GUEST POST: Another Look at the Great Commission, part 6

Implications of the Study: How to Be a Disciple according to Matthew 28:19–20

The final implication that I want to draw out from the above study of the Great Commission is about how to be a disciple. If one makes a disciple by baptizing a person and teaching that person to obey everything that Jesus commanded, then one becomes a disciple by being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit and by obeying everything that Jesus commanded. Thus, the first question every professing Christian needs to ask him/herself is “am I baptized?” It seems to me that an increasing number of professing Christians are deferring baptism for a variety of reasons. If the above grammatical/syntactical interpretation of the Great Commission is correct, then baptism is essential if one wants to call him/herself a disciple of Jesus. Baptism in the New Testament assumes that the person who is being baptized has repented of his/her sins and has believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and salvation (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1–14). Thus, repentance from sin and belief in Jesus are an indispensable aspect of being a disciple of Jesus. My encouragement to those reading this article is that if you have repented of your sin and believe in Jesus, yet are not baptized, then seek to be baptized as soon as possible.

The second question that every professing Christian needs to ask him/herself is “am I obeying everything that Jesus commanded the apostles?” It is important to first note that to make a disciple the apostles must teach the potential disciple all that Jesus commanded them, the apostles. Thus, what the apostles teach becomes extremely important. The place where we find the teaching of the apostles that reflects the teaching of Jesus is the entire New Testament, not just the Gospels, but the letters of the New Testament as well. The New Testament is the recorded teachings of Jesus’ apostles. The New Testament is part of the fulfillment of Jesus’ command to the apostles in Matthew 28:19–20.

Thus, since the New Testament records the commands of Jesus for his disciples, in order to be a disciple of Jesus, one must know what the New Testament commands of a disciple of Jesus and obey/do it. Allow me to present two commands of Jesus that have become controversial in western Christianity as examples: divorce and sexual immorality.

Jesus is very clear in the Synoptic Gospels that married couples should never divorce (Matt 5:31–32; 19:1–12; Mark 10:1–12; Luke 16:18). In these passages, Jesus gives a single exception to this rule, sexual immorality. Because Jesus gives his teaching on divorce in his Sermon on the Mount, which explains how someone in the kingdom of heaven should act, and because Jesus’ teaching on divorce is reaffirmed in Paul’s teaching to the church on how Christians should behave in 1 Corinthians 7:10–16, 39, it is safe to say that one of Jesus’ commands is that married couples never divorce, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, and even then the couple should do their best to remain married. The implications of this command of Jesus that is taught to us by the apostles is that to be a disciple of Jesus a married Christian should never divorce his/her spouse. This is a hard saying for many in the church since there are many Christians who have been divorced for reasons other than sexual immorality and there are many Christians seeking divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality. To be a faithful disciple of Jesus, married Christians must not divorce, except on the grounds of sexual immorality. The New Testament is clear that this teaching of Jesus is for those who are part of the kingdom of heaven through faith in Jesus. However, it seems to me that many churches are failing to teach this important command of Jesus and as such divorce is rampant within many of our churches.

Another New Testament command that Jesus gave his apostles is the command not to engage in sexual immorality. Some of the more important passages that condemn sexual immorality for disciples of Jesus are Matthew 15:19; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:16–21; Ephesians 5:3–5; Colossians 3:5–8; and 1 Peter 4:3. An important question to ask at this point is what is sexual immorality according to the Bible? Sexual immorality could be better translated “unsanctioned sexual conduct” or “sexual conduct that is not sanctioned by God.” In short, sexual immorality is committing any sexual act outside of a sanctioned marriage. In the Bible, a sanctioned marriage is marriage between one man and one woman. Thus, the following are considered acts of sexual immorality: adultery, sex outside of marriage, “fooling around” outside of marriage, such as oral sex, homosexuality, that is committing sexual acts with someone of the same gender, and bestiality, that is, committing sexual acts with animals. Thus, to be a faithful disciple of Jesus, a person must not commit any act of sexual immorality. It seems to me that teaching on sexual fidelity and adherence to sexual fidelity as presented by the apostles in the New Testament is another major area of neglect in western churches today that needs to be recovered.

