: prepare, plant, cultivate, harvest, and preserve.2
1. Prepare: Be prayerful. Ask the Lord for guidance. He will give you specific details—His plan for your church.
I have been a full-time church planter for 11 years, but my last two churches have been a totally different scenario.
These were established churches. My current church has existed for 160 years. They planted a Hispanic congregation in our town a decade ago, and currently we have a Karen-Burmese group. Unfortunately, they did not plant another English-speaking congregation but, in fact, stopped doing public evangelism for a very long time. This led me to a time of prayer and fasting and asking God to give me a clear insight as to the best plan for this church. The two areas of church planting and evangelism are dear to my heart, so I could not surrender to the DNA of the local church.
2. Plant: Be exemplary. Continuouslypreach on the need of reaching the lost, but then, pastors need to inspire people by their own example. People can read us from a distance if we are passionate about what we preach. Time and again, I asked myself, Why does God use weak, erring human beings to proclaim the gospel? Ellen White reminds us that “God could have reached His objective in saving sinners without our aid; but in order for us to develop a character like Christ’s, we must share in His work. In order to enter into His joy,—the joy of seeing souls redeemed by His sacrifice,—we must participate in His labors for their redemption.”5 The veracity of the Great Commission is that it was established for our own benefit. So my members were encouraged to make a list of friends, neighbors, and coworkers and pray daily for each person on the list. They were to pray for an opportunity to perform an act of kindness6 for each person and then to invite the person to an event planned by the church.
3. Cultivate: Be persistent. Ourchurch’s first official campaign for decades was an eye-opener for some. The guest evangelist and I did most of the work. That was when I noticed that the church needed training on how to reach people. I asked that each member bring one person to the meetings. If a member didn’t have a friend, then, I said, I needed that member to visit the psychologist. And our plan was to never give up. We claimed Joshua 1:9. Today we live in a culture that likes to see fast results. We have fast food, fast computers— everything is fast. It was important for us to remember that God does things in His own time. When things did not go according to plan, we refused to quit on our first or even second attempt.
4. Harvest: Be humble. Rather than renting a venue, we chose to use our local church. We wondered how many would attend. God blessed our first official evangelistic series with 108 visitors over three weeks. At the conclusion, 14 persons were baptized, to the glory of God. First, humility must precede or herald the harvest. Genesis5:22 tells us that “Enoch walked with God.” God walks with humble people. In fact, “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.”7 Second, humility must succeed or follow the harvest. This quote has inspiredme: “Those who have been successful in soul-winning were men and women who did not pride themselves on their ability, but who in humility and faith sought to help those about them. Jesus did this very work. He came close to those whom He desired to reach.”8 Basically, successful soul winners are not the ones who are utilitarian but the ones who have no pride in themselves.
5. Preserve: Be consistent. We beganthe process in 2014 and started to see His blessings in 2015, 2016, and especially in 2017. We started a discipleship training on Wednesdays and Sabbaths, using the comprehensive Amazing Disciples series to disciple new members, not simply keeping them in the church but training them how to conduct Bible studies. Our plan is to involve all faithfully attending members in befriending visitors and giving Bible studies. We have 111 Bible studies in preparation for our next public evangelism; most are English-speaking people. I have 65 visitors from last year’s meetings whom we will invite again to this September’s campaign. The millennials in our church remarked, “We have never seen this happen here before.” We are now preparing the field for evangelism to be conducted every year.
Think again if you believe that evangelism is something to be accomplished only by large churches, or overseas missions, especially in the developing world. It must be our experience, wherever we are. To be sure, some fields more than others require us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Nevertheless, any church that doesn’t do evangelism will flounder and eventually die. It may happen slowly, but it will happen. Evangelism is a great benefit for church members. When they participate in evangelism and it becomes a lifestyle, miracles start happening.
I think all of us as pastors would vehemently deny that we have lost our sense of mission. But is it possible to have a passionate commitment to the mission and yet have a casual connection to the mission statement? God asks us to be intentional, systematic, and persevering. No question, if we follow this mission statement, we will be successful in what our Lord has called us to do.
1 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from The New King James Version.
2 See Jim Howard, et al. Discipleship Handbook: A Resource for Seventh-day Adventist Church Members (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2018).
3 Graphic from “How Rice Grows,” California Rice, calrice.org/industry/how-rice-grows/.
4 Graphic adapted from “Grow Michigan: The Harvest Is Great,” Audioverse, Feb. 27, 2007, audioverse.org/english/blog/344/grow-michigan-the-harvest-is-great.html. See also www.grow.adventist.org.
5 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 142.
6 See Ashton O’Neil, Every Member, Everyday Witnessing, Deposits for Jesus (Booklet prepared by CaribbeanUnion Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, nd).
7 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 189.
8 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1948), 194.
Sidebar: Chuck’s Story
I met Chuck on a Friday night in 2014 at a small health-group meeting. He was one of the first people I met in Fort Wayne when I arrived. He was an American who had grown up without a specific knowledge of God. His way of speaking and expressing himself on all kinds of topics quickly caught my attention. This man was not afraid to speak what he felt was right. He was very aggressive; his language—colorful. He came to be in the health group because of severe heart problems. Chuck learned how to adopt a healthy lifestyle. He made new friends in the group, and eventually they became part of his inner circle of friends.
When I had known Chuck for a few weeks, I invited him to our church. He responded by telling me that one day he would surprise me. One day Chuck came to church, just to fulfill his promise. But he liked it and kept coming back. We became good friends and regularly ate lunch together. He started attending Bible studies twice a week. The change in Chuck was slow but definitely recognizable as he got healthier; not only in the physical sense—his language and behavior improved as well. One day he requested baptism, and that request became a reality in May 2016. Today he is a transformed person. He is a living testimony of the power of God.
Not too long ago we started a discipleship training in our church with 21 people. Chuck was one of them. He shared with me the impact that a statement from one of my sermons had made on him. “I heard you say, ‘Do not die without bringing a person to Christ.’ That statement entered my heart, and that is why I came to this training; to learn how to bring someone to Jesus in my seventies. I want to have that experience.”
This to me is what fulfilling the Great Commission is all about. This is following our mission statement.
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