Friday, December 28, 2012

The Great Commission - Who Does It Apply To, and in What Ways?

The following is adapted from "The Great Commission," in What's Wrong with Outreach.

The Great Commission is one of the most frequently referred-to passages in the Bible. I’m also convinced that it is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied. Let’s look at the text:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 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 28:16-20
The common evangelical interpretation of the Commission involves several features. First, the Commission is understood to be the driving missions statement of the church—its placement at the end of Matthew’s gospel, spoken by the post-resurrection Jesus, makes it clear that this is Jesus’ mandate to all who follow him. Second, evangelicals apply the Commission to all believers individually: it is each disciple’s responsibility to live out this mandate in his or her life. Third, the Commission is directed specifically toward reaching the lost—that is, bringing people to saving faith in Jesus. It is generally understood in terms of rescuing people from an eternity in hell. Finally, the Commission is primarily accomplished by personal witnessing—sharing one’s faith with others—in combination with supporting preaching and missionary ministries (or directly engaging in such ministries), sometimes also in combination with such “pre-evangelism” activities as service projects that are intended to gain a receptive hearing for the gospel.

All of these features contain elements of truth, and challenging them runs the risk of being misunderstood as being unconcerned about those who are lost. Nonetheless, this understanding of the Commission actually hinders the work of evangelism in the long run, and presents a reductive and superficial view of the Christian life and of the role of the Church in the world.

In Acts, we don't see the church growing through a pattern of everyone in the church sharing their faith with everyone they can. Instead, we see two significant things: the believers in general exhibited a greatly changed character, signified by generous sharing with one another and taking care of one another's needs; and certain specific individuals like Peter, Stephen, Philip, and Paul, divinely gifted and empowered to do overt missionary and evangelistic work, breaking into new territories with the power of the Gospel. In the epistles, we see a great deal of emphasis laid on the character and behavior of believers in general, and practically no instruction, encouragement, advice, or command regarding sharing one's faith with others. The time period of Acts and the epistles covers over thirty years, during which time all kinds of errors in belief and practice had crept into the church and had to be dealt with, so it's unreasonable to assume that the fervor of the early believers was such that encouragement to share their faith was completely unnecessary.

The record of Acts and the epistles leads to an inescapable conclusion, if we are willing to look at it: the Commission simply does not apply to each particular believer, at least not in the way evangelicals typically take it. It turns out that we can’t simply lift the Commission out of its historical context and apply it to everyone individually. What we need to do when applying the passage is to look at the people Jesus was actually speaking to, and see whom they might represent.

Matthew 28:16 makes clear that Jesus addressed the Commission to “the eleven disciples,” i.e., the twelve minus Judas Iscariot. The people they could reasonably be supposed to represent are:

  1. Only themselves. This would make the Commission into a simple historical narrative: Jesus is merely telling those who were closest to him in his earthly life what their mission is, now that he is about to be gone. In this view, it would have no further application in the present day.
  2. Church leaders. In this view, the apostles represent later elders and overseers—the leadership of the church. The charge to make disciples therefore would be the responsibility of the ordained clergy. This might fit nicely with a high-church polity that makes a significant distinction between clergy and laity.
  3. All believers individually. The eleven here simply stand in for all believers in generations to come. This is the view of the evangelical church as the Commission is usually taught. In this view, it is the responsibility of each one of us personally to win as many people as possible to salvation.
  4. The whole church corporately. The eleven here stand for the church as a whole, but not every aspect of the Commission applies equally to each individual person. The church as a whole is charged with the commission, and each individual plays his own part in carrying it out.

Options one and two would seldom be advocated by anyone. Option three is the commonly held assumption in evangelical churches, and the one which I’ve already attempted to refute: namely, that evangelism is everyone’s responsibility individually. Simply put, there is actually very little about overt evangelism in the New Testament, compared with the central importance that the evangelical church has placed on it.