The goal of being a disciple of Jesus is a high and lofty goal that should be pursued by every person. However, it takes effort and work to be a faithful disciple. Anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus or wishes to become a disciple of Jesus must first be baptized and then must work toward discovering all that Jesus commanded the apostles, understand all that Jesus commanded the apostles, and obey all that Jesus commanded the apostles.

Conclusion

The Great Commission is rightfully one of the most important texts in the Bible. The Great Commission sets forth the reason to make disciples and the way to make disciples. The reason for making disciples is because Jesus now has all authority in heaven and on earth. The way one makes a disciple of Jesus, which was the focus of this series, is by baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and by teaching to obey all that Jesus commanded the apostles. Thus, the Great Commission not only informs the church how make disciples of Jesus, but also informs individuals how to be a disciple of Jesus. As a result of the Great Commission, all churches and mission/evangelism organizations need to put a heavy emphasis on baptism and teaching for obedience in all ministries.

GUEST POST: Another Look at the Great Commission, part 5

Implications of the Study: How to Make Disciples according to Matthew 28:19–20

One of the most revelatory aspects of the above grammatical and syntactical analysis of Matthew 28:19–20 is that it reveals how to make disciples. If all the participles take on the imperatival value of “make disciples,” then the relationship between “going,” “make disciples,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” is unclear and the reader does not know how the apostles or s/he is supposed to go about making disciples. However, thanks to the grammar and syntax of Matthew 28:19–20, the reader knows that the way one makes a disciple is by baptizing the person in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and teaching the person to observe/obey everything that Jesus commanded the apostles.

Understanding that baptizing and teaching a person to observe/obey everything that Jesus commanded the apostles as the way to make a disciple should direct the focus of evangelism and missions of individual Christians, the church, and mission/evangelism organizations. First, baptizing those who profess faith in Jesus should be a key goal of every church and mission/evangelism organization. A focus on baptism has particular implications for mission/evangelism organizations. Since baptism is usually done by a local church, mission/evangelism organizations must be associated with a local church in order for their missionaries to baptize.

Churches also need to be prepared to baptize those who profess faith in Jesus and not neglect this vital aspect of disciple making. Last year (2020), I visited a local Baptist church. In one particular service, the church announced new members to its congregation. The senior pastor then proceeded to tell the church that two of the three new members were not baptized. For a Baptist church, accepting someone as a member who has not been baptized is highly unusual. After asking around, I discovered there were a lot of members who had never been baptized. When I asked one non-baptized member why he was not baptized, he told me that he was never encouraged to be baptized. Further, he had inquired about it multiple times, but either no one from the church addressed his query or when it was addressed, it did not make sense to him. If the interpretation of the Great Commission in this series is correct, then every church, regardless of denomination, must be ready and able to teach on the importance of baptism and must strongly encourage all believers to be baptized if they wish to be disciples of Jesus. Baptism should be a non-negotiable for every church.

Second, teaching a person to observe/obey everything that Jesus commanded the apostles should be the second key goal of every church and mission/evangelism organization. The implications of this aspect of making disciples is quite heavy in my estimation and not as easy as baptizing. In order to accomplish this aspect of disciple-making, there must be a process by which every person who has professed faith in Jesus is accurately taught everything that Jesus commanded the apostles for the purpose of obedience. This means that churches and mission/evangelism organizations must know everything that Jesus commanded and be ready to teach for obedience everything that Jesus commanded. I am not advocating that every individual Christian be able to teach everything that Jesus commanded the apostles, but that churches and mission/evangelism organizations must be ready and able. The apostle Paul is very clear in Ephesians 4:7–12 that Jesus gave gifts to the church, such as the evangelist and the teacher. As such, not everyone is going to be great at evangelism nor equally great at teaching. However, the church or mission/evangelism organization must enlist those who are given to the church as teachers to be ready to teach all who profess faith in Jesus (both new converts and seasoned ones) to observe all that Jesus commanded the apostles, which is recorded in the Gospels and the New Testament letters.

In order to teach someone all that Jesus commanded the apostles, each church and mission/evangelism organization must have at least one person who is gifted to the church as a teacher and knows the entire New Testament, its content, proper interpretation, how to properly appropriate/apply it, and how to teach the New Testament in order that those who have received Jesus will obey all of it and so be a disciple of Jesus.

