n His final instructions to His disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus laid out an amazing plan for all His disciples – both then and now.
We go in the name of the ONE having all authority – in heaven and on earth. We receive the power of the Holy Spirit as we go – to the people in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria (“enemies” nearby) and ends of the earth. Jesus calls us to make disciples of all ethnē, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything he commanded. And he is always with us.
What will it take to fulfill the Great Commission?
The original language of the Great Commission makes clear the one central command in these verses: to make disciples (mathēteusate). The other verbs (“go,” “baptizing,” “teaching”) support the main command – to disciple all ethnē.
The Greek word ethnos (singular of ethnē) is defined as “a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions, nation, people.” Revelation 7:9 rounds out the picture of the ethnē (“nations”) who will be reached, adding three more descriptive terms: tribes, peoples, and languages – various groups with common identities.
The Lausanne 1982 people group definition says: "For evangelization purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance."
Jesus does not tell us to disciple a few individuals, but to disciple entire ethnē – entire ethnic, language, tribal, people groups.
How do we disciple a whole nation, tribe, people, language?
We see a geographic example in Acts 19:10, which says all the Jews and Greeks in the Roman province of Asia “heard the word of the Lord” in two years. This is roughly the area of modern day Turkey with an estimated 10-15 million people in the first century!
How did this happen? Paul taught every day in the School of Tyrannus in Ephesus and those he trained went out and reached the entire province. In Romans 15 how he the Apostle Paul describes his work among the Gentiles. In Romans 15:23 Paul says there is “no place left” for him in the region or “I have finished my work in these regions” (NLT).
What can that mean? This was the Mediterranean basin of Europe all the way from modern day Israel to Albania. Surely there were millions of people in those regions that had still not heard the gospel?
“FROM JERUSALEM ALL THE WAY AROUND TO ILLYRICUM, I HAVE FULLY PROCLAIMED THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY AMBITION TO PREACH THE GOSPEL WHERE CHRIST WAS NOT KNOWN, SO THAT I WOULD NOT BE BUILDING ON SOMEONE ELSE'S FOUNDATION.” RATHER, AS IT IS WRITTEN:
‘THOSE WHO WERE NOT TOLD ABOUT HIM WILL SEE,
AND THOSE WHO HAVE NOT HEARD WILL UNDERSTAND.’” ROMANS 15:19B-21 (NIV)
The Message puts it this way:
”I HAVE TRAILBLAZED A PREACHING OF THE MESSAGE OF JESUS ALL THE WAY FROM JERUSALEM FAR INTO NORTHWESTERN GREECE. THIS HAS ALL BEEN PIONEER WORK, BRINGING THE MESSAGE ONLY INTO THOSE PLACES WHERE JESUS WAS NOT YET KNOWN AND WORSHIPED.”
Paul describes how he goes about this mission as he echoes Jesus’ command to teach them to “obey all I have commanded.”
I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. Romans 15:18-19a.
Here we see Paul’s goal: to lead the Gentiles to obey God. And we see his methods: words, deeds, the power of signs and wonders with all three empowered by the Holy Spirit.
He goes on to say in verse 19 that he has “fully accomplished” proclaiming the gospel. Rather than focusing on words or deeds or miracles, he has done all three together and thus “fully” shared the gospel. Any effort to share the gospel as just “words” or just “deeds” or just “signs and wonders” will be a truncated gospel.
So what will it take to fulfill the Great Commission? Certainly only God can judge when the Great Commission is finally “fulfilled.” Yet we can learn from Paul’s model and what he did. Paul sought to start the process – making disciples by word, deed and miracles. These disciples were formed into churches with appointed leaders who were mentored by Paul and others both in person and through letters. These disciples lived out God’s kingdom – inside and outside the church – transforming their communities and continually bringing more people into His kingdom. They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
Paul seemed to focus on reaching a critical mass of people in each ethnos, who could then continue duplicating the process. He often did not stay long but instead trusted that the new disciples would be taught by Scripture and “guided into all truth” by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). His goal was to teach them to obey and then they could continue God’s work in that region and reach the rest of their ethnos and others around them.
