The most often quoted, preached and taught verses anywhere in the New Testament may very well be the section of scripture referred to as “The Great Commission.” Matthew 28:18-20 has been used by thousands of preachers, church and denominational leaders to rally the Christian army to evangelistic fervor. Besides John 3:16 no passage has been more broadly preached, exegeted and written about than these words of Jesus. And for good reason, these words were among the final given to His church before He ascended to His Father. The Great Commission was and remains the final great command given to the church by the one who came to establish and redeem it. I am not sure exactly how many times I have heard or read someone exposit this passage but almost every time great attention is given to only one phrase, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Don’t get me wrong, we should give great attention to that phrase, it is a critical call to action. As believers in Christ it should be the purpose of our lives, our passion, our focus. Baptism numbers are steadily declining in many evangelical denominations because born again believers are way too quiet about their faith and disobedient to this command. If we want to see a Great Commission resurgence then we must get back to the practice of reaching people for Christ. However, if churches are to be considered Great Commission churches, they will not only claim the command of verse 19, but they will complete the commission through obedience to verse 20.
If verse 19 is the Great Commission then verse 20 is the Great Omission for many churches. The commission doesn’t end in verse 19, Jesus keeps speaking! “Teaching them to obey (observe) all that I have commanded you.” Churches must create an intentional process for both reaching and teaching new disciples. Think for a moment of the recipients of this commission in Matthew 28, among the listeners that day were people that Jesus had brought to him and taught of him. They were being called to replicate the process that Jesus had shown to them. Reaching them was for their salvation, teaching them was for their sanctification and both were crucial to the commission He left for them to replicate.
Churches that are good at reaching people have members that understand that they are each called to GO. These churches have members who are more than listeners, they are practitioners. Churches that are good at teaching people have ministries focused on instruction and are great at deepening their people on the truths of Scripture. However, churches that are good at both of these essential elements are a rare breed. If a church is truly a Great Commission church it must be intentional to both reach and teach. We must reach people because salvation is essential, but if we don’t teach new believers then salvation will not be fully enjoyed. And that is exactly why Jesus included his statement in verse 20. Jesus said that we should “make disciples”. The church is not commissioned to create disciples, but to make disciples and there is a difference. The “make” points to a process in which the church takes a new believer from conversion to immersion to transformation. Salvation creates a disciple, teaching and discipling makes a disciple. Jesus says to “teach them to obey or observe.” The Greek verb used here is tereo which is sometimes used as a military term meaning “to guard or keep an eye out in order to prevent loss.” When you break down the terms Jesus uses it becomes clear that the Great Commission is much more than just converting the lost. If we reach them but don’t teach them we will have them properly prepared for heaven but not equipped to enjoy the journey to get there. Churches must have an intentional plan of disciple making that includes training disciple makers who will be on guard to watch over the souls of those new born believers. New believers are entering a battlefield and they must be equipped on how to use the only weapon at their disposal, the Sword of Scripture.
Effective evangelism opens the front door of your church. Effective disciple making closes the back door of your church. How will you teach them to observe or obey? Handing a new believer a Bible and placing them in a Sunday school class isn’t enough to equip them to enjoy and experience all that Christ has for them. We must be much more intentional. The way of disciple making involves a hands on process of life on life, journeying together, celebrating and weeping with one another. Mature believers teaching young believers, walking with them and guarding over their souls. An experienced soldier must train the new recruit. Paul says to Timothy, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2. (emphasis added). The future of the church of Jesus Christ is dependent not only on how many sinners we reach, but also on how many disciples we teach. The truths of Scripture must be passed on, guarded and entrusted to a new generation of disciple makers. How well your church accomplished this will determine the effective work of the Gospel in your community for the next 50 years. New Christians are asking the question, “Now what?” The answer your church provides may determine whether they become disciples (learners) or just a casual believer with a baptism certificate and a Bible.