Obeying the Whole Great Commission

Whole. Complete. All parts present. I have been dwelling on the concept of wholeness lately. I had a conversation with a pastor the other day and we ran down a rabbit trail of discussion and concerns about holistic ministry and fulfilling the whole Great Commission. It made us both pause and reflect on how effectively we were accomplishing those tasks. We also talked about what we saw around us in churches and ministries and how well they seemed to be doing.

I know this is an old discussion. The idea that there is more to the Great Commission than simply evangelism. But it is a conversation it seems we must have over and over again because we do not seem to be learning and applying its lessons well. As an associate professor of missions and pastoral leadership and a guy who has consulted hundreds of churches and several missions agencies, this hits close to home.

We speak of our ultimate goal to bring God glory and we define one of the means through which we can bring Him that glory as being Great Commission fulfillment. But then I begin to wonder if indeed the way we talk about fulfilling and actually act to fulfill the Great Commission is complete enough to bring Him the glory He seeks and deserves? I am sure He is pleased with our efforts. He is a very patient and loving God who through His graciousness seems to bless His people with a mile for every inch they move forward. But how could we be doing better?

I want to share the whole gospel with the whole world to help fulfill the whole Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8). That means I need to teach the whole teachings of Christ and live out the Great Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31), and for the church to live out what others have called the Great Commitment (Acts 2:42-47).

I have been at this for several years at this point and I am not sure why we cannot seem to get a handle on it. I tend to either find churches who love to pour qualitatively into their covenant members and want to go deeper and deeper but do not share their faith well or see much conversion growth, or I see churches who have outreach opportunity after outreach opportunity, see folks saved and baptized, and watch un-discipled people walk out the back door about as quickly as they come in the front. Do not misunderstand me, I know of incredible exceptions, where there is balance and health and blessing. But it has always seemed odd or sad to me that they are the exceptions and not the norm. We need a new normal.

Wholeness requires balance. It requires intentionality. It demands focus. Are you going? Are you baptizing? Are you teaching everything He commanded? Are we truly depending on His power and authority over all things and His presence with us always in order to succeed? Do we love Him with every ounce of our soul and being so that we can truly love our neighbors in a way that brings Him glory? Are we being the church or simply acting out a part on the weekends?

Tough questions, but questions we preach about, teach about and talk about often. So, how whole are you? What is out of balance and focus that can be submitted to Him and brought back to a level of intentionality that will truly bring Him glory?

Frogs (Yes, Frogs) In Life and Ministry

Frogs. Yes, I said frogs. Today’s post is all about them and their role in our world. Hang in there, I promise this will be relevant.

You see biologists tell us that when one wants to study and observe a specific biodiverse environment or biosphere, you can study the health of certain critical species and they will help you know the health of the overall biological context. Frogs are one of those species in many environments. They sit in the middle of the food chain. They eat and help control insect populations and they are a food source for many (including us – try a good frog leg sometime!). If your frogs are not doing well, odds are the overall fauna and flora are going to be suffering as well. Kind of like honey bees. We need them to help the plants pollinate and we need the plants to grow to feed others and so forth. Frogs.

I often tell churches with whom I am consulting that there are several “frogs” in church health as well. Key issues, spiritual disciplines or ministries one can study to see how the overall congregation is probably doing. They are health indicators for the entire spiritual environment.

Evangelism can be a “frog” for example. If a church, and therefore a specific group of believers, is not evangelistic that is an indication of something wrong spiritually. They are not reaching other people for a reason or for many reasons. What are they? It is a symptom of a disease. Why are the people not sharing their faith? What is going on in their relationship with God or one another that is holding them back or paralyzing them in fear? Those are the underlying issues that must be addressed.

