As I traveled through a major city in Ohio en route to a hospital visit, my eyes were drawn to a neglected commercial building located on the west side. The bright yellow structure showed the typical signs of abandonment including boarded up windows and entry doors, a testimony to the economic decline of the inner city. The huge red letters displayed on the building’s exterior, visible from the road, immediately caught my attention proclaiming the building a “Disciple-Making Factory.”
Programming or Productivity?
I shook my head in disbelief over this seemingly impossible paradox. A disciple-making factory? One now obviously deserted, empty, neglected, and forgotten? As I continued my journey that day, I couldn’t erase the image from my memory. Then came my “Aha!” moment. Might the church buildings in our communities also be impossible paradoxes of confusion? Despite our well-maintained grounds, our high-tech digital signs announcing numerous opportunities for members, and smiling folks entering and exiting our doorways, the question remains. Are we committed to programming or productivity? Are we conducting church business as usual, or are we producing productive followers of Jesus?
As I thought about what lies at the heart of evangelism I was reminded of C. H. Spurgeon’s comment about the urgency of sharing the gospel with lost people. He dealt with a question posed by every serious student of Scripture at some point in their Christian journey. Spurgeon said, “Someone asked, ‘Will the heathen who have never heard the gospel be saved?’ It is more a question with me whether we—who have the gospel and fail to give it to those who have not—can be saved.” The New Testament is clear about Jesus’ love and compassion for the lost. So how can believers profess a genuine love for Jesus and yet refuse to love those he loves? To be certain, many who followed Jesus and later authored New Testament writings shared real life encounters with him. These men, divinely inspired, included power packed passages and life lessons in their writings, the substance upon which we build our faith and ministries.
Privilege and Responsibility
For example, Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians that God, who sent Jesus to us, has given us a light to shine in the darkness so that we can know the glory of God as seen in the face of Jesus. He observed, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7, New Living Translation). Imagine! We have been entrusted with God’s great treasure, Jesus Christ! The good news is even more remarkable knowing that our bodies, though weak and flawed like fragile clay jars, are the vessels God has chosen from the beginning to carry this light to people who walk in darkness. What a remarkable privilege to share our testimony and faith with others! What an awesome responsibility for every believer!
Peter also wrote in the first letter bearing his name, “So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:14, 15, NLT).
Clarifying the Mission
In consideration of these awesome principles, the leadership of the church I serve, Crossroads Christian Church in Washington Court House, Ohio, embarked on a mission to revisit our church’s vision and mission statement and declaration of core values. We asked, “Are our statements intentional and are they faithful to the Great Commission as outlined in Matthew 28:18-20? Our vision statement is, “Crossroads exists to invade our community with Christ’s unconditional love, fully believing that one changed life will change another life.” Our mission involves helping seekers take their next steps toward Jesus. We believe that our vision requires action while our mission should show continual progress in the implementation of the vision. Finally, we adopted five core values that we believe emulate the character and attitude of Jesus:
- Loved people love people.
- Saved people serve people.
- Forgiven people forgive people.
- The generous live generously.
- The neighborly-focused live life together.
While we were convinced our vision, mission, and core values reflect the Great Commission, we were uncertain whether our church members would make the connection between the knowledge of these intentional statements and the practice of them. We concluded that these ideals would remain mere words and good intentions until changed lives literally began changing the lives of others. We made a commitment to become a disciple making church.
Loving the Lost
In Matthew 28, following the Resurrection, the disciples went to meet Jesus on the mountain where he had instructed them to go. Matthew records Jesus’ words: “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, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV).
Author and pastor Andy Stanley cleverly suggested, “Most of us are married to a model of ministry and we flirt with the Great Commission.” His assessment of the church in 2018 is likely more accurate than we want to admit. So where does the Great Commission begin and end for you and me? We may want to start by loving the person right in front of us. Tragically, the person directly in the line of our vision often frustrates us the most. You can relate, I am sure. It’s the driver sitting at the traffic light, talking or texting and completely oblivious of the lawful “right turn on red.” Maybe it’s the person in front of you at the grocery check-out line; his groceries are bagged and the transaction is totaled when he suddenly realizes he can’t recall the pin number for his credit card. He turns to you and says, “I’m so sorry,” and you verbally reply, “Oh, it’s no problem.” Your body language, however, portrays the sentiment, “Buddy, you are on my last remaining nerve.” As you exit the store in a huff, the Holy Spirit pricks your conscience. You didn’t realize that the man you just interacted with had recently received divorce papers from his wife of 20 years, is experiencing depression and despair, and is in dire need of compassion and mercy. If you did, you might have heard a still small voice whispering, “You showed impatience and selfishness. My disciples offer my hands of love to the hurting. Today however, your hands were only serving you.”
Sometimes, life’s seemingly insignificant moments make the greatest impressions on the lives of others. Recently I read Grace Is Greater, by Kyle Idelman. In the prologue, Kyle tells the story of a man who handed him a simple folded note following a speaking engagement. As Kyle traveled home he stopped at a drive through to pick up a late night snack. Searching for spare change, he fumbled through his pockets and came upon the note. Written on the page was the following: “Hebrews 12:15.” He searched for the passage on his phone and its words impacted him. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Having read the book, it was this story that impacted my memory and ignited my passion once again for loving lost people as Jesus does. Isn’t that ultimately the message of the Great Commission? Isn’t that the heart of evangelism?
Todd Maurer has served Crossroads Christian Church in Washington Court House, Ohio for the past 14 years as preaching minister, transitioning in January 2018 into the role of connections minister. He and his wife, Susan, have one son and two grandchildren.