The Great Commission

The irony of American Christianity is that so many people claim to be Christians while so few really show a changed life. The cause of this contradiction is a low view of what it means to be a Christian. Many people don't think becoming a Christian is even supposed to make much of a difference in their lives. And when you think about the kind of evangelism we often do, it's no wonder. Most of us would agree that the primary mission for the church is the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Jesus told his disciples to "Go . . . and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." But far too many Christians misunderstand the Great Commission. They assume it is a call merely to evangelism. But it is far more than that. Of course we must introduce people to Christ. But evangelism is only the beginning. In the Great Commission Jesus doesn't just say, "Go and convert people." He says, "Go and make disciples." Evangelism should be viewed as the first step in a process of discipleship. Evangelicals are prone to organize big, flashy campaigns to win people to Christ. We concoct some catchy name for the campaign, call in a celebrity, and raise money on the promise of a new Great Awakening. We count the number of hands raised and then boast about how many decisions there were. But this is simply evangelical scalp-hunting. It dismays me so much that when I speak, I make it my policy not to give an invitation unless I know that there is a follow-up mechanism in place. It is heartless to get people excited about the Gospel, lead them to an emotional response, and then dump them on the doorstep as we leave town. Unless evangelism brings converts into the visible body of Christ, it is like assisting at a baby's birth and then leaving the infant alone out in the cold. Of course, a person can come to Christ alone in a prison cell or in areas where the church is banned. But the normative practice is to bring new converts immediately into the fellowship of a local church. This has also been one of the great hallmarks in Billy Graham's crusades. They are always held at the request of the local churches in a city, planned in cooperation with those churches, and designed so that new believers who make decisions in the crusade are immediately integrated into a local church, where they can be discipled and grow in Christian maturity. This is the true object of evangelism in the context of the Great Commission: discipleship. Evangelism apart from discipleship frustrates God's plan. For His plan is to bring men and women into the local church, where they can be equipped for works of service. When we truly understand this, it can set our churches on fire. I urge you to find ways to teach this concept within your own local church. For too long we have seen evangelism as something dependent on mass crusades and expert testimonies from Christian celebrities. But evangelism isn't dependent on others; it's dependent on you. And it's not the end-all of the Christian experience. It's just the beginning—of new lives that must be nourished so they can flourish, in the rich soil of your local church. Part 4 in a series on The Body.


Chuck Colson


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