When I teach on the Great Commission, I often begin by asking my students, “What is Jesus’ primary emphasis in the Great Commission?” Typically, most students reply, “evangelism.” I then ask them to read the Great Commission from Matthew 28:18–20, after which I ask my question a second time. The students quickly see that although the Great Commission includes a call to evangelism, it doesn’t actually contain the word evangelism. What the students observe through more careful study of the Great Commission is that Jesus’ primary emphasis is on making disciples.
Making disciples certainly includes evangelism but is by no means limited to evangelism. The sort of disciple-making to which Jesus commissions the church involves much more, including baptizing and teaching. Simply put, if we have only evangelized a people or a nation, we have not been obedient to the fullness of the Great Commission. In addition to evangelism, Jesus provided us with specific instructions that we are to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and that we are to teach people “to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Moreover, if we have only evangelized, baptized, and received a person into church membership, we have not been obedient to the fullness of the Great Commission. Both baptizing and teaching are the ministry of the local church around the world, and this is why the local church sends us forth to make disciples. As missionaries, preachers, and teachers, we go to all nations to plant, equip, and disciple the church of Jesus Christ. We are called not simply to evangelize and baptize and move on, but we are called to stay the course to do the hard work of teaching Jesus’ disciples to observe all that He commanded, including the command to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
The Great Commission is a call to the church to be the church and to do the work of the church by making disciples of all nations. And we must remember that Jesus never called it “the Great Commission.” It is indeed a great commission, but it is a beautifully ordinary commission that we have the great privilege of fulfilling in part as we gather together with every tribe, tongue, and nation to worship with our families every Lord’s Day. Then we partake of and bear witness to the ordinary means of grace in the building up of the church in the preaching of the Word, growing as disciples and learning from the Scriptures to observe all that Jesus commanded. Then we enjoy the communion of the saints in communion with God in prayer, observe baptism in the name of our triune God, and partake regularly of the Supper that our Lord provides at His table. This is the extraordinarily great and greatly ordinary work of the church as we go, send, and make disciple-making disciples of all nations, just as we see the early church being faithful to the fullness of the Great Commission (Acts 2:42–47).