8 Reasons Churches Talk More about the Great Commission than Do It

In my years of church consulting, no church leader has said to me, “Our church really doesn’t want to do the Great Commission.” I’ve worked with many churches, though, that proclaim the Great Commission but never get around to doing it. Here are my conclusions about why churches so often fit this description.

  1. Church leaders talk the language without letting the biblical texts “sink in.” I suspect many leaders echo the words of the Great Commission out of evangelical habit more than out of heartfelt burden. When we proclaim the message without obeying the command, the words have not settled firmly in our heart.
  2. Pastors are themselves not committed to this task. I have never seen a Great Commission church led by a pastor who was not himself deeply committed to the task. Unless a pastor bleeds for his neighbors and the nations to know Christ, the church he leads will not live out this burden, either.
  3. Churches see the Great Commission as a task for full-time ministers or missionaries. This finding reflects a problematic clergy/laity divide in many churches, but we church leaders must take some responsibility here. Because we so often choose not to make disciples and delegate responsibilities, we propagate the idea that only “paid folks” can do this work.
  4. Churches do not really believe nonbelievers are lost. If you want to find out what your church members believe, survey them anonymously. Find out what they believe about the fate of those who die without hearing about Jesus. You might discover many church members have a theology that does not require taking the gospel to the nations.
  5. Some leaders settle with partial obedience to the Great Commission. Some churches focus on evangelism while failing to teach believers. Others emphasize discipleship but do not evangelize. Some influence their community but never touch the nations; others focus on global needs but miss their local community. These congregations may be partially obedient to the Great Commission – but partial obedience is also disobedience at some level.
  6. Church members fail to see the world around them. The world is among us – as our neighbors, our co-workers, our store clerks, our teachers – but we fail to see them as sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36). At a minimum, seeing our neighbors with God’s eyes should cause us to pray for the world represented among us.
  7. Church members don’t know missionaries. We know that mission work matters, but many church members have never “put on a face on” that work. Frankly, I lay this responsibility at the feet of church leaders as well: Great Commission pastors will introduce their church to Great Commission people.
  8. Churches confuse “sheep swapping” with the Great Commission. Transfer growth is seldom Great Commission growth. If a church is not reaching non-believers, baptizing them, teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands, and taking the gospel to the nations, they are not doing the Great Commission.  They may, in fact, be only talking about it.

Which of these reasons most reflects your church? What other reasons would you add?  


  • Robin G Jordan says:

    I do not remember anyone using the term, “the Great Commission,” when I was a child or even in my teen years. But I do remember my grandparents and my mother talking about my mother’s school friends who became missionaries and how they had supported missions themselves. My mother had attended Hockerill Teacher’s Training College which at the time she went there trained women to be missionaries as well as teachers. The College was originally established in 1852 by the Church of England for the training of women teachers, who like their brothers, “would go out to the schools in the service of humanity, lay priests to the poor, moved by Christian Charity” The first church that I remember attending was a new church plant that initially met in a Nissen, or Quonset, hut. At the time I attended the church, it was meeting in a church hall that doubled as a community hall. The nineteenth century evangelical Bishop of Liverpool, J. C. Ryle had pioneered the construction of church halls in his diocese as a way of reaching those who might not attend a parish church. The pastor of the Episcopal church that I attended in my teen years had served as a foreign missionary in the Philippines and had been interned in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. I also attended Royal Ambassador meetings at a local Baptist church. An emphasis was placed on missions at those meetings. When I first became a licensed minister in the Episcopal church, I purchased a lot of books on church planting, evangelism, and missions from the New Orleans Baptist Seminary bookstore. It was at that time I began to hear and read references to “the Great Commission.” It was at that time I caught the church planting bug. Or more accurately the seed that had been planted in my childhood and which had lain dormant for so many years sprouted and began to grow. One of the reasons that pastors and church members do not get around to carrying out the Great Commission is that they do not have those kinds of experiences. Even now I do not feel that I do enough to further the Great Commission. I feel that I could do more. The COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on my plans to plant a new church here in Murray, that and maybe having bitten off more than I can chew. The older we get, the less energy we have. We may the right ideas but are not the one to carry them out. On the other hand, we may be discounting our abilities and listening too much to the father of lies. The latter may be another reason that we do not get around to fulfilling “the Great Commission.” The evil one knows our weaknesses and exploits them to the fullest. He would like nothing better than we gave up on the idea of making disciples of all people groups and spreading Jesus’ teachings. We should not underestimate the spiritual warfare dimensions of our lack of enthusiasm for the task, along with our own inclination to sin.

  • charles kile says:

    Pastors may loose support of the church if the wrong people start coming. Loss of support means unemployment. A dilemma is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is unambiguously acceptable or preferable. Involving a Church in a Community Ministry that reaches out to the community creates a dilemma will change be acceptable to those who supports the church.

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