The Great Commission and Church PlantingBy Dave Harvey
June 23, 2022
The Great Commission starts with the glorious gospel, fastening the mission of God to the triumphant reign of Christ secured by his death and resurrection: “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v. 18). The reality of Christ’s authority forms the foundation for the mission of church planting. The Great Commission announces that the contract is inked, the rights are reserved, and the deal sealed: Christians can serve God’s warrant of good news to a broken world. We get the wild privilege of telling lost souls they are loved… and wanted by a risen Savior.
Church planting is not anchored by teams, techniques, technology, or binding territorial spirits. Nor should church planting be the product of driven, disillusioned pastors, the fiends of fame, or as a quixotic quest of self-fulfillment. Rather, church planting is grounded in the explosive message embodied in Christ and entrusted to us in Matthew 28. The gospel is the one message that makes all the difference. Through church planting, we become God’s megaphone to the world.
Some have objected to the use of the Great Commission as the foundation for the church’s call to witness and multiply. Representing a brand of missional cessationism, these writers—primarily Protestant—think that Matthew 28 applies only to the original church founders, the Eleven. But the Great Commission was entrusted, not just to the Eleven apostles who walked with Jesus, but to the Eleven as representatives of the church. Within our collective, we are so tightly held by the grip of this commission that we use it in our very name.
Four specific pillars support this thesis about the Great Commission:
- Pillar #1: The Commission is a command. Granting for a moment that the apostles were commanded to teach Christ’s followers “to observe all that I have commanded you” (v.20), then we can infer their instruction would include obedience to the Great Commission. If we deny this logic, the church should not teach everything nor baptize since these duties were given only to the apostles.
- Pillar #2: The Commission’s scope: “Make disciples of all nations” (emphasis mine). Is it possible that these Eleven men could circulate to “all nations”? The obvious and technical answer is ‘not-by-a-longshot’. It’s evident that other people—a lot of people—are in view here. This is why Great Commission Collective is dedicated to planting churches globally.
- Pillar #3: The Commission’s duration: “To the end of the age.” The Eleven may have been special, but they certainly weren’t eternal. That means the “you” referenced in verses 20 and 21 refers to people beyond the Eleven. Christ is speaking to the Eleven and to the church lasting to the end of the age.
- Pillar #4: The Commission’s application: If Acts and the remainder of the New Testament chronicle the early disciples’ understanding and application of the Great Commission, local churches seem to emerge as the fruit, focus, and fuel of missions. Paul’s missionary journeys are essentially church planting ventures. From Acts to Revelation, the missiology of the New Testament is primarily church based and church generated.
The Eleven apostles received the Great Commission (v. 16), but the church must finish it. “It was not merely given to the apostles for their ministry,” says John Piper in Let the Nations be Glad, “but was given to the church for its ministry as long as this age lasts.” A Day has been appointed where Jesus will return to personally wrap up his mission. Until that glorious moment where the heavens rend and the clouds roll back, we are instructed to ‘hasten’ his coming by the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
This article is adapted from Why We Plant Churches, by Dave Harvey. You can download the full PDF by clicking here. If you are looking for a network partner for planting a church, check out our online church planter pre-assessment tool, Am I Called? It’s the first step in the process of becoming a GCC church planter.