More and more Adventist churches, schools and hospitals are taking members, students or employees on brief overseas mission trips. It’s a worthy endeavor to forsake one’s comfort zone for a week or two of getting “out there”— not just to lay bricks but to interact with people for their health and salvation. There is just one danger in this: compartmentalizing our mission.
Here’s what I mean. Outreach activity ought not be disconnected from everyday life, as something extra we do once a year or so. This is apparent in what some might consider a surprising insight in Christ’s Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them” and “teaching them” (Matt. 28:19-20).
So our Lord commands us to “Go,” doesn’t He? Actually, no. That’s not exactly what Jesus is saying here. You see, in the entire Gospel Commission there is only one actual imperative verb—to “make disciples,” or literally, “disciplize.”* The other three verbal words are in participle form. So “Go!” should be translated “going,” just as “baptizing” and “teaching” are. The only explicit imperative action in the Gospel Commission is to “disciplize.”
You may be wondering, What’s your point? What’s the big deal here?
It’s this: Jesus is not asking us to “go” and do discipleship as a separate function of our lives, different from what usually keeps us busy. He wants discipling to be a habitual, lifestyle activity. As we are “going” about our lives, we make discipleship an integrated part of daily activities.
The difference here is subtle but significant. Do you see it? Christ expects us to make discipling a normal function of everyday life, not some separate, disjointed activity done once in a while when we muster up energy, courage or resources.
When we grasp and implement what Jesus is commanding us to do, it will transform how we do both outreach and nurture. It will regenerate the church from being Laodicean part-timers into whole-life discipleship participants, like the Pentecost-inspired early Christians.
The purpose of short-term mission trips is not to fulfill our evangelistic duty for the year but to inspire us to adopt a different lifestyle when we get home: full-time disciples and disciple-makers.
I’m connecting here with what we read on page two from our new Mid-America Union president, Elder Tom Lemon. He challenges us to be incarnational—that is, to interact within our everyday world as ambassadors of heaven…to be fully engaged and engulfed in discipleship within our own environment as a whole life experience.
Here’s the bottom line: The Great Commission is not about cold contacts but about warm relationships. It means more than to “go” and knock on the doors of strangers, interrupting their TV ballgames in hopes of persuading them to enroll in a depersonalized Bible correspondence course. (Yes, there is a place for self-study lessons online and by mail—augmented by local fellowship, if desired.) As we are “going” about our daily lives, we make friendships for God with the people He has entrusted to our witness in the workplace, marketplace and classroom. Remember, people do not care how much we know until they know how much we care.
When our colleagues and neighbors are weary of life, they find us ready to speak a word in season. When they wonder what makes us different, we are ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us—not arrogantly but respectfully.
Of course we still need public evangelism events, to reap the harvest of disciple-making that continually occurs (both strategically and spontaneously) in a loving and prayerful church. People will come to our meetings when they have experienced our unselfishness, compassion, joyfulness and integrity. They will entrust us with their questions about the meaning of life and death, pardon and power, the past and the future. And they will be ready for the answers that only Seventh-day Adventists can teach them.
After being baptized, these endeared souls will endure to the end with us—not only as disciples but disciple-makers, winning new souls to the incarnate body of Christ. Only thus will the Great Commission be fulfilled, and finally the work of God will be finished in the world and in the Mid-America Union.
*This morphology in the original New Testament Greek is picked up by some astute Bible versions such as Young’s Literal Translation and the International Standard Version.