Thoughts from the Back Pew
All Christian churches preach and teach the “Great Commission,” the command Jesus gave to all of us to go and make disciples. The Greek word translated “go” is in the present-perfect verb tense and more accurately can be translated “while going.” In other words, wherever Christians go in life, we should seize the opportunities God gives us to make the gospel of Jesus Christ known to every person He places in our paths.
Question: are our churches successfully responding to Jesus’s command to go? If not, why not? In most churches today, evangelical outreach is primarily accomplished by inviting people to attend our churches. Our visitors then hear the gospel message and, if the Holy Spirit leads them, accept an invitation to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Simply stated, our members are not being encouraged to go out and share the gospel, but to share their church. Inviting people to church should be encouraged. But inviting people to church is not the command of the Great Commission to “go.” Inviting people to a church service is more of a suggestion to others to “come and see.”
However, many churches I have visited do respond to the command found in the Great Commission. In addition to asking people to “come and see,” these churches invest time in equipping their members to share their faith, always being prepared to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15b ESV). There are numerous materials available to assist churches in developing members to effectively share the gospel and give their testimonies.
In my travels, I have spent time with numerous pastors, elders, and deacons. Many have told me their involvement in the running of the church does not give them the time or opportunity to intentionally go and seek out non-Christians with whom to share the gospel. This response is disappointing. If the Great Commission is understood as everyone being commanded to share the gospel “while going” about our daily lives, then church leaders are not excluded from this command. In fact, the heart’s desire of our church leaders should be to spend time sharing the love of God and the good news of Jesus Christ. Our leaders should be modeling what they want us pew dwellers to do. Blessed are the leaders who personally respond to “the Great Commission.”
Should we consider anything else? YES! Jesus commanded us to go. We need to understand our other motivation. And the answer to that lies in looking at Jesus’s ministry and what motivated Him. One word, almost exclusively, describes Jesus in the Gospels. That word is compassion.
The Greek word for compassion is splanchnizomai. The word describes what happens to a person when their guts are tied up in an emotional knot—a pain that settles deep within. We can easily show compassion for someone we see who is suffering as a result of an illness or a broken bone. We pray for their healing and do what we can to ease their pain. But someone who is suffering as a result of spiritual separation from God is not as easily seen and diagnosed. When we do recognize a person is spiritually lost, and we know suffering will come and will last for an eternity, our spiritual eyes should trigger a gut-wrenching compassion to share with them now. This spiritual insight comes when we have Jesus-like vision to see people the way Jesus sees them. We are then motivated to act when the Holy Spirit gives us Jesus-like compassion for people who need to hear the gospel. And we go when we love our neighbor enough to care about their eternal destiny.
May God give us the grace to have a Jesus-like compassion for people who are hurting spiritually. May we look for and take the opportunities God gives us to share His love and the good news about Jesus. May we be faithful to the calling our Lord has given us to go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Matt 28:19-20a). Remember Jesus ended by saying, And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (v. 20b) We do not go out into the world alone.
And these are my thoughts from the back pew.
The purpose of our writing Experiencing God’s Love in a Broken World, was to give pastors a resource to help people who want the answers to these questions, and to give them a tool they can use as well. May you be richly blessed in this season of crisis and change.
Deb Haggerty is a lover of God, a wife, and a mother. Born in Benson, Minnesota, she earned her BA from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and her MBA from Mercer University in Atlanta, GA. Following a successful career, she purchased Elk Lake Publishing, Inc., a Christian publishing company in 2016.
Roy Haggerty is a lover of God, a husband, and a father. He has a BA from the University of Miami, Miami, Florida, and has taken courses towards a masters of theology through Reformed Theological Seminary. Roy retired in his mid-sixties and has spent his time immersed in Bible study and a study of modern politics. He has taught Bible studies for over twenty-five years.