Are you part of a ‘Great Commission’ church?
March 7, 2006
I can remember going to the Muny Opera in St. Louis and just prior to the start of the production, the orchestra would enter the orchestra pit and “tune up.” What an awful noise! It was every man for himself. One thing for sure, they would never be able to sell a recording of that tune up. But then, as the lights went down and the conductor stood on his stand and raised his baton, a magical thing happened. The same group of musicians that minutes before sounded awful suddenly produced the sweetest music and harmony you have ever heard. That amazing transition occurred because the conductor led the orchestra to follow the music. He directed the separate elements of the orchestra to join together to make a joyful and beautiful melody.
The local church is a lot like that orchestra. Just as the orchestra has a string section, a wind section, a brass section, and a percussion section, the local church has five functions to bring together to work in harmony to fulfill The Great Commission (our “music”). The pastor is the conductor and, at his direction, the church can “make beautiful music in perfect harmony.” If you have ever been a part of a local church that was fulfilling The Great Commission in a consistent and intentional manner, you understand what a beautiful thing that is. The Great Commission is Jesus’ mandate for the local church, and it makes no difference what style your church takes, from traditional to contemporary and everything in-between; the mandate remains the same. To be a healthy, thriving church, every Missouri Baptist church must fulfill The Great Commission. There are no options or choices here!
If you study Matthew 28:18-20 closely, you will discover that the emphasis is to “ make disciples.” In the original language, “ Therefore go…” literally means “as you are going.” It is assumed that we will accomplish the mission wherever and whenever we go. Further study reveals that we make disciples by “ baptizing them” and “ teaching them.” Although some may disagree, I believe that the best way the local church can fulfill The Great Commission is to be active in all five functions of the church (evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and worship) found in the early church (Acts 2:42-47). If all five of these functions are active and intentional in their actions, the local church will be a healthy, growing entity. This means that they will be reaching their community for Christ (evangelism), guiding their members to grow more Christ-like every day (discipleship), creating genuine community (fellowship), meeting needs in the community and in the congregation (ministry), and engaging in a worship experience where God’s presence is profoundly real and people are having a genuine encounter with God (worship).
Is your church fulfilling The Great Commission in a consistent and intentional manner? If you are, you can, if you choose, stop reading this article. If your church is not intentionally active in all five of the functions of the church cited above, please read on. As I interact with churches all over the state, I find that many of the church leaders and their congregations are not aware of their flat line or declining profile. It is so slight and insidious that it is often overlooked. We are like the frog in the kettle. As the heat is turned up ever so slowly, we tend not to notice until it is too late. In the local church we see new people join our fellowship and we assume that we are growing. We tend to ignore the “backdoor” where we are losing members for a variety of reasons. We cannot rely on what we feel or perceive; but rather, we must look at the cold hard facts.
The statistics from the 2005 Annual Church Profile (ACP) gives us a glimpse at how we are doing in the arena of evangelism. I asked earlier if your church was fulfilling The Great Commission. The first stage of “ making disciples ” is to share the Gospel with the lost and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, realize new converts for the Kingdom. One way we have of measuring how we are doing in this regard is to check the baptism statistics for our state. This measurement implies that those led to Christ by the local church are being obedient by following their decision for Christ with participation in believer’s baptism. It also assumes that the local church is providing accurate information on the ACP.
How are we doing as a state? Did you know that of the 1,993 churches reporting on the 2005 ACP, 637 (32%) had no baptisms! Fully, one-third of our convention churches and missions are not fulfilling The Great Commission! The good news is that 1,356 churches saw the baptismal waters ripple for a total of 13,060 people baptized. Although this is 183 less than the preceding year and continues a trend that has been evident for the last ten-plus years, there is much to be optimistic about. First, and foremost, God is in control and through Him, we can accomplish many things that seem impossible to man. Second, the vocational and lay leaders in our local churches can, if they choose, reignite the flame of desire to fulfill the Great Commission in the hearts of their church members, and then lead their church to become active in all five of the functions. We need to return to the basics of effective ministry in every venue of our local churches. The Missouri Baptist Convention staff stands ready to assist you in any way possible. Our desire is for our state convention to turn this state upside down for the cause of Christ. I am committed to that outcome. Will you join me? (Bruce Morrison is director of Sunday School/discipleship for the Missouri Baptist Convention.)