Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:19, 20, NKJV)
All of us recognize these verses in the Gospel of Matthew; they are the words of Jesus and the passage is called, “The Great Commission!” Many people have wisely said, “All the words that Jesus spoke are important.” He didn’t “wing it” or not give thought to what He was saying, how He was saying it, and in what order He was saying it.
You will notice that Jesus gave three commands (goals) in this Great Commission:
1. Make disciples
3. Teach them to observe all things as Jesus taught/commanded them.
We should not take these imperatives lightly, nor should we ignore the order in which they were given.
First Jesus said to make disciples. Biblical Dictionaries and others as well define a disciple as a “Devoted follower of a great religious leader or teacher.” When we “bring people into the Church” are we preparing “devoted followers of Jesus?” Are we making sure that they are true disciples of Jesus? Sometimes I wonder if we start with the teaching part, baptize individuals when they “know” enough and then we hope they become disciples after they have joined the Church.
That’s not the order that Jesus gave us, is it! I hear much too often that people are leaving through the proverbial “back door” of the Church. Could it be that this happens because we haven’t prepared disciples for baptism?
Please don’t get me wrong, teaching people to observe all the things Jesus has commanded is very important. It IS a part of the Great Commission. But it is much more difficult to get someone to accept fundamental beliefs when they aren’t devoted to Jesus first. The important beliefs become rules to follow a list of do’s and don’ts when we teach first. You and I know that we are much more motivated to get involved in something when we know the leader, believe in the vision and feel affirmed.
That’s where Small Group Ministry comes in. I shared the following quote from Ellen G. White, in my last article: The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort is a plan that has been presented before me by One who cannot err. If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members, but for unbelievers also. Australasian Union Record, August 15, 1902.
People will listen to their friends. People will accept counsel and prayers from their friends, when they know they genuinely care about them. Healthy Small Groups (HSG) ministry is designed to accomplish this very thing, establish relationships with friends from the community, through love and compassion, allowing the Holy Spirit to produce the growth and ultimate surrender to Jesus. HSG fulfills the first crucial and important “goal” of the Great Commission – make disciples!
The NAD, through the Office of Multilingual Ministries has launched an initiative called, “LIFE-healthy small groups.” The goal is to establish and strengthen 22,500 HSG in the NAD by the year 2020. We began with the Hispanic community this year and gave out over 15,000, kits “VIDAgps”. The Lord blessed this initiative in unbelievable ways and as a result I was asked time and time again if the material could be made available in English. We are translating the material into English as I write this article, with the dream of establishing and strengthening 7,500 HSG in English speaking Churches. I am so excited that several Conferences have expressed interested in being “Pilot Conferences” and we look forward to beginning the training in the fall of 2019.
We have kingdom growth goals as well. For example, in the Hispanic Community we have set the following goals for 2019:
1. Have 10,000 active HSG across the NAD
2. Have an average of 8 Church members in every HSG
3. Have 5 friends from the community integrated into each HSG
4. Have 3 friends give their hearts to Jesus through the relationship with the HSG.
What would that look like, across the NAD?
1. 80,000 Church members actively involved in HSG
2. 50,000 friends engaged and participating in HSG
3. 30,000 friends joining God’s family
Some may question why we set these goals? For me it is never about the numbers, but we must have a plan in place if we are expecting God to add His blessing. Proverbs 24:27 says, “Prepare your work outside, get everything ready for you in the field; and after that build your house.” (NRSV) We must through prayer and study of God’s Word, make plans, set goals and cooperate with the Lord to see them through. The cliché says, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
As a former youth pastor, I remember a fundamental principal for teaching the Bible to young people. It went like this: “Tell me, I’ll forget, show me I’ll remember, walk with me and I will understand.” That’s the key isn’t it, to get people to understand about the beauty of Jesus, to get them to be devoted to the Savior. Of course, this will include education as we share the Bible with them, but the teaching part comes into play full force after they have become disciples, through HSG.
My hunch is that when we follow the Gospel Commission as it has been outlined by Jesus and recorded in Matthew, we will have many disciples ready to take on leadership roles in the Church as they embrace the Gospel Commission as disciples of Christ and then go, and make new disciples for God’s honor and glory, through HSG!
Tony Anobile serves as the Vice President for Multilingual Ministries of the North American Division.