Because of this dearth of actual material in the New Testament, contemporary exhortations toward evangelism tend to focus on a few passages, like the Commission, and lean heavily on rhetoric describing masses of lost people hurtling toward an eternity in hell. Don’t we care about them? Don’t we have the heart of Jesus toward them? Can you imagine your friends / coworkers / neighbors / family members, in line for the White Throne Judgment, looking at you with tears in their eyes, asking you, “Why didn’t you tell me?” Surely, even if evangelism is not dealt with in so many words, isn’t it still implied by the overall narrative and the clear missionary impulse that underlies the entire New Testament?

If there were no other options, then I would say Yes. It is, simply put, the heart of Jesus to care about the lost. But the fourth option listed above recognizes the nature of the Body as a group of differently-gifted individuals who don’t each do the same thing but all work together toward a common goal. It also takes seriously what the Commission states about making disciples—not merely making converts. Finally, it makes sense of the wording of the Commission itself, which (in combination with other passages) actually precludes the idea that the Commission is directed toward every believer individually.

The focus of the Commission is to “make disciples.” Those who emphasize individual responsibility in fulfilling the Commission invariably focus that phrase on evangelism of the lost and bringing people to a point of conversion. However, both the implications of making disciples (not merely converts) and the way in which Jesus fleshes out the concept in the Commission itself preclude such a narrow application. Jesus divides making disciples into two main subordinate actions: “baptizing” and “teaching.” Baptism was the mode of entry into the community of believers and would thus be located more or less as the end result of the efforts that we now call “evangelism.” Presumably, Jesus is putting all these efforts—pre-evangelism, witnessing, preaching, invitation, and guidance into baptism itself—under the heading of “baptism,” since he can hardly be imagined to advocate baptizing unwilling people who have no idea what baptism signifies.

Teaching is the second aspect of making disciples that Jesus denotes. Its placement after “baptizing” makes it reasonably clear that already-baptized believers are to be the ones who are to be taught. Jesus states that the object of the teaching is that the disciples “obey everything I have commanded you.” Some have inferred that all the teaching envisioned is to be practical, in the sense that it is basically a matter of commands to be obeyed, not doctrine to be learned. But if we examine how the church actually carried out Jesus’ mission as it appears in Acts and the epistles, it seems that just as baptism encompassed more than simply the act of baptism itself, so “teaching them to obey” involves much more than simply commands and outward compliance.

The Apostle Paul, in particular, both in Acts (for example, in his address to the Ephesian elders in chapter 20) and in his epistles, not only gives commands to be carried out, but also teaches those to whom he is speaking or writing the theological “whys”—the concrete information necessary for establishing a theological basis and worldview in which the commands find their place and rationale. His letters often have a primarily doctrinal section (e.g., Romans 1-11 or Ephesians 1-3) expounding upon an aspect of the gospel needed to be understood by that church, followed by a primarily practical section (e.g., Romans 12-15 or Ephesians 4-6) describing how the truths in the doctrinal section may be practically lived out.

So in the Great Commission, Jesus divides the command to “make disciples” into “baptizing” and “teaching,” two headings that evidently involve a great deal more than those terms may seem to imply on the surface. The two aspects of what Jesus commanded might in a modern context be called “evangelism” and “discipleship,” although even those two terms as they are practiced today hardly do justice to the breadth of the mission Jesus was entrusting to his church. It encompasses everything from laying the groundwork in order to obtain a hearing for the gospel (“pre-evangelism”) to sophisticated theological instruction and practical mentoring in living out the implications of that same gospel.

The more one recognizes the breadth of the charge that Jesus gave to his disciples, the less one can imagine that any single person is supposed to carry out all of it. It is, in fact, precluded by the text itself, viewed in light of other passages. Although Jesus states that a part of making disciples is baptizing, no less a missionary than Paul himself was able to say to one of the congregations he had founded,
I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…. --1 Corinthians 1:14-17
So even though the process of evangelism should culminate in baptism, Paul himself did not physically baptize very many people. Neither did Jesus, according to John 4:2.