Stewardship can be a “frog” also. People often vote with their money or display disobedience in their giving. I often will do a study about the giving potential of churches. I will take a county demographic study, take a low-middle average income per household and divide that number by ten. I then determine how many active households attend the church regularly and multiply that number with the final figure from the county. If your active families made the low-middle average county income and tithed, this would be the amount you would expect the church to receive every year. Often the average income of the active church family is much higher than that low-middle county figure by the way. With very few exceptions in the many churches where I have worked this formula, the total amount that should be received is double to triple of actual income. This is not a sermon about tithing that can be a discussion for another day. But many churches pray for budgets that are often unhealthy and not sacrificial or cheerful.

What are some other “frogs” in your ministry life? Disciplines, biblical responsibilities, ministries that are reflections of the overall health of the church? Of your life? What about the level of biblical prayer? The frequency of personal Bible study? The list could go on and on. Instead of condemning people for their unhealthy practices, ask why are their practices unhealthy? Begin to address those root issues.

When I was a full time pastor, I once led a children’s sermon using a frog as my illustration. I talked about becoming new and transformed with the whole tadpole to bullfrog story and then shared (which I copied from someone, somewhere so forgive my plagiarism!) that frog stands for Fully Rely On God. Good lesson, child-like, move on right? Well, I made the mistake of beginning the whole thing by saying how much I liked frogs. So from then on people began to give me frogs. Frog statues, frog carvings, frog rugs, frog lamps, frog posters, frogs! At one point over 400 frogs were collected around my office. My wife decorated her school classroom in frogs. I was surrounded by frogs!

How many frogs can you find in your life? How healthy are they?

Balanced: Truth and Love in Salvation and Mission

I am the supervising professor for a doctor of ministry student here at the seminary who is trying to graduate this spring. I had the privilege of directing the program for a several years and have always loved the students. The program is in far better hands now but I still get to interact some with them. One of the reasons I enjoy them so much is the fact that probably close to 90 percent of D.Min. students at Southeastern are pastors or missionaries in real ministry contexts. My own experience draws me to them.

The student I am supervising who is seeking to finish within a few days is an incredible guy. He is an Ethiopian pastor who leads a church in the Raleigh area. The church reaches out to the Ethiopian peoples of the region in language and culture. God is richly blessing his ministry and their covenant community. He is a sharp student and a great leader. I am probably learning far more from him than he is from me.

He is writing about a holistic approach to evangelism. This may sound odd to us but not for those from within his people group. In the Ethiopian context the word for salvation, for instance, means to be completely saved. Holistically saved. Just as Greek word for salvation can mean saved spiritually or physically depending upon the context, so it is in their language. For the Ethiopian believer, therefore, to be saved means to be saved spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally and even relationally. They do not think about trying to separate or compartmentalize the various spheres of life and existence like we often do in the American context. Somehow I feel they might be closer to the biblical context than we are at times.

He is writing specifically about the balance between personal proclamation evangelism where one is focused on sharing the gospel in hopes of spiritual conversion and social ministry based evangelism ministries; the discussion of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment so to speak. It would be difficult for him to divide the need to share the gospel with someone or to love that person by taking care of their needs. To love God and your neighbor would be part of the Great Commission in his mind, and in the fullest sense of meaning.

There is no doubt if one must choose that he recognizes the primacy of the salvation of the soul for eternity as compared to the temporal needs of people. Do not worry, he is theologically and soteriologically sound. (My name will be on this paper!) He just would wonder, why do we have to choose to do one or the other if we can do both?

The reason I am writing this blogpost is to prompt you to think about your balance in these areas. I have known some folks who can quote every theologian but are, quite frankly, pretty lousy at loving people. I have known others who cannot stand for truth because they are overwhelmed by their relationally driven emotions. I know some who are so uncaring they do not share the gospel. I know others who share the gospel but really do not seem to care for the people. Who are you? How is your balance?

I like talking with my student. I like talking about this balance. I am thankful to God to be able to think about and praise Him for totally saving me––all of me. I pray my balanced sanctification and obedience to Him will bring Him the glory He deserves.