In Matthew 28 Jesus said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (that is, all peoples). These words of Jesus should cause all of us who claim to follow him to pause. I am sure it caused the disciples to pause.
First, for anyone to claim that all authority in heaven and on earth is rather extreme. In the disciples’ eyes, it may have also appeared a bit extreme for Jesus to claim this. This may be why Matthew pointed out in verse 17 that “some doubted”. Yes, Jesus did rise from the dead. Yet, the Jewish leaders were still in power; Rome was still around; and there were the other well-established power brokers throughout the Middle East. All these people had the power to make the disciples’ lives miserable. They certainly had made Jesus miserable. They had crucified him. Yet, in spite of their very real, powerful, and menacing presence, Jesus asserted that he stood above all of them.
Second, since Jesus stood above all of these powerful people, Jesus told these disciples to go and make disciples of all nations – all the peoples in the world.
Look at the logic of this. If Jesus reigns over all, he has a right to exert his authority over all. What was uncommon about Jesus was the way he was choosing to exert his authority. He was choosing to exert his authority through his Church. He was going to use people with little or no social and political power to be his representatives and spokespersons.
What is amazing about this is that his disciples came to realize what he meant and they began to spread out over the globe to do what he told them to do.
So, how are we doing with regard to these words of Jesus in the 21st century?
This is where we have a problem.
First, all the churches I have encountered take the “go and make disciples” part of Jesus’ words seriously; yet, a significant number seem to minimize the importance (or even forget about) the second part – the part about “all peoples.”
Why is this?
It seems to me that all humans have an built-in tendency to be parochial in perspective. This means that we are inclined to think about our own situations and not think about the issues and problems of those far away.
Building on this tendency, many churches and their leaders focus their attention on their own needs. This is understandable. After all, pastors and the other church leaders devote themselves to their congregations. They think and pray about how to help their congregations grow and become mature, godly disciples.
One of the primary ways to get one’s congregation to grow and mature is to offer as many church programs as possible: Sunday school, fellowship groups, various support groups, programs serving the poor, and the like. These programs serve two vital functions. First, they demonstrate that the church is vibrant. When people visit the church they see vitality, which encourages the visitors to attend. So, the programs are necessary to attract new members. Second, when church members get involved in these programs their involvement facilitates their spiritual growth. These programs create a win-win situation for the pastor, for individual church members, and for the church overall.
The end result of all this is that pastors get so absorbed with the needs of their congregation, they have little or no time or energy left over to think beyond the boundaries of their church community. To talk about global missions is like dropping a cement block on their toes.
Second, many church members are parochial in their perspective as well, having little or no interest in missions. Almost everyone is swamped with work and obligations. Who has the time to think about the rest of the world? Our parochialism is exacerbated by our very human desire to invest our time and money into what we can see. It is easy to invest time and money in our local church because we can see the immediate benefit of our investment. Investing in missions does not provide any immediate tangible results.
Though being parochial in perspective is a widely shared trait across human communities, it is not how God is. God does not limit his vision and concern to specific individuals or communities; he sees and cares for the whole world John 3:16 tells us that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son.” Jesus, being one with the Father, demonstrated this same concern for the world when he told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all peoples.”
God expects the Church to be created in his likeness (Eph. 4:24) and reflect his love for all peoples. This is why we have a serious problem.
We have not taken this seriously; and as a result, we are doing rather poorly in obeying Jesus’ words.
How we use our finances is a quick measure to see how we are doing. According to The Center for the Study of Global Christianity the income of global foreign mission organizations in 2010 was only .01 percent of the personal income of church members (which totaled US $28,820 billion) (Todd Johnson et al. “Status of Global Mission, 2010, in Context of 20th and 21st Centuries”. 2010. In the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 34, No. 1, page 36). This measure shows we are not doing very well.
Another way to gauge how we are doing is to look at how we interact with those who are not Christian. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity only 14 percent of all Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu peoples personally know a Christian. Now, all those who identify as Christian are included in this statistic. This means the vast numbers of cultural/nominal Christians are included. So, the percentage of Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu people who actually know a true follower of Christ is really much smaller. It is likely less than five percent of all Muslim Buddhist and Hindu peoples. Yet, these peoples comprise almost three fifths of the world’s population. This means that we can safely say more than one quarter of the world’s population does not even know a follower of Christ.
Why is this statistic even important? Only an extremely small number of people turn to Christ by watching a movie, by reading a book, or by listening to a podcast. The overwhelming majority of people turn to Christ as a result of an ongoing relationship with a follower of Jesus. Personal relationships are critical in seeing people turn to Christ. It has always been this way (just read the book of Acts) and it always will be this way. This is one of the reasons why we, the Church, exist in this world. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13, 14).
So how are we doing in going and discipling all peoples? If we spend less than .01% of our annual income on missions, and if more than one quarter of the world’s population does not personally know a follower of Christ, we are evidently not doing very well.
So, join me in praying that this changes. The opportunities to represent Jesus in his world and draw people to him abound!