Similarly, making disciples also involves teaching, yet James writes, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). So an aspect of the Great Commission, as Jesus describes it, is being recommended against by one of the most important leaders of the early church, presumably someone who is actively engaged in fulfilling the Commission himself.

So if Jesus’ final command to his followers was to make disciples, and if making disciples involves both baptizing and teaching, and if leaders in the church are themselves not practicing both of them, or advocating that we not practice one of them, then the fact is inescapable: not every believer is to be engaged in every aspect of the Great Commission. Various people will be engaged in fulfilling various parts of it, but no one person will fulfill all of it.

However, this does not mean that the Commission does not apply to all believers. In fact, this should give excitement and hope to many people who feel unable to fulfill the Commission as it is typically understood. While not everyone will be involved in direct evangelistic outreach, everyone has a part to play in fulfilling the commission in a larger sense. Some will lay the groundwork by making connections to people who would be otherwise hostile or indifferent to the gospel. Some will share their own testimonies of what God has done in their lives. Some will overtly preach the message of salvation through Jesus. Some will actually shepherd people through the process of being baptized itself. Some will nurture new believers in the basic aspects of living for Jesus. Some will mentor people into a deeper relationship with God. Some will speak or write things that help others develop their faith or live it out more completely. Some will come alongside and assist all of these endeavors in various ways, as supply lines physically assist an army and are an indispensable aspect of any military endeavor.

This is the point. In its largest sense, the Great Commission does involve everyone. Each member of the body of Christ has his or her own part to play. No one is left out; no one is unnecessary. But we all don’t have to be the same sort of person, doing the same sort of thing, in order to accomplish the goal. In fact, the more we try to fit people into a cookie-cutter mold, the less able each person will be to fulfill the aspect that he or she was intended to fulfill. The entire job simply can’t be done by all of us doing the same thing. And God never intended for us to even try to do it that way.

If you like this post, you may be interested in my book, What's Wrong with Outreach?

What's Wrong with Outreach?


  1. Wow, I really, really, REALLY need to get a few copies of your book.

  2. I would also like to purchase a copy. I want to read more!! :)

    1. I appreciate the comment, Beth! Thanks. You can find out where the book can be published on my book page:

  3. Good stuff Keith. I´ve been struggling with that aspect for a very long time. I used to be part of the international church of christ where everyone was called to evangelize. The day I left the baptistry people told me I was selfish for not sharing my faith. They also put young Christians in charge of teaching other Christians. What folly and foolishness in light that not everyone should aspire be a teacher especially younger Christians. We all have been given different gifts by our Heavenly Father.

  4. Got the book and love it so far but please never ever use the word "ghettoizing" again. The way people use the word ghetto has some serious and offensive undertones that I won't mention here out of grace. I know what you meant but if you ever catch yourself using that word to describe something that isn't up to par then there are some issues. Again, good stuff so far.

    1. Thank you for sharing and please forgive me for the offense. I wasn't using it to describe something sub-par; rather, I was talking about isolating a group as the Jews were isolated in the ghettos of Nazi-controlled areas of Europe during WWII. I think that socially Christians tend to isolate ourselves from the surrounding culture. But thank you for alerting me to where offense could be given, and please forgive me. Thank you for your kind words regarding the book.

  5. Finished the book and it's changed my whole perspective. But when you're in a church that preaches the typical evangelical POV then it's hard to figure out what to do.

    1. Yes, I know. It is my frustration with the POV that one finds in practically all evangelical churches that gave rise to writing this book in the first place. I'm kind of in the same boat with you there.

      But thank you for the feedback! The idea that what I wrote could have that kind of significant impact on someone else is truly moving to me. I pray that God uses this as a blessing to you and leads you into a healthier environment, or uses you to influence the environment that you're in. Thanks again.