The implications of teaching all that Jesus commanded for obedience means that more than a 20–30-minute Sunday sermon is necessary from all churches and missionaries/evangelists. It is not possible, in my opinion, to teach someone to obey all that Jesus commanded in weekly 20–30-minute sermons. There must be much more intense and frequent teaching in the church. This can take the shape of one-on-one discipleship, multiple Bible-studies throughout the week, small groups that are focused on teaching obedience of all that Jesus commands, or other avenues. Regardless of the shape/mode of teaching, it is incumbent on the church to provide this teaching for all of its members, especially new converts. Personally, I feel too many churches in the West have failed in this regard in my lifetime and there needs to be a renewal for teaching and obedience of all of that Jesus commanded in the western churches.

GUEST POST: Another Look at the Great Commission, part 4

Implications of the Study

Now that the grammatical and syntactical analysis of the key components of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20 is complete and the ambiguity of the participles resolved, attention must turn to the implications of the above study for individual Christians, the 21st-century church, and mission/evangelism organizations. The implications of the above study will focus on three areas: (1) appropriation of the Great Commission for the 21st-century church and Christians, (2) how to make disciples, and (3) how to be a disciple.

The Great Commission for the Apostles and for the 21st-Century Christian

What is frequently overlooked or neglected in preaching and teaching on the Great Commission is the recognition that Jesus’ words are directly addressed to the eleven apostles, not all Christians (Matt 28:16–18). Recognition of the stated recipients of Jesus’ last words is important for correct interpretation and appropriation, especially regarding the command to “go” (28:19). As noted in the other uses of the participle “go” that adopt the force of the immediately following imperative in the Gospel of Matthew, it is expected that the command be carried out immediately. Now that all authority has been given to Jesus, Jesus commands his eleven apostles to go immediately and make disciples. The going is for the purpose of making disciples.

Further, the command for the apostles to go and make disciples is an all-consuming command. The command to “go, make disciples” is to characterize and consume the lives of the eleven apostles. In short, the command to make disciples is to be the apostles’ life’s work. The eleven are not to go about their former business of fishing or tax-collecting while making disciples. Instead, they are to focus their life on making disciples. The model of going and disciple making that the eleven are to employ was set forth by Jesus for them in Matthew 10:5–14, when Jesus first commanded the apostles to go and proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt 10:6–7). As seen in Matthew 10:5–14, the apostles are not to go back to their jobs to raise money for the mission; they are to leave with only the clothes on their back and begin doing the Lord Jesus’ work. The Lord Jesus and those who receive the apostles’ message will support the apostles. The same method for going as presented in Matthew 10 seems to be presented in Matthew 28:18–20. Further confirmation that Jesus’ instructions to the eleven in Matthew 28:18–20 to go and make disciples was intended to be all consuming can be found in Acts. In Acts, the apostles do not return to their former jobs, but instead dedicate their lives to making disciples.

Understanding what Jesus commanded the apostles is important because it curbs directly appropriating the command “go, make disciples” to every Christian of every age. If the command “go, make disciples” was intended for every Christian, then any Christian who has not left their work and their home and dedicated their entire life to making disciples is found guilty of disobeying Jesus. In short, if the command “go, make disciples” was given to every Christian, then every Christian should become a full-time missionary. However, this is not what Jesus is commanding in the Great Commission; he is only commanding the eleven remaining apostles to “go, make disciples of all nations.” Therefore, I do not believe teachers and preachers should preach the Great Commission as if Jesus directly gave it to all Christians, because the text clearly states he did not; it was given to the eleven remaining apostles and they fulfilled this commission in the book of Acts.

Does Jesus issuing the Great Commission to the eleven apostles, then, mean that it has no relevance for Christians and the church in the 21st century? No, I do not believe it is irrelevant for 21st-century Christians or the church. First, the reality that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth means that every and any Christian can make disciples with the same confidence and authority that the eleven apostles had. Therefore, all Christians should be encouraged to make disciples in whatever circumstances or geographical region they find themselves. Second, there is evidence in the letters of the New Testament, most of which were written by the apostles, that suggests all Christians should proclaim the good news of Jesus and try to make disciples (Rom 10:14–15; 2 Cor 5:16–21; Eph 6:13–17; Phil 4:8–9; Col 4:5–6; 1 Thess 1:6–8). However, the letters of the New Testament do not state that all Christians should become full-time missionaries as the eleven apostles did. Thus, what Jesus says about making disciples is important for the 21st-century Christian and church.

