What is the Great Commission Jesus gave His Church? What does He expect His Church to be doing today? What is each Christian’s part in fulfilling that mission?
What is the Church for? Why did Jesus Christ build the Church of God in the first place? The answers are related to what some call the Great Commission.
But what is that?
How many know what the Great Commission is?
In 2021, Barna pollsters announced:
“More than half of U.S. churchgoers have not heard of the Great Commission.”
Another 25 percent said they had heard of it, but “can’t recall the exact meaning.”
“Additionally, even when presented with a list of passages, 37 percent don’t recognize which well-known passage typically goes by this name.”
Should these statistics concern us? Should we know what the Great Commission is?
To answer those questions, let’s first consider a couple of related questions.
Is the term Great Commission in the Bible?
No, unless you are talking about the subheads that the New King James Version adds near the end of Matthew, Mark and Luke. But these are publishing additions, not part of the original text.
Is the Great Commission a biblical concept?
Jesus definitely gave a mission to the Church, not only in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but also in Acts.
What is the mission of the Church according to the Bible?
We can pull the essence of the mission from two passages in Matthew:
- Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Some point out that this isn’t a commission, but a prophecy. But it is clear from many other passages that the Church must preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The commission in Mark clearly says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
This mission extended beyond the original apostles. The apostle Paul recognized his part in the responsibility to preach the gospel. He said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). And the last verse of Acts mentions that Paul continued “preaching the kingdom of God.”
- Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Beyond giving this message of warning and hope, the Church is also to teach and serve those God calls to repentance through that message.This passage is what many call the Great Commission, with some focusing specifically on the first part. Of course, Jesus gave this instruction to His disciples and hence to the Church. Both parts of the mission—preaching the gospel and preparing and caring for those God calls—work together.
Notice that all of the above scriptures show that this commission is to be a global effort. Christ instructed His disciples to try to reach people in “all nations.” The Church of God today continues to strive to make the gospel message available throughout the world. To learn more, read “The Church: A Worldwide Work.”
The gospel message includes a strong warning and witness about the consequences of sin as described by the prophets (Isaiah 58:1; Ezekiel 33:1-11). This includes a call to repentance.
The message is also a powerful announcement of hope, because the word gospel means good news—the good news of the coming Kingdom of God that will transform the world for the better.
Beyond giving this message of warning and hope, the Church is also to teach and serve those God calls to repentance through that message. Those who repent, are baptized and learn to observe all that Jesus Christ commanded become part of the Church themselves. Then, they, too, become part of the Church’s continuing mission.
Each group of learners (disciples) helps plant the seeds and helps with the harvest of the next group of learners.
What is our part in the Great Commission?
The Bible compares the Church to the human body, with different parts having different functions, but all necessary to the work of the Church.
The whole body won’t be just the eye (or the ear or the mouth). God gives a “diversity of gifts,” and He “has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Corinthians 12:4, 18).
Though not every member will be the voice of the Church, every member will contribute to the efforts of amplifying that voice.
There are some shared tasks that all members of the Church need to do:
- Set an example of living as Jesus lived. Our neighbors and people we work with notice how we live as Christians. Our example is a huge aspect of the second part of the commission. Many new disciples report that a big part of what got their attention was the lifestyle and attitude of a Church member.
- Be ready to give answers. Along with setting an example, we’re instructed by Peter to always be ready to give a defense or answer to those who ask us “a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). When a Christian’s light attracts attention, he or she should be able to kindly and helpfully answer about what makes him or her different. The Christian’s hope will be noticed in a world in desperate need of hope.
- Pray active, mission-focused prayers. (See our article “Why Pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’?”)
- Do whatever God gives us the opportunity to do. This can include everything from setting up chairs or preparing snacks for church to sharing biblical articles from LifeHopeandTruth.com on social media.
Members also provide support through their contributions, encouragement and prayers. Some provide helpful suggestions and ideas for ways to preach the gospel and feed the spiritual flock. Some talented writers, photographers and graphic artists have contributed using those skills.
What are missionaries?
Neither the King James Version nor the New King James Version uses the words missionary or missionaries.
In English usage, a missionary is “a person who is sent to a foreign country to do religious work (such as to convince people to join a religion or to help people who are sick, poor, etc.)” (Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary).
Merriam-Webster.com gives this brief history to illustrate:
“Beginning around 1540, an order of Catholic priests known as the Jesuits began to send its members to many parts of the world to convert peoples who believed in other gods to Christianity. Wherever they went, the Catholic missionaries built central buildings for their religious work, and the buildings themselves became known as missions; many 17th-century missions in the American West and Southwest are now preserved as museums. Their foes, the Protestants, soon began sending out their own missionaries, and today Protestant missionaries are probably far more numerous.”
The Bible has a few examples of ministers who were sent to proclaim the gospel in other areas (for example, the apostle Paul), but the biblical examples do not resemble the way “missionary work” was done 500 years ago or today.
For example, Paul proclaimed the gospel when he was invited to speak at a synagogue or in the marketplace or public square (Acts 13:14-15, 42-44; 17:1-4, 17). He did not coerce people, but he taught those who came to him and were interested in his message. As the Bible teaches, only those called by God can have their spiritual blindness removed (John 6:44; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
The Church of God, a Worldwide Association, sees the Internet and other media as the public square of the modern world. So we believe our mission is to share the good news of the Kingdom of God with Internet searchers who are interested, and then serve those who respond. We do have ministers and members in 50 countries, and we send ministers to other areas to serve those who request it.
Learn more in our article “What Is the Mission of the Church?”