  6. Part I

    I appreciated your article. After writing the following letter (yesterday, June 21, 2013)to a friend with whom I disagreed (he had taken the typical evangelical position (#3) which you identify) I thought today to see what others have said on the topic. I was pleased to find an associate of thought in you. I include my response to my friend, short of my preface.

    "As I read it, I note that Matthew 28 is clearly addressed to the eleven disciples. Indeed, I also note a problem in arguing that the passage addresses all believers; namely, it calls its audience to baptize. Were you to carry out the logic of your reading, you would have to hold that we should all, as individuals, also be out baptizing, a position unfortunately at odds with the entire tradition and teaching of the historical Church.

    But let me continue along other lines. Let’s take a look at Acts 1 – 2 and notice its focus on the apostles and their uniqueness: 1) their having been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry (unique eye witnesses) and 2) their prophetically identifying Jesus as the Messiah (unique spiritual witnesses). As evangelicals I know we can agree that there is no Church apart from the apostolic witness (and hence our high view of scripture). Indeed, the Church is, at its foundation, an extension of the apostles’ witness as well as of the commands and promises given to them. In Acts 1 Jesus says to the apostles, “You shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (the Great Promise). As with the Great Commission, the Great Promise is made specifically to the apostles. It is their witness that goes out to the ends of the earth. If our neighbor in Irvine or a stranger in Africa hears the gospel, it
    is ultimately the apostles’ witness that they hear.

    Consider also Isaiah 55:11 where God says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” As with Old Testament prophesy, so with New Testament prophesy (i.e., the words of the apostles). Can we separate the witness of the apostles from the apostles themselves? We might in the same way ask, Can we separate the scriptures about Jesus from Jesus himself? For academic purposes, the answer to both questions can be yes. For purposes of faith, I would say no. Christ is thus with the apostles to the end of the age because he is with their words to the end of the age. Likewise, the apostles are Christ’s witness to the ends of the earth – even when the apostles are no longer alive upon the earth – because their words go forth to the end of the earth via those who proclaim their witness in every generation.

    With all this said, I think we can agree on three things: 1) The Great Promise is fulfilled by obedience to the Great Commission; 2) the Great Commission is inseparable from the apostles’ witness; 3) a Christian is one who receives the prophetic words of the apostles (the apostolic witness) in faith. The problem, however, that you and I addressed yesterday, is what the reception of apostolic witness looks like.

  7. Basically, if I hear you correctly, faithful reception of the apostolic word (let’s just say faith) is, at its core, expressed in the individual’s obedience to the Great Commission. I, on the other hand, see faith fundamentally as participation in the body of Christ, i.e, membership (in the Pauline sense) in the Church. Communion, not evangelism and discipleship, primarily expresses our faith. Hence, in Acts 2 we read, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Note that in Acts 2 the apostolic leadership is defined by proclamation while the expression of faith in their words is defined by communion.

    Even so the Church, participating in the realization of the Great Promise, does go to the ends of the earth, baptizing and making disciples, i.e., making those who enter into and remain in communion. Since communion is meant to increasingly include the elect of God, the Church is meant to reach out to the lost. I would thus say that a Christian cannot be faithful to the apostolic word and the practice of communion without also sharing in the desire to see all God’s people brought into, nurtured by, and preserved by communion in the body of Christ (“abide in me”). Of course, true desire must be guided; it must be disciplined. Hence, discipleship. But who makes disciples? I think the answer is obvious: Christians in communion exercising their various gifts. It doesn’t take a village, but it does take a church

    So you and I agree after all. It is the calling of every individual Christian to desire the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the Great Promise. It’s just that I don’t see Matthew 28 as directly stating that conclusion. Rather, Matthew 28 moves me to consider first the nature of apostolic witness, then to consider faithful reception of that witness in communal membership, and finally to acknowledge that communion is expressed through a variety of gifts which in turn shape the body of Christ, which is to say, make disciples."