GUEST POST: Another Look at the Great Commission, part 3

Relationship of Participles to Imperatives in the Gospel of Matthew: Participles that Follow Imperatives in Matthew

If the participle that precedes the imperative in Matthew 28:19–20 adopts the imperatival force of “make disciples,” then it is reasonable to ask if the following two adverbial participles do the same. A search in the Gospel of Matthew reveals three instances other than Matthew 28:19–20 where an adverbial participle directly follows an imperative (Matt 10:7; 20:8; 26:36).

The first instance of an adverbial participle directly following an imperative is found in Matthew 10:7. It is noteworthy that Matthew 10:7 follows the same pattern as Matthew 28:19–20: participle–imperative–participle. It was determined above, that the first participle “going” did not take on imperatival force. The second participle is “saying” and it is preceded by the imperative “preach.” The participle “saying” does not take on the imperatival force of “preach” because it is introducing the content of what is to be preached as reflected in most English translations. Thus, Matthew 10:7 should be translated “as you go, preach, saying….”

The second instance of an adverbial participle directly following an imperative is found in Matthew 20:8, which is part of the parable about the labourers’ wages (Matt 20:1–16). The participle that follows the imperative is part of the owner’s command to the foreman to pay the labourers their wages. The owner issues the imperative “pay them the wages” followed by the participle “beginning with the last.” The participle most likely does not take on the force of the imperative here. Rather, context suggests the adverbial participle modifies “pay” for the purpose of stating how the payment should be made for a translation of “pay them the wages by beginning with the last and ending with the first.” Most English translations translate “beginning” as modifying “pay,” but they do not indicate that the participle is one of manner, stating how the payment should be made.

The final instance of an adverbial participle directly following an imperative is found in Matthew 26:36. While in Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal, Jesus commands his disciples with the imperative “sit,” followed by the participle “going.” It should be noted that the Greek participle “going” (ἀπέρχομαι) in Matthew 26:36 is a different word than “going” (πορεύω) used in Matthew 28:19 and the other “going” participles analysed in the previous post. The participle “going” in 26:36 is definitely a temporal adverbial participle modifying the imperative “sit” because the temporal particle “while” (ἕως) is inserted between the imperative and the participle “going,” telling the reader exactly how to interpret the participle.

The above analysis of adverbial participles following imperatives has revealed that they all retain their adverbial function and modify the preceding imperative. Thus, it can be concluded that the two participles “baptizing” and “teaching” in Matthew 28:19–20 are also adverbial participles modifying the preceding imperative “make disciples.”

Based on the above analysis of participles in relation to an imperative throughout the Gospel of Matthew, it is concluded that the first participle “going” adopts the imperatival force of the following imperative and the second and third participles retain their adverbial function and modify the imperative “make disciples.” Thus, the Great Commission can be diagrammed as follows:

Go
make disciples of all nations

baptizing them in the name of …

teaching them to observe everything I commanded you.

The final question that needs to be answered for a correct interpretation of the Great Commission is in what sense the adverbial participles “baptizing” and “teaching” modify “make disciples.” In other words, we need to discern what type the adverbial participles are that follow “make disciples.”

Relationship of “Baptizing” and “Teaching” to “Make Disciples”

As noted above, the two participles “baptizing” and “teaching” are adverbial participles that modify the imperative “make disciples.” The concern at this point is discerning the more nuanced relationship between the participles and the imperative, something that most English translations of Matthew 28:19–20 neglect as evidenced by their translation of the participles simply with “baptizing” and “teaching” without any helping words to indicate the relationship to the imperative “make disciples.” Unfortunately, Matthew 28:19–20 does not provide any grammatical or syntactical cues or clues to help determine the precise relationship between the adverbial participles and the imperative “make disciples” (this is quite common in koine Greek). Fortunately, Greek scholars such as Daniel Wallace have categorized the various ways adverbial participles in koine Greek modify indicative and imperative verbs. At this stage, plausibility and logic must take over. The two most likely grammatical options for understanding the adverbial participles “baptizing” and “teaching,” then, are manner or result.

