The Commandment for the Commission
These days you often hear about mission strategies, development, objectives, and programs. Effective ways of evangelism, business plans, mission statements, vision casting, and church growth. A few months ago, my husband, Bo and I had the opportunity to look at several different Anglican church profiles and mission statements. They had one thing in common: all of them had church growth at the top of their priority list.
These are all good things. These are all godly things. Church growth is important in that it lines up with the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a).
I do, however, wonder if at times we have put the cart before the horse. I recently read a helpful little book, Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts by Jim Griffith and Bill Easum in which he wrote, “In their pursuit of the Great Commission many have made a fatal mistake – they have neglected the Great Commandment.” His words are needed in our current climate, for I think at times we have forgotten that the Great Commission can only be fulfilled when we understand, embrace and live into the Great Commandment.
The Greatest Commandment is spoken by Jesus to the Pharisees, in which he quotes the Law in Deuteronomy, as “Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
When we accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into our heart, we began a life-long – scratch that – eternity long relationship with him. A relationship that is fun, wild, intense, hopeful, joyful, but above all, loving. As Christians, we are marked as the beloved of Christ. And it is this truth that we are Abba’s children, who he daily and devotedly dotes on, that is the foundation of Christian mission.
These words aren’t meant to be corrective. If you take them for anything, take them as a gentle nudge - that you and I were made to receive God’s love. Before we are missionary strategists, planters, or vision casters, we are children of God who are tenderly loved by our Father. And here, I wish I could properly describe this love – earth shattering, radical, transformative - but all words are a pathetic attempt to describe the reality of it. So, let’s just simply open up ourselves – the good and the bad of us - to receive it. Then, let us begin our ministries and vocations anew and afresh as His beloved children above all else.
When we begin to embrace more deeply the Great Commandment, we are in a stronger position to live out the Great Commission. Why did missionaries throughout the centuries, going back to the days of the Acts, or the Biblical patriarchs, or even the Holy Trinity (because the Father sent His son to be our missionary from the beginning of time) traverse unknown terrains? Why did they die for the faith? Why did they travel long distances? Spend hours translating the Bible into indigenous languages? Why did they risk fear, famine, disease and poverty? Quite simply, because of the love of God made known in Jesus.
That is the beginning of everything good. Karl Barth at the end of his life, after all his years of teaching, after standing up to the Nazis and heretical theology, after his Church dogmatics, said in the end he knew one thing only - “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That is it.
All of our teaching, planning, and programing is a means to bring this love of Jesus Christ to others. Furthermore, it is the love of God and our assured identity as Abba’s children that is the moving force of missions.
When we embrace this Great Commandment, to love our Jesus with all that we have, our conversation about the Great Commission is better. We no longer just talk about evangelism, we talk about discipleship and growing in God’s love. And we no longer just talk about strategies of mission work, we talk about how we can love groups of people, bringing justice and reconciliation in our churches, communities, and nations. We no longer talk simply of church growth, but of church healing. Our end game is not just wanting churches to grow, but all the more we want them to be loving bodies that give glory to God.
Jesus Christ incarnate lived among his people, reaching out to his neighbors, proclaiming that they could be loved by God. He didn’t have fancy programs, shiny brochures, or refined logos. He wrote one thing down and it was in the sand. But, he did gather a group of people to himself, known to us as his disciples, and loved them with abandon. He set them on fire with his love, and if there was any lingering doubt from his life, he proved the depth of his love on the cross. He made us God’s children declaring that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). With that same confidence and assurance Jesus later told his disciples, “Go into the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
When we approach the Great Commission in light of the Great Commandment, we’re free! We’re free to fail. We’re free to laugh at ourselves. We’re free to have great strategies or no strategies at all. We’re free to have programs or just go hang out with neighbors. We’re free to be missionaries to one person or one hundred. We are children of God and as children of God we can be great missionaries, evangelists, senders…you name it! We are loved, loved, loved, and loved some more. It can’t be said enough. And it is from this wonderful truth that we are the ones who are blessed to go.
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you so much for your great love for us. May you give us the grace to receive it with all our heart, soul, and mind. May this love be the foundation of our mission. In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.
Lilly Sanders Ubbens is a published writer and mother of two. After growing up as a missionary kid in Honduras, Lilly went on to earn a masters degree from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. While there, Lilly met and married the love of her life, Bo, and they now serve at Christ Church Anglican on the Mainline in Wayne, PA. You can contact Lilly here.