We can’t afford to just say, “I will go and try to win some people to the Lord and start some churches.” We need to stop focusing on “What I can do.” Instead, we need to ask: “What will it take to see this one ethnos or these multiple ethnē discipled?”
Praise God that we are seeing this begin to happen in our generation. We are seeing modern day books of Acts as the Holy Spirit is doing the very same things in areas previously unreached with the Gospel that he did back in the first century.
Here are a few examples:
- A man who had been a Muslim religious leader for 28 years publicly proclaiming his faith in Christ at great risk and most of his village coming to faith as a result.
- A prayer house of 30 widows who literally spend most of their days praying for God's intervention in their region and around the world. So many people want to join this house that they are going to build a "prayer village" of many houses to have enough room.
- A 19-year-old man in India who had been freed from demon possession and he and his sister have planted 8 churches.
- A woman who became a follower of Christ forgiving the man who murdered her family and they now work together as part of a ministry serving those unreached with the gospel.
- God raising back to life the wife of a village chief who had died and many in that village and region hearing the word of God as a result.
But God is not just working in the lives of individuals and communities – He is reaching entire regions and people groups just like we see in Acts 19.
In a challenging unreached region of multiple Muslim countries, a mission team served in many places and they saw 220 churches started in three years. This was very good, especially in light of their difficult and sometimes hostile contexts. But this team had a vision to see the entire region discipled.
Their question was: “What will it take to disciple the people of our region in this generation?” The answer was that a solid start (a start - not an end) would require 10,000 churches. So 220 churches in three years was not enough!
God showed them that to reach their region would require multiple streams of rapidly reproducing churches. They were willing to change everything. When God sent them Church Planting Movement (CPM) trainers, they searched the Scriptures and prayed fervently and made some radical changes. As of today, 15 years later, God has started 10,000+ churches in that region.
In a different country, an Asian pastor had planted 12 churches in 14 years. This was good, but it was not changing the status of lostness in his region. God has given him and his fellow laborers a vision to be a part of seeing all North India reached. They began the hard work of unlearning traditional patterns and learning more biblical strategies. They began to pray and fast for God to accomplish His vision. Today 55,000 churches have been started. And that is only the start of what God has called them to.
In another part of the unreached world God has started a cascade of movements from one language group into seven other language groups and five megacities. They have seen 13+ million people baptized in 25 years -- but that is not their focus. When asked how he feels about these millions of new believers, one of their leaders said, “I don’t focus on all those saved. I focus on those we have failed to reach – the millions still living in darkness because we have not done what needs to be done.”
A mark of these movements is that one person or a team of people accept a God-sized vision. To see an entire region of multiple countries filled with the Kingdom of God. To see an entire unreached people group – of eight million, or 14 million or three million – reached, such that everybody has a chance to respond to the gospel. They ask: “What is God’s Vision for our People?” not “What can we do?” As a result they fit God’s patterns and are filled with His power. They play a part in birthing reproducing churches that begin to disciple and transform their groups.
To see Church Planting Movements, sometimes called Kingdom Movements in every people and place, we can’t rely on just choosing strategies and methods. We must pray and fast in ways far beyond what we are doing now. We are in a spiritual battle for the souls of men and women and our main weapon is prayer. We then need to be willing to give up anything and everything that would hinder us from running this race. We need to be ready and committed to pursuing the same radical lifestyle that God gave the early church. In those early years the gospel spread until no unreached place was left in those initial regions.
Are we willing to pray, fast, and sacrifice anything and everything to be a part of fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission?
There have been many faithful disciples throughout the centuries that have advanced God’s Kingdom with great sacrifice. There will be a final generation that rises up to build on what they have started and finish the Great Commission.
Why not us?