If “baptizing” and “teaching” convey manner, then the participles are instructing on how to make disciples, that is, the way one makes disciples. The apostles are to make disciples by baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit and by teaching people to observe everything that Jesus has commanded. Thus, the way the apostles make disciples is by baptizing and teaching.

If, however, “baptizing” and “teaching” convey result, then, the participles are instructing on the expected results of making disciples. After the apostles make a disciple, they should baptize that person and then instruct that person to observe everything that Jesus has commanded. Thus, as a result of making a disciple, the apostles will baptize and teach the disciple.

Although it is possible to understand the two participles that follow “make disciples” as either manner or result, interpreting them as participles of manner makes the most sense. As noted in Part I of this series, the central concern of Matthew 28:19–20 is the imperative “make disciples.” As such, it makes more sense if the subsequent two participles indicate manner, telling the apostles how to make disciples, because they elaborate and expand the central concern of making disciples. If “baptizing” and “teaching” convey result, then the apostles and the readers are left wondering how they are to accomplish Jesus’ command to make disciples, which leaves ambiguity in Jesus’ final words. However, understanding “baptizing” and “teaching” as conveying manner answers the key piece of information needed to fulfill Jesus’ command—the how. Thus, one makes a disciple by baptizing a person into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and by teaching that person to observe everything that Jesus commanded the apostles. Having identified the function of the three participles “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching,” Matthew 28:19–20 can be more accurately translated and diagrammed as follows:

Go,
make disciples of all nations

by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

by teaching them to observe everything I commanded you.

GUEST POST: Another Look at the Great Commission, part 2

Relationship of Participles to Imperatives in the Gospel of Matthew: Participles that Precede Imperatives in Matthew

The best way to discern the function of the participles in the Great Commission is to analyse how participles are used throughout the Gospel of Matthew. Because the three participles are adverbial participles related to the imperative “make disciples,” we will limit our investigation to adverbial participles that are related to imperatives in the Gospel of Matthew. We will first investigate participles that precede an imperative, then we will investigate participles that follow an imperative.

Participles that Precede Imperatives in Matthew

In Greek, it is common for an aorist tense participle, like “going” in Matthew 28:19, that immediately precedes an aorist tense imperative (or indicative), like “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19, to take on the force (or grammatical mood) of the following imperative (or indicative). Participles that follow this pattern are usually called participles of attendant circumstance. Thus, we are immediately alerted to the possibility that “going” in Matthew 28:19 may be adopting the force of the imperative and, thus, functioning as a command.

To confirm that “going” adopts the force of the imperative in Matthew 28:18, an analysis of all adverbial participles that immediately precede an imperative in the Gospel of Matthew is necessary. Within the Gospel of Matthew there are twenty cases of adverbial participles immediately preceding an imperative (Matt 2:8,13,20; 5:24; 6:6, 17; 9:6,13,18; 10:7,8,12,14; 11:4; 17:27; 19:21; 21:2; 22:13; 28:7,19). Thankfully, of the twenty cases, five use the same word “go” (πορεύω) as in Matthew 28:19 (Matt 2:8; 9:13; 10:7; 11:4; 17:27). Thus, we will limit our study to the five “go” participles in the Gospel of Matthew.

In Matthew 2:7–8, Herod summons the magi to discern when the star appeared. Herod then proceeds to command the magi to find the child and report back to him in order that he may worship the child. The participle “going” and the imperative “search” begin Herod’s speech. The question is, does the participle “going” take on the force of the imperative “search” for a translation “go, search!” or does it indicate a more temporal aspect for a translation “when you go, search!” A case could be made for either translation; however, the participle taking on the force of the imperative suits the scene much better. First, both the participle and the imperative are in the aorist tense suggesting the participle adopts the force of the imperative. Second, Herod wants the magi to find the child quickly so that he may destroy the child despite claiming that he wants to worship the child (2:7–12). Thus, it seems most likely that the participle “go” takes on the force of the imperative “search” for a translation “go [now], search diligently for the child” (2:8). This interpretation is confirmed in most English translations, which understand the participle as adopting imperatival force.

