Four ways of outworking the Great Commission in day to day life
Instinctively I wanted to start this section with a quote generally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” Protestants and Catholics have used this quote to state that sharing the gospel through actions is better than sharing through words. However, as I researched this cherished quote for many, I discovered no evidence that St. Francis ever said such a thing.
Indeed St. Francis lived in a way that was contrary to his peers; he took a vow of poverty, whereas other clergy lived opulent lifestyles.¹ Nevertheless, “His words were neither hollow nor ridiculous, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the marrow of the heart, so that listeners were turned to great amazement… Sometimes preaching in up to five villages a day, often outdoors. In the country, Francis often spoke from a bale of straw or a granary doorway. In town, he would climb on a box or up steps in a public building. He preached to . . . any who gathered to hear the strange but fiery little preacher from Assisi.”² Jesus preached the gospel both in the temple and while he was out and about (see Matthew 4:17, Matthew 5, Matthew 11:1, Matthew 26:13, Mark 1:38, Mark 1:39, Mark 2:2, Luke 4:44, and many others). Wherever Jesus went, crowds followed. He had something to say; he modelled what he said, he had authority and well, he was the Messiah. He preached in parables (stories to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson; a frequently used teaching method). He preached directly (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5–7) and preached through answering questions.
Jesus also sent the disciples out to preach (see: Mark 3:14, Mark 6:12, Mark 16:15, Mark 16:20, Acts 8:4, Acts 8:25, Acts 9:20, and many others). As disciples, we are called to do what Jesus did; preach the gospel.
In Translating the Great Commission, a Barna Report produced in partnership with Seed Company, it became apparent that a staggering 51% of U.S. churchgoers had not heard of the Great Commission. A mere 17% were familiar with the term and the passage known by this name.³
Barna also presented Churchgoers with five different verses (Matthew 28:18–20. Matthew 22:37–40, John 14:6, Mark 8:34 and Mark 12:17), tasking the respondents to choose the passage related to the Great Commission. Just over one third (37%) chose the correct passage (Matthew 28:18–20). Data showed that more than one-quarter of Elders (29%) and Boomers (26%) say they know the text, compared to 17 per cent of Gen X and one in 10 Millennials (10%). Researches note that younger generations may be unaware that Matthew 28:18–20 is referred to as The Great Commission, instead of entirely ignorant of the mandate. ⁴
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18–20 (New International Version)
Many have taken these words of Jesus literally and have gone to different countries to preach the gospel. This understanding is correct, and there have been many great long-term missionaries, but there is more to it. Unfortunately, when the great commission is only understood in this way often, we can miss the mark. Sometimes short-term mission vacation trips can do more harm than good (see Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips or read Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)). Moreover, it can suggest that the Great Commission is for a select group of people.
It is now thought (although disputed) that Matthew 28:19 should say, “therefore, as you are going…” implying that we don’t need to go anywhere out of the ordinary; instead, we are to make disciples as we go about life. This (although disputed) is a good way of looking at it. Jesus calls us to — make disciples — baptize and teach His commands to those around us in our sphere of life and those not within that sphere.
How can we do it in our daily life? Do we need to quit our job and become a pastor? No (although some are called). Do we need to be a “street preacher” yelling at people saying they are sinful and going to hell? Definitely not! A “street preacher” may be preaching, but discipleship (baptism and teaching) does not happen.
Rely on the Holy Spirit
When we read the same account in Luke 24:44–49, John 20:19–23, Acts 1:8, we see that after Jesus gave the mandate to preach the gospel, He gave the Holy Spirit to the disciples. John says that he breathed the Holy Spirit on them.
Practical steps for relying on the Holy Spirit:
Start each morning asking the Holy Spirit to guide your steps, to disrupt your day.
Be unhurried. A hurried life, mind and soul have no room for the Holy Spirit.
Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit (read 1 Corinthians 12).
Continuously attune yourself to the Holy Spirit, doing what He wants you to do.
Teach the way
Part of Jesus’ mandate was to teach everything He had command. Does someone have to be saved to be taught Jesus’ commands? No. It wasn’t until the end of three years with (physical) Jesus that the disciples got it. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, some doubted. We can teach the way of Jesus in our daily life by being with Him, being like Him and doing what he did.
Practical steps for teaching the way of Jesus:
Practice the Spiritual Disciplines (Read more here)
Teach others Jesus’s commands by speaking up in challenging conversations.
Live your life as an example of Jesus’ commands.
love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:37–39)
Restore Brokenness (Heal The Sick)
Jesus restored brokeness. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and restored identities. The gospels are full of Jesus bringing restoration. Sometimes He would speak healing or touch someone. Other times He did strange things like putting His fingers in a deaf and mute man’s ears, spitting on his fingers and touching the man’s tongue (Mark 7:31–37). Later in Mark 8, He spits on a blind man’s eyes to heal Him (Mark 8:22–26). Why did Jesus use spit? That is a subject for another time, but you can read more here. The main point here is that we, like Jesus, are called to restore brokenness through the Holy Spirit.
Practical steps using the gift of healing:
Pray for healing or restoration for people; start small (e.g. headaches etc.). We can easily be discouraged when we pray for something big, and it doesn’t happen. I’ve prayed for healing for many people.. who have died.
Pray again. In Mark 8:22–26, we read that the blind man was not wholly healed straight away; Jesus had to do it twice.
Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to people who need healing.
Eat and drink with people far from God.
“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s (Matthew’s) house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law, who were Pharisees, saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:15–17 (NIV) We need to be friends with non-believers. We need to go to their events, be friends with their friends, listen to their story and walk life with them. It is only then that we can share the good news. Sam Chan’s How to Talk about Jesus (Without Being That Guy): Personal Evangelism in a Skeptical Worldis an excellent resource on shearing the gospel with friends.
Practical steps⁵ for sharing the Gospel with friends:
Be friends with non-Christians.
Introduce your non-Christian friends to your Christian ones.
Go to your non-Christian friend’s events. Say yes more than no to invitations even if it might not be “your thing”.
Learn to tell your story
Tell a Bible story that resonates.
Lord Jesus Christ, send us out with confidence in your word, to tell the world of your saving acts, and bring glory to your name. Amen. — A Prayer Book for Australia
Footnotes & Resources
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¹ Kevin Cotter, “Did Francis Really Say, Preach The Gospel At All Times And If Necessary Use Words? — FOCUS”, FOCUS, Last modified 2011, https://focusequip.org/did-francis-really-say-preach-the-gospel-at-all-times-and-if-necessary-use-words/.
² Mark Galli, “Speak The Gospel”, Christianitytoday.Com, Last modified 2009, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/mayweb-only/120-42.0.html.
³ “51% Of Churchgoers Don’T Know Of The Great Commission — Barna Group”, Barna Group, Last modified 2018, https://www.barna.com/research/half-churchgoers-not-heard-great-commission/
⁴ “51% Of Churchgoers Don’T Know Of The Great Commission — Barna Group”, Barna Group, Last modified 2018, https://www.barna.com/research/half-churchgoers-not-heard-great-commission/
⁵ Adapted from Sam Chan, “How To Tell Your Friends About Jesus”, Citybibleforum.Org, accessed 4 March 2021, https://citybibleforum.org/sites/default/files/downloads/content/2015/How%20to%20tell%20your%20friends%20about%20Jesus%20summary.pdf and Sam Chan, How To Talk About Jesus (Without Being That Guy) Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2020.