"Go, 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."
In Ephesians 1 and 2, the apostle Paul states that God's purpose is to bring everything into subjection to Jesus Christ through the church. He says that the church is the vehicle, which the Father wishes to use to subject all things to the Son. In Chapter 3, the apostle gives us his response to this revelation of the "mystery." In 3:8,9, he describes his ministry in two parts:
1. "To preach to the gentiles" Verse 8
2. "To bring to light what is the administration of the mystery..." Verse 9
The first element of his ministry encapsulates the Great Commission since preaching involves going, evangelizing, and teaching to observe. I understand the second element to be a reference to church planting. The mystery is the church, in which Jews and Gentiles are joined in Christ in one body. Bringing to light the administration of that mystery is setting up the body's physical manifestation in a specific location. The word "administration" refers to the outworking in time and space of the mystery. This description is an excellent theological definition of the term church planting.
This passage is central to my philosophy of ministry since, in it, I see a clear link between the Great Commission and church planting. The Great Commission is Jesus' plan of action for accomplishing the Father's purpose. Before we look at the content of the plan, there are some observations to keep in mind:
• The plan was given to the Church through the apostles. So it is a plan for the whole Church, not just a select group of individuals. The Church is the vessel in which all things, including people, are being brought into obedience (Philippians 2:9-11) to Jesus Christ. The plan is to accomplish obedience to God in every people group on Earth.
• The plan is a reproductive process. The last part of the command says, "teaching them [all nations] to observe all that Jesus has commanded," which implies that the process of discipleship is incomplete until His orders to "go" and to "baptize" are observed and passed on to the new disciples (2 Tim 2:22).
• The plan gives the church the responsibility of "teaching to observe all that Jesus has commanded." It is essential to distinguish between "teaching to observe" and teaching in general. Teaching is the effective communication of information and ideas. However, teaching to observe involves the submission of the will to result in a new behavior. In other words, a renewed mind (Rom 12:2) is a required part of the plan.
• When implemented, the plan in effect, a Great Commission to plant churches. Only the Church can accomplish the Great Commission; in fact, making disciples defines the Church's life and mission. Also, according to the plan, the church, which is planted, is one, which reproduces reproducing churches.
• The plan is based on the authority of Jesus, who has all authority in heaven and Earth. Jesus' presence and power are available to the church for executing the plan. It is the plan of His choice for a limited time only, namely until the "end of the age."
The content of the plan is to make disciples of all people groups by
The first command of the plan is to "GO" to the nations. It is a command for the church to cross physical, cultural, and spiritual barriers to be present with every people group. This seemingly simple one-word command has had many difficulties associated with it. "GOING" involves education, translation, language learning, cross-cultural living and communication, missionary support, recruiting, and more. Whole organizations are established to address one or more of these aspects of "GOING," but it remains the church's responsibility to carry out this command. How the church goes to all nations has a direct impact on the second command of the plan.
The second command of the plan is to "baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Baptism is the crowning moment of the process of evangelism. His command to "baptize" means that we are to proclaim the Gospel to the nations and incorporate those who believe in the church. This command also clearly states the Holy Trinity of God and shows that the Three Persons of God are all involved in this plan.
The third command of the plan is to teach those who are baptized to observe all the commands of Jesus. Jesus summed up all His commands in "love the Lord your God" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" [see Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and Matthew 22:37-40]. How do we teach someone to love? This involves modeling love, teaching, and preaching, fellowship, accountability, equipping, and mentoring. Our goal is not only new birth, but it is also to bring about obedience to Christ in the lives of those entrusted to us. It also includes training and sending missionaries to continue the reproductive cycle of church planting.
God's plan describes both the life and the mission of the church. By obeying these commands, the church lives out its identity and achieves its goal of making disciples of all nations. Church planting among the nations has to be based on a clear understanding of Jesus' plan. It is not just a good way of doing things or someone's great idea for reaching the nations. It is nothing less than His PLAN. It is the basis of the church's missionary activity to exclude personal visions and agendas of individuals within the church. This has a direct impact on the dynamic of relationships within a missionary team. For the goal is not the property of the team leader or an organization, but that of the church as it has been commanded and authorized by the Lord. As the church makes known its mission to its members and the members understand the plan, the Lord calls out some for service on a church planting team. The next step for those with such a calling is for them to be prepared for service.
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