The second passage that uses the participle “going” followed by an imperative is Matthew 9:13. In the wider context, Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners and is questioned by a Pharisee as to why Jesus does so (Matt 9:10–11). Jesus responds by telling the Pharisee that those who are sick are the ones in need of a physician (9:12). Jesus then uses the participle “going” followed by the command to learn what the saying “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” means (9:13). Like Matthew 2:8, both the participle and the imperative are in the aorist tense suggesting the participle adopts the force of the imperative. Further, the context suggests that it is more likely that Jesus is telling the Pharisee to go now for the purpose of learning, for a translation of “go, learn!” instead of telling the Pharisee that as he leaves and goes about his business, he should learn what the saying means. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude, like most English translations, that the participle “going” adopts imperatival force.

The third passage that uses the participle “going” followed by an imperative is Matthew 10:7. In Matthew 10:1–15, Jesus chooses his twelve apostles and sends them out to proclaim “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons (10:7–8). The participle-imperative construction (“going, preach”) directly precedes the message the apostles are commanded to preach. Interestingly, both the participle and the imperative are in the present tense, not the aorist tense. Further, in the verse preceding the participle “going,” Jesus uses the verb “go” (πορεύω) in the imperative mood to command the apostles to “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6). Thus, the question arises whether or not the participle “going” in 10:7 takes on the imperatival force of the following imperative “preach.” It would seem redundant to use the imperative “go” and follow it with the participle “going” that takes on imperatival force. It seems more likely in this situation that the participle is a temporal participle that modifies the imperative “preach” for a translation “as you go, preach,” “when you go, preach,” or the more nuanced “as you go about the lost sheep of the house of Israel, preach.” The idea is that as/when the apostles go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, they are to preach about the kingdom of heaven. The temporal understanding of “going” in Matthew 10:7 is supported by most English translations.

The fourth passage that uses the participle “going” followed by an imperative is Matthew 11:4. In Matthew 11:2–3, the disciples of John the Baptizer, at John’s behest, ask Jesus if he is the one who is to come or is it another. Jesus responds with the participle “going” followed by the imperative “report to John what you hear and see” (11:4). Like Matthew 2:8 and 9:13, the participle and the imperative are both in the aorist tense and the command to John’s disciples gives the impression that they are to report to John immediately. Thus, the participle “going” most likely adopts the imperatival force of “report” for a translation “go, report to John” as reflected in most English translations.

The final passage that uses the participle “going” followed by an imperative is Matthew 17:27. When Jesus is challenged about paying the temple tax, so as to not give offense, Jesus commands Peter to cast a hook into the sea and the first fish he catches will have a coin in its mouth for which to pay the temple tax (17:24–27). The participle “going” followed by an imperative begins Jesus’ command to Peter to go fishing, “going to the sea, cast in a hook!” (17:27). Unlike the previous uses of the participle “going,” Matthew 17:27 modifies the participle with the prepositional phrase “to the sea.” Although it is possible that Jesus is telling Peter “as you go to the sea,” suggesting that Peter was already heading that way, it seems unlikely because both the participle and imperative are in the aorist tense and the situation of the tax collectors approaching Peter for the temple tax suggests that Jesus wants Peter to go fishing immediately and, thus, the participle “going” adopts the force of the imperative for a translation “go to the sea, cast in a hook!”

The above analysis of the participle “going” followed by an imperative in the Gospel of Matthew has revealed that when the participle “going” and the following imperative are both in the aorist tense, the participle adopts the force of the imperative and should be translated as an imperative. The contexts support this interpretation. In the one instance where the participle “going” retains its adverbial function (Matt 10:7), the participle is in the present tense and is preceded by the verb “go” in the imperative mood, making the participle redundant if it adopts the force of the imperative “preach.”

Thus, it can reasonably be concluded that the participle “going” that precedes the imperative “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19 should be understood as adopting the imperatival force of “make disciples” because it conforms to the pattern seen in Matthew 2:8; 9:13; 11:4; and 17:27. First, Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 reads as if he wants the apostles to obey immediately. Now that Jesus has all authority, the apostles should make disciples; the time for waiting is over, Jesus has all authority now, so the disciples should obey now. It would make less sense for Jesus to command the apostles to make disciples as they go about their daily business. Jesus chose the apostles to continue Jesus’ work as seen in Matthew 10. They are not to go back to their previous vocations; their lives and their efforts are to be focused on making disciples. Thus, it makes more sense for Jesus to command them to go now and make disciples. Second, there is no command to “go” that Jesus issues prior to Matthew 28:19 like there was in 10:6–7, lessening the likelihood that the participle “going” is a temporal adverbial participle modifying “make disciples.” Matthew 28:19a, then, should be translated “Therefore, go, make disciples of all nations.” In Part III of this series, we will analyse adverbial participles that immediately follow an imperative in the Gospel of Matthew.