    - Stephen Caldwell

    1. Hi Stephen. Welcome!

      I like very much the substance of your letter; I especially like "Communion, not evangelism and discipleship, primarily expresses our faith," which dovetails nicely with your concluding line above. Yes, the Great Commission is up to all of us to fulfill, but not for each of us to fulfill individually, but rather for us all to fulfill corporately in expression of our individual gifts.

      If you haven't yet checked out my book, What's Wrong with Outreach, please do. It fleshes out these concepts in much greater detail. I think you'd like it.

    2. Thanks for mentioning your book. It might be helpful in furthering the discussion I am involved in with some of the leaders at my church.


    - Stephen Caldwell(aka Stephen Wyche)

    1. Thanks for the link! I like the poetry. Interesting stuff.

  9. The so-called "Great Commission" as outlined in Matt 28, Mark 16, John 20, and Acts 8 (Yes these are all part of the same event and Christ's instructions to his Apostles post resurrection/pre ascension) does not apply to us today in the Body of Christ. The Apostles were preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and were to carry their message to the world AFTER Israel accepted the Messiah. We all know that never happened. The stoning of Stephen was the last straw in God's mind for Israel to "repent and be baptized for remission of sin" so that Christ would return as promised and be Israel's King and Saviour to the world. Instead of continuing God's prophetic program, he instead ushered in the dispensation of grace and saved Saul of Tarsus; the chief of sinners. Paul is the Apostle of the gentiles and through his epistles alone do we have the walk, doctrine, instruction, and direction of the church today (and don't throw 1 Tim 3:16 at me as it and 2 Tim 2:15 are BOTH relevant). The so-called "Great Commission" will be relevant but not until the tribulation when God's prophetic plan resumes and the dispensation of grace comes to an end with adoption of the church to the heavens. Paul gives us our "Great Commission": The ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 15:14-21). That is the message we are to evangelize today...

    1. Hi Anonymous. Welcome!

      I don't buy the artificial dispensational framework you want to impose. There's nothing in Scripture that states that, for example, "The Apostles were preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and were to carry their message to the world AFTER Israel accepted the Messiah," as you claim. Israel had already rejected the Messiah, and nonetheless Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, did his best to preach the Gospel "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Over and over he brought his message to the synagogues of the cities he evangelized, and only turned to the Gentiles when the majority of them rejected his message. Paul writes eloquently about the union of Jews and Gentiles into one body of Christ in Ephesians. Your dispensational framework doesn't do justice to Paul's message, ministry, or writings, and it fails to explain why the Gospels were written, for the most part, after Paul's ministry.

      There is no 2 Corinthians 15; I can only assume you mean 2 Corinthians 5. Yes, that is a very good statement of what the Gospel is about. It is for both Jews and Gentiles, and in no way contradicts what Jesus tells his disciples to do. Hence, "make disciples of all nations." I would suggest that the process of "making disciples" is the same as the process of "being reconciled." In both cases, it is much more than a simple "sinner's prayer," as all of Paul's teaching on ethical behavior for people who are already believers bears out.

      Be blessed, my brother.

  10. After reading various articles on the gospel coalition, hearing sermons from my pastor, and reading books from various authors about evangelism, something felt awfully wrong and woefully lacking: a coherent and holistic understanding of gifts and roles in the church applied to the "great commission." Now I don't mean gifts like "tongues" and "prophecy"--that's a different debate/topic. I felt that the emphasis on EVERYONE fulfilling the great commission was so unrealistic (especially in our American context). The fact that I was even challenging my pastor's sermons in my head, challenging books from David Platt and Francis Chan (authors of "Radical" and "Crazy love"), and challenging my typical evangelical SBC church views made me feel guilty of not believing in the power of the Spirit enough or even questioning my salvation as genuine.

    I thank God that I typed into Google: "is the great commission for everyone" and got your blog as a top result. I am currently reading your book on Kindle from Amazon and will attempt to report back when I have read all of it. Thank you for your work and articulate and readable book. I am enjoying it very much thus far.

