The Great Commission, You, and “Them”

One of the great joys I have in my role here at the seminary is to work with the leadership of the Center for Great Commission Studies. This center helps to guide our campus in both our awareness and understanding of and our participation in global missions. As a church leader you should check out their website and blog.

This week they are sponsoring our Global Missions Week which features various events and training opportunities for our students, faculty and guests. These days truly represent the ethos and mission of Southeastern! It is fun to meet missionaries from around the world and watch them interact with our campus.

One event is a pastor’s luncheon jointly sponsored by the CGCS and our Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching, featuring a discussion panel with Drs. Johnny Hunt and Daniel Akin as well as presentations by the CGCS team. The theme is “The Great Commission and the Local Church.” Be sure to check out the video that will be on the center’s website. Since I am facilitating part of it, I have been thinking a lot about this topic.

We as Baptists often talk about a primary way to fulfill the mission of God and to bring Him glory is through the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Our denomination is intended to be one large Great Commission affinity network by design and purpose. It is really why the Southern Baptist Convention was created and why we should continue to exist. If each church, therefore, would engage in true Great Commission fulfillment then logically our convention should be so engaged as well. So, what are we doing? How are we doing? Why or why not are we doing?

Sometimes it seems to me that we create this nebulous “them” that somehow gets us off the hook or lessens the blow of our failed responsibilities. The denomination becomes someone other than us somehow. It is always easier to blame “them.” Sounds to me like an old story in a garden about a piece of fruit.

For the Southern Baptist Convention to be engaged fully in Great Commission fulfillment, each church must be engaged as stated above. For each church to be engaged, we need engaged leaders and members. This whole process must begin with each believer. Then it’s harder to make that a “them.” I believe that is an “us.”

So think about these questions before you try to find another “them” to blame: What does it mean to personally be engaged in Great Commission fulfillment as a church leader or member and how do I lead others to join me? How can we best lead churches who have not had a strong commitment to this type of Great Commission fulfillment to develop the necessary awareness and to actually pursue it?

And while we are at it let’s make certain we are leading our churches to fulfill the “whole” Great Commission. Christ’s mandate was not simply a call to evangelism. He also wanted us to teach them what He taught us and to lead them to identify with Him. As YOU are going, disciple. Hard to push that off on “them” isn’t it?

Core Competencies

I have been spending a lot of time lately working on core competencies. We have them in seminary life. They are the end goals of a curriculum that hopefully lead the institution to fulfill its mission. They are the skillsets, the character traits and the base of knowledge we want each graduate to possess when we are done with them. We assess and evaluate to try to ascertain how well we are doing based on how well our graduates are doing. Since I often help our educational partners around the world as well as our own campus with curriculum development, I spend time on such things.

Recently, however, I have been working on core competencies in the context of several local churches I am consulting. It has been very enlightening. So, I ask: What are the basic skills, character traits, and what is the knowledge base a church member should possess in order to be an obedient, fruit-producing disciple? What is the church teaching and/or doing to help the members to obtain these competencies within their local context? How intentional is the church in identifying and conducting this process? Does the average church member have an awareness of where they are, where they need to be and how to get there?

I have watched some really good leaders working through this in the local church. They have connected God’s mission to a biblical vision with these personal competencies. They have developed clear statements of expectation for the individual that will lead them to fulfill vision and mission. From spiritual disciplines to ministry responsibilities, this intentionality has helped to connect the dots between the personal and the corporate. They understand the need to focus on the biblical objective rather than simply upon the personal subjective. They recognize that the program activity of the church should be designed to develop these core competencies and not compete with them. This understanding defines what the curriculum of the church must be in their small groups and discipleship ministries. There is a common core in the best and most biblical sense.

How about you church leader? Do your people know how well they are progressing in their discipleship? Do they have specific, personal goals and spiritual markers in terms of fulfilling biblical vision? Can they define and assess what is needed next? Are you developing and conducting the proper training and offering the right ministry opportunities for your members to obtain these understood core competencies?

Take the time to prayerfully write out biblical goals for knowing, doing, and being. Work through what it means and looks like for a disciple to fulfill the biblical vision for your church. If you need help figuring out mission and vision go back and review some of my previous posts. Teach these competencies and the pathways to them to your people and develop a curricular process to help them become competent in each one. We can only have expectations for our members as high as the quality of discipleship development we are offering them.