GUEST POST: Another Look at the Great Commission, part 1

Introduction to the Issue

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20 is one of the most beloved and well-known passages of the Bible for Christians. Further, it is one of the most frequently preached passages of the Bible and is frequently used as the foundational passage for modern evangelism and missions. For Matthew, the author of the Gospel that bears his name, the Great Commission is one of the most important sayings of Jesus because Matthew chooses the Great Commission as the final words of Jesus for his Gospel. Matthew ends his Gospel on an evangelistic note, urging the eleven apostles to make disciples. Thus, the importance of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20 cannot be overstated.

Despite the significance of the Great Commission for Matthew, the eleven apostles, and the modern church, many (not all) modern Christians seem unaware of the ambiguities of the grammar and syntax in verses 19–20 that is found in the Greek text and reflected in most modern English translations. This blind spot has, at times, resulted in preaching and teaching on the Great Commission that is vague and confusing.

The goal of this six-part series on the Great Commission is threefold: (1) to raise awareness of the certainties and ambiguities in the text of Matthew 28:19–20, (2) to offer an interpretation of the Great Commission based on the grammar and syntax, and (3) to discuss some implications of the interpretation of Matthew 28:19–20 for the 21st-century church, Christians, and mission/evangelism organizations.

The Grammar and Syntax of Matthew 28:19–20: Certainties and Ambiguities

As mentioned above, the grammatical and syntactical focus of this article is the command(s) in Matthew 28:19–20. It should first be noted that Jesus’ command(s) in 28:19–20 is based on him now having all authority in heaven and on earth (28:18). The implications of Jesus’ authority for the command(s) in 28:19–20 is outside the purview of this article and will not be discussed here.

The specific concern of this article surrounds the relationship between the four verbs in Matthew 28:19–20: “go,” “make disciples” (this is one word in the Greek), “baptize,” and “teach.” As may not be clear in all English translations, there is only one imperative verb in 28:19–20: “make disciples” (μαθητεύσατε). The other three verbs, “go,” “baptize,” and “teach” are all participles in the Greek. The grammatical mood of each verb is easier to see if we both diagram the passage and reflect the mood of verbs in translation.

Going

make disciples of all nations

baptizing them in the name of …

teaching them to observe everything …

The single imperative alerts the reader that making disciples is the central focus of the Great Commission. Thus, the focus for anyone preaching or teaching the Great Commission should be on making disciples.
If making disciples is the central focus of the Great Commission, then questions about the function of the surrounding three participles arises. Specifically, we want to know what the relationship between the three participles and the imperative “make disciples” is.

Greek participles function in a number of ways. They may function as adverbs, modifying a verb. They may function as adjectives, either modifying a noun or functioning as a noun. They may also adopt the force (or grammatical mood) of a governing verb, such as an indicative or imperative verb. The participles in Matthew 28:19–20 are all adverbial, which means they will either modify the main verb “make disciples” or they will take on the force of “make disciples” and function as imperatives. As such, there are two possible functions of the participles with three possible structures to the Great Commission: (1) all participles function as imperatives, (2) all participles modify “make disciples,” or (3) some participles function as imperatives and some modify “make disciples.” These three possibilities are best seen in the following:

Option #1

Go
make disciples of all nations
baptize them …
teach them . . .

Option #2

Going

make disciples of all nations

baptizing them …

teaching them …

Option #3

Go
make disciples of all nations

baptizing them …

teaching them …

Not only does the grammatical function of the participles need to be discerned, but if it is determined that any of the participles function adverbially, modifying “make disciples,” then the we must determine the nuanced relationship between the participles and the imperative “make disciples.” It is not good enough to simply translate the participles “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” for this introduces unnecessary ambiguity into the biblical text.