    As a side note: I was very pleased to see your respect for Mr. Tom Wright. Made me smile-- he has helped develop and hone in my critical nature of tradition and question my beliefs and build them up strongly. I just received "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" for Christmas--should be a great read.


    1. Josh - thank you so much for your kind words! I can't tell you how encouraging it is that what I've written has blessed you. As you can imagine, I've been through a similar journey. Please do touch base when you're finished.

      Also, when you're finished, you would do me the greatest honor if you would be willing to write a candid and honest review of the book on Amazon. If you feel it would be a help to others, that would definitely help me get the word out.

      Once again, thanks. Your comment means more than you know.


  11. well written article...

    Why do we need the specific functions of the five fold ministry if every believer is commissioned to function in all five??

    It is clear that one commissioned (by the Lord) evangelist can be much more fruitful than a multitude of lukewarm Christians walking around 'preaching' the gospel without the blessing and preparation of a 'sent' one.. I believe there is a seen of preparation in God before He entrusts you to represent to larger audience... otherwise you may do more damage misrepresent the true gospel than good.

    1. *season,(seen)

      To many people walking around thinking there doing the Lord's work but haven't been sent or prepared by God to properly represent Him... We need to prepared, sanctified, empowered, and commissioned by the Holy Spirit if its going to have any lasting fruit... Way to much presumption going on in the name of Christ.... Your teaching is timely and needs to be understood..
      Still working through this issue myself and appreciate your comments..



    2. Thank you for the kind words, Matt, and welcome!

      Yes, all the various gifts that God has given, including the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4, don't seem to have much purpose if the primary mission of the church is to be accomplished by everyone doing basically the same things. And yes, everyone trying out of guilt to do what they haven't been gifted to do is certainly counterproductive. I agree with everything you've said.

      You may be interested in a series I wrote regarding the fivefold ministry. It begins here:

      And I would be honored if you would check out the book that this blog post appears in as a chapter: What's Wrong with Outreach.

  12. Hi folks,
    I know the topic is old now (on the blog but not in life :) but I just found it.

    Got to get to work, so can't stay long but wanted to say something.... very important topic... will likely get your book but I am kind of busy working day and night, preaching the gospel free of charge, trying to fulfill the typical evangelical point of view on the Great Commission. ;)

    So you don't think Eph 4:12 is saying that the five-fold ministers are teaching the saints to do the work of ministry? I realize if you move commas around you could say that the work of ministry is the job of the five fold ministers NOT the body they serve, but that opens up a can of lazy worms doesn't it? Most translators seem to think they are teaching the body to do the work of ministry and I trust their Greek better than mine.

    I thought the five fold ministers taught and brought maturity to the body in the various arenas they were gifted in, evangelists to stir and teach the body how to share their faith by example and discipleship. But all five fold ministers (paid or not) are intended to bring maturity, completeness and a balanced Christian walk (that includes sharing our faith AND making disciples of others) to the body of Christ in general.

    Well....Lots of things to talk about.

    And is the poor job of evangelism that some people do supposed to be a reason to stop? Would it not be better to learn, study, grow, walk in the spirit and do a better job of evangelism and discipleship? Obviously many paid clergy do a poor job as well; should they stop? Even Paul said if he was caught teaching another gospel to "kick him in the pants." No one is perfect in their walk or delivery but the Holy Spirit and the Word do their work no matter whose mouth the message comes from.

    The real problem is often that believers do not even know their own faith, the Bible, they don't have a solid grasp of the heart of redemption- nor how or what it means to walk in the Spirit with Christ. We do not have to worry about lukewarm Christians sharing their faith, they generally don't. Evangelism is indeed birthed from a heart that knows the truth and walks in it! You cannot give freely what you have not received.

    Don't have any more time.... anyone here in or near southeast Virginia, come by the house sometime and we can really see what the Word says about this.