Core training, now that will make you truly “cross”-fit!

Pastorally Speaking: Bobby Herrington on “Christian Community Created by the Gospel”

[Editor’s Note: This post continues the “Pastorally Speaking” series: posts written by pastors for pastors. Bobby Herrington is the Executive Pastor at Mercy Hill Church, a recent church plant in Greensboro, N.C., and Ph.D. student in theology at SEBTS.]

Three summers ago I had the opportunity to go backpacking across the snow covered peaks of British Columbia, Canada. One afternoon we approached the downhill slope of a massive glacier which was covered in snow. Walking down was dangerous because under the snow there could be deep unseen crevices that someone could fall into at any time. Therefore, when walking down the glacier we tied ourselves together with a rope, each person about 50 feet from the other. If the first person fell into a crevice each member of the team would roll onto their stomach and swing their ice axe into the glacier keeping the first person from falling very far. While going at it alone would have been extremely dangerous, hooking ourselves together made it rather safe.

This is a picture of how Christian community should work within the local church. As believers we should hook ourselves to one another through intentional discipleship relationships. We see this type of commitment both described and prescribed in Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

The New Testament calls the local church to an impossible type of community; a community that breaks the barriers of race, socio-economics, and ethnicity. The Bible calls us to rejoice with our brothers and sisters when they rejoice, and suffer with them when they suffer. The Bible also calls us to share our material resources with one another.

Yet, because of sin, authentic Christian community seems more difficult than ever to establish. Churches split, marriages crumble, relationships sever, and church cook-outs and Wednesday night dinners don’t seem to be doing enough in creating the type of deep community the New Testament calls the local church to. In this post, I would like to both encourage and demonstrate that only the gospel can create the type of deep community within our churches that the New Testament commands.

No matter how hard we try as pastors, small group leaders, or Sunday school teachers, we cannot mechanically create community between members of our church. The reason for this is because our horizontal community with one another is grounded in our vertical community with God. The church is not a collection of people who share common interests but a people who have been called into fellowship with Jesus Christ and one another. As a result, division, disunity, and broken relationships within the church are not a community problem but a gospel problem.

Therefore, if we want to see authentic community in our churches, it will only come through the faithful preaching of the gospel. Only through the preaching of the gospel can people supernaturally begin a relationship with God that will enable them to have authentic relationships with one another within a local church.

So, while we ultimately cannot create community as pastors, what are some things we can do as pastors to help spur on and maintain this community that is only created by the gospel? Below are three things we are doing at the church where I serve (www.mercyhillgso.com) to spur our members on to biblical community.

1) Emphasize the importance of gathering – Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Nothing can replace the importance of the weekly gathering for developing community within the church; the gospel is preached through sermon, pictured through the sacraments, and celebrated through fellowship.

Many people today want deep organic relationships but are not willing to put the time in to allow those relationships to develop. In the era of chat rooms and Facebook many people have communication, but few have biblical community. I use to often tell my small group that only structured friendships lead to organic relationships. It is only through hours of intentional time spent together with other Christians that these relationships move beyond surface level to the point that discipleship happens on a weekly basis.

2) Discipleship happens in community – This is a plumb-line at Mercy Hill Church (which we “borrowed” from our sending church, the Summit Church). The fact is many of us, pastors included, believe that the church needs us more than we need the church. The church is always asking us to volunteer, give money, use our gifts, etc. And while yes we should do all of those things, we cannot forget, and should not let our people forget, that every Christian needs the church to become a growing disciple of Jesus Christ.

Too many in our churches are attempting to be lone ranger Christians where the church is seen as good but not necessary. As Jesus had a small group of men he invested in, each of us needs a small group of people that speak the gospel into all areas of our lives on a weekly basis.

3) Call church members to a covenant commitment – One way to practically implement the previous points is to make joining a small group of 10-15 people part of a church covenant that all members of the church agree to. Make it a clear expectation that part of joining the church is a commitment to others in the church. It is my belief that only this type of intentional community will lead to the commitment to one another we see in Acts.

In just the books of Acts and 1 Corinthians Paul outlines at least 30 “one another” commitments that members of the body of Christ are to have to one another. This type of deep commitment to one another can never happen unless the members of our church are deeply involved in one another’s lives, and open about areas they need to grow. As pastors we must call our people to this type of commitment and live it out ourselves.