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Matthew 28:19,20,  "Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

In Ephesians 1 and 2, the apostle Paul states that God’s purpose is to bring everything into subjection to Jesus Christ through the church.  The church is revealed as the vehicle, which the Father wishes to use in order to subject all things to the Son. In Chapter 3, the apostle gives us his response to this revelation of the “mystery” of the church. In 3:8,9 he describes his ministry in two parts:

  1. “To preach to the gentiles” Verse 8
  2. “To bring to light what is the administration of the mystery...” Verse 9

The first element of his ministry is a capsule of the Great Commission since preaching involves going, evangelizing, and teaching to observe. I understand the second element to be a reference to church planting. The mystery is the church, in which Jews and Gentiles are joined in Christ in one body. Bringing to light the administration of that mystery is setting up the physical  manifestation of the body in a specific location. The word “administration” refers to the outworking in time and space of the mystery. This is a very good theological definition of the term church planting.

This passage is central to my philosophy of ministry, since in it I see a clear link between the Great Commission and church planting. The Great Commission is Jesus’ plan of action for accomplishing the Father’s  purpose. Before we look at the content of the plan there are some observations to keep in mind:

  • The plan was given to the Church through the apostles. So it is a plan for the whole Church, not just a select group of individuals. For the Church is the vessel in which all things, including people, are being brought into subjection to Jesus Christ. The plan is to be accomplished in every people group on Earth. Many churches have been planted among many people groups.
  • The plan is a reproductive process. The last command of “teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded” implies that the process of discipleship is incomplete until His commands to “go” and to “baptize” are observed and passed on to the new disciples (2 Tim 2:22).
  • The plan gives the church the responsibility of “teaching to observe all that Jesus has commanded.” It is important to draw a distinction between “teaching to observe” and teaching in general. Teaching is the effective communication of information and ideas. However, teaching to observe involves the submission of the will to result in new behavior. In other words, a renewed mind (Rom 12:2) is a required part of the plan.
  • The plan when implemented is in effect a Great Commission to plant churches. The Church only can accomplish making disciples; in fact, it is what defines the life and mission of the Church. In addition, according to the plan, the church, which is planted, is one, which reproduces reproducing churches.
  • The plan is based on the authority of Jesus, who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.

    Jesus’ presence and authority are available to the church for executing the plan. It is the plan of His choice for a limited time only, namely until the “end of the age.”

The content of the plan is to make disciples of all people groups by

  1. Going. The first command of the plan is to “GO” to the nations. It is a command for the church to cross physical, cultural, and spiritual barriers in order to be present with every people group. This seemingly simple one word command has had many difficulties associated with it. “GOING” involves education, translation, language learning, cross-cultural living and communication, missionary support, recruiting, and more. Whole organizations are established to address one or more of these aspects of “GOING”, but it remains the responsibility of the church to carry out this command. The way in which the church goes to all nations has a direct impact on the second command of the plan.
  2. Evangelizing. The second command of the plan is to “baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is the crowning moment of the process of evangelism. His command to “baptize” means that we are to proclaim the Gospel to the nations and add those who believe to the church. This command also clearly states the Holy Trinity of God and shows that the Three Persons of God are all involved in this plan.
  3. Teaching to observe. The third command of the plan is to teach those who are baptized to observe all the commands of Jesus. This involves teaching and preaching, fellowship, accountability, equipping, and mentoring. Our goal is not only new birth, it is also to bring about obedience to Christ in the lives of those entrusted to us. It also includes training and sending missionaries to continue the reproductive cycle of church planting.

God's plan describes both the life and the mission of the church. For by obeying these commands the church lives out its identity and achieves its goal of making disciples of all nations. Church planting among the nations has to be based on a clear understanding of Jesus’ plan. It is not just a good way of doing things, or someone’s great idea for reaching the nations. It is nothing less than His PLAN. It is the basis of the church’s missionary activity, to the exclusion of personal visions and agendas of individuals within the church. This has direct impact upon the dynamic of relationships within a missionary team. For the goal is not the property of the team leader or an organization, but that of the church as it has been commanded and authorized by the Lord. As the church makes known its mission to its members and the members understand the plan, the Lord calls out some for service on a church planting team. The next step for those with such a calling is for them to be prepared for service.