In order to discern whether the participles are functioning adverbially or are taking on the imperatival force of “make disciples,” an analysis of participles in relation to imperatives in the Gospel of Matthew is necessary. This will be the subject of Part 2 and 3 of this series.

When Things Don’t Go According to Plan: Attendance

I can remember my first six months as a student pastor so clearly. It was my first full-time staff position at a church. I was ready to do the hard work of ministry and see God move in powerful ways, or so I thought. One month in, we had thirty students in Sunday school. To my knowledge, that was the largest number of students our church had seen on a Sunday in a long time. We could not be more excited. But that was all about to change. Within a few months, our attendance slumped to 12–15 students, with several students completely walking away from church altogether. I spent some of the darkest days of that season wondering how this could happen or if something was wrong with me.

The reality is that every pastor will experience attendance decreases and struggles at some point. Healthy churches will grow in the long run, but seasons of plateau and decline are a natural part of life. Furthermore, many young pastors are tasked with revitalizing unhealthy churches, where attendance growth is even harder to find. Instead of panicking over low attendance, here are six steps pastors can take to address low attendance numbers.

1. Don’t Make Attendance your Identity

Too often, pastors react to lower attendance by blaming the man in the mirror. We make attendance a part of our identity as a servant of the Gospel. When numbers are down, we assume that we failed or even doubt our calling as ministers. What’s worse, we may even blame others around us for creating the problem. Some pastors may experience depression because they question their own worth. We can only step back and address the real problems when we understand our identity as unconditionally loved, and called by God.

2. Pray for a Movement of God

The church has never experienced a movement of God without prayer. The first disciples spent weeks in prayer before Pentecost. The modern missions movement hinged on the earnest prayers of men like William Carey, Andrew Fuller, and those five students at the Haystack Prayer Meeting. Pastor, pray for a movement of God in your church! In my own ministry, I saw a major change when I decided to dedicate the last thirty to forty minutes of my Wednesday to prayer walk our youth room, begging God to change our students. If we will humble ourselves and pray, God is faithful to respond.

3. Count the Numbers (All of them!)

Pastors in SBC life normally care about three numbers: Sunday school attendance, worship attendance, and baptisms. Those numbers are surely important, but they cannot explain where the problems start. Pastors need to track all of the numbers. How many visitors did the church have in the past year? How many were assimilated into membership? How many people made professions of faith? How many actually followed through in baptism? What are the church’s age demographics? Does your church have a way to track gospel conversations or discipleship focused relationships? What is the frequency of individual attendance? All of these questions will give you a more nuanced picture of what’s going on.

4. Evaluate Where the Problem Starts

At HBC, every ministry has a written discipleship path. The idea is to create a picture of what it looks like for an unchurched, unsaved individual to turn into a faithful, multiplying, Jesus-loving disciple. When you have tracked all of the numbers, you can see where you are falling short on the discipleship path. It may be that your church is not doing evangelism well. It may be that you have a lot of unchurched or newly saved attendees, but you are not discipling well. Those are two vastly different problems. Know where your church’s struggles start. Otherwise, you will continue to stick a square peg in a round hole.

5. Focus on the People in the Room

Now that you have looked at all the numbers and have a good idea on where the problems start, it’s time to focus on the people in the room. Programs will not change a church. The Senior Pastor, by himself, is not enough to change his church. The people in the room create the movement. Pastors who shepherd their people well can lead change effectively. The people trust him because he has been there in their struggles. On the other hand, a congregation can tell when they are not good enough for their pastor. They will not follow him if they think he is only interested in building his kingdom, instead of God’s.

6. Equip Your Leaders to Help

A huge part of focusing on the people in the room is identifying and equipping leaders. When pastors spend time to specifically equip leaders, they will multiply their influence and increase their bandwidth to do more ministry. That means taking leaders through steps 3 and 4. Every leader in the student and college ministries at HBC knows our discipleship path. They also know where every student is on that path. We meet regularly to discuss how we can help students take the next step on the path. Leaders who know the what, why, and how of ministry will help the pastor implement effective change.

Pastors, you can implement effective change, even in your darkest days. Get rid of your insecurities and place your identity in Christ. Pray earnestly for his movement. Examine and evaluate every number and every aspect of your church’s ministries. Do the difficult part of ministry: shepherd the people