Last words are meant to be lasting words, words that make an impact. Clearly last words convey what a person thinks is of utmost importance. As the Lord Jesus prepared to ascend back to heaven following his bodily resurrection (Luke 24; Acts 1), there certainly are a number of issues He could have addressed. He chose, however, to give attention and focus to one, what we popularly call “The Great Commission.” Its best known statement is located in Matthew 28:18-20. We find the Lukan version in both Luke 24:46-48 and Acts 1:8. The longer ending to Mark also contains it (16:15). And, there is a brief Johannine statement in John 20:21. In the Matthean account we are commanded by our Lord to make disciples of all the nations, every ethne, teaching them “to obey everything I have commanded.” In the process He promises us His presence, “always, to the very end of the age.”
I am a part of a school and convention of churches, the Southern Baptist Convention that takes very seriously the Great Commission. The school that I serve has the reputation of being a Great Commission school. Those who come on our campus will hear things like, “Every classroom a Great Commission classroom, every teacher a Great Commission teacher, every student a Great Commission student, every graduate a Great Commission graduate who will go out and build and be a part of Great Commission churches until Jesus returns in glory.” When Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was reviewed by SACS/ATS for its 10 year reaffirmation for accreditation, during the exit interview, the visiting committee said, “Well, we have a number of recommendations to make but one thing is crystal clear on this campus. From top to bottom everyone knows your mission: you are a Great Commission Seminary.”
Those who are committed to the Great Commission rightly focus on the “outer edges” of lostness, what missiologist call the underserved and unreached people groups of the world. Today, according to mission agencies like “The Joshua Project” and “The International Mission Board”, there are right at
- 7.3 billion people on planet earth among 11,489 distinct people groups;
- 832 “unreached people groups” totaling a shocking 3.78 billion persons who have either inadequate access or no access to the gospel. Such persons will be born, live, die, and spend eternity separated from God and they never heard a clear presentation of the gospel in their lifetime.
It is amazing to think that there are places in the world today where we could be dropped by helicopter or parachute, and we could walk days, weeks and months and we would never encounter a church or meet a Christian. It is right, it is imperative, for us to focus on and give serious attention to the underserved, unreached and unengaged peoples of the world. Obedience to Christ commands it. Love for our neighbors demands it.
However, I think we must also, in part, focus closer to home–much closer. My reasons for doing so are, I believe, both biblical and strategic. For mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, obeying the Great Commission should begin in the home, though it should certainly not end here. If the question is why, I believe the answer is clear and simple: it is biblical. Jesus informs us in Matthew 22:37 that the Greatest Commandment is, “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. He is, of course, quoting the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Bracketing the Shema is the instruction that this commandment is to be taught to children by their parents and their grandparents. Jesus then notes that the second Great Commandment is like the first, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Levt. 19:18). “All the Law and the prophets,” He tells us, “hang on the two commandments.” Teaching our children all that he has commanded would certainly be grounded in the two great commandments. The close relationship of the Great Commission to the Great Commandments is clear. They are interconnected and must not be separated. They are mutually reinforcing.
But, arguing that obedience to the Great Commission should begin in the home is also strategic. Afterall, good theology and good missiology is more caught than taught, though it certainly involves both. The vital role a father and mother (grandparents included) play in conveying and modeling a missional life for their children who, by God’s grace and for his glory, follow in their footsteps, cannot be too strongly emphasized. It is crucial and in many instances decisive. Most children look up to, admire, and follow in their parent’s footsteps. What you love they will love. What you value they will value. What you have a passion for they will have a passion for. Afterall, you are their heroes!
When teenagers were asked to name their #1 role model, parents topped the list. In January 2015, Stageoflife.com surveyed teenagers on the topic of “unsung heroes.” Parents ranked #1. In 1998, Newsweek magazine reported the same thing. The fact is, our children do care what we think, they do listen to what we say, and they pay a whole lot of attention to what we do! So, in the context of the Great Commission, what do they hear you saying? What do they see you doing?
So, the question before us is clear: What do we do to embed the Great Commission into the DNA of our children that they may have a lifetime passion for that which is the passion of King Jesus?
This is the beginning of my paper on “Building Great Commission Families,” which I will be presenting at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:00 AM in Atlanta, GA. If you are attending the annual ETS meeting, I invite you to join me!