    I really want to know the truth about this topic. For I am not convinced we can relegate the job to only the gifted of tongue. The greatest movers and shakers in the Bible, OT and NT, professed a lack in that area. The gift of life is one all Christians share and it is only natural to share that life and hope with those we care about.

    And yet I understand the dilemma and doubt this brings to those sincere followers of Christ who don't think they can do it or are not empowered or gifted to share the gospel or to make disciples.... CRAZY IMPORTANT STUFF HERE-- whatever it is, the truth needs to come out regarding this topic!

    Give a call and we can arrange a visit or talk on the phone. 757-672-8031

    1. Hi Mr. (or Mrs., or Rev.) Hicks. Welcome!

      I can see that I got you a little charged up. I'll be happy to address a few points that you've made.

      I've written more about the fivefold ministry here: In general, though, I agree with you: the fivefold ministry are supposed to equip the body for the work of ministry. The idea that the fivefold ministry is to do all the work would correspond to my option #2 above, which I rejected.

      The question is whether that "work" is specifically evangelism on the part of every believer. I think it's actually the entire scope of evangelism and discipleship, which covers everything from preevangelism to sophisticated theological instruction as well as things like feeding the hungry and worship and many other things. My point is that we all have our part to play, and no one person does everything. Nor is a single portion of that work the equal responsibility of everyone.

      I think that we should all "be witnesses" (Acts 1:8) in that we should always be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15). In other words, we should not shy away from sharing our faith, but I don't agree with the typical guilt trip approach with which most churches "encourage" evangelism. The work is larger than evangelism, and everyone needs to play their part, but we should not all be guilted into playing the same part.

      In much the same vein, I disagree with the characterization "lazy." It would be unfair to call everyone who doesn't have the same gifts and focus as I do as "lazy."

      I doubt very seriously that I will be able to change your mind, but I would encourage you to read Acts and the Epistles closely and try to figure out why there is such a focus on the moral character of ordinary believers and a lack of encouragement or instruction in evangelism for ordinary believers.

      God bless,


  13. Hello Sir,

    Your article put me in a new perspective on this subject. Would you please tell me what is a disciple Jesus mentions in Matthew 28:19? Are there two different categories such as ordinary believers and disciples?


    1. Hi Lenin. Welcome!

      Your question is an excellent one. No, I do not think that there are two different categories. Every true believer is a disciple of Jesus, although some are more advanced along that road of discipleship and some are less. And some are advanced in certain areas and less advanced in others. So some people have a greater theological knowledge but are less developed in serving others in love, while others are the reverse.

      My main point is that the overall work of the Church is to make disciples, which includes a wide range of specific tasks, from showing love and kindness to those who have no interest in Christ to instructing and developing those who are already established believers. All of these various tasks, utilizing very different gifts, are a part of fulfilling the Great Commission--not just specifically preaching the gospel to the lost.

      Thanks for the question!

  14. Thank you for writing this. I feel some vindication after reading it as I was the lone voice in an adult SS class saying essentially what you have here.

    A local church had chosen to use a book and videos by Francis Chan called Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples. I saw the entire premise of the book as flawed because it called Christians as individuals to fulfill the "Great Commission".

    The same church (Baptist) in a written statement of baptism has a section entitled, "Why You Should be Baptized" calls for Christians to be baptized out of "obedience to the GC. I just don't see that in the text. In fact, the only people given a command (to obey) in the GC are the baptizers, not the baptizees.

    Giving all laypeople the charge to make disciples is simply not biblical in its basis, but try telling that to anyone, including pastors, and you will be looked at as if you had two heads.

    1. Hi Anonymous. Welcome!

      I know exactly what you mean by feeling like a lone voice, and feeling like no one even comprehends this perspective.

      I do think that we all have a relationship to the Great Commission, that we all have a part to play in fulfilling it. I just don't think that we fulfill it by all doing the same things in the same way.

      If you haven't yet done so, I'd like to invite you to check out my book, What's Wrong with Outreach, in which I flesh out this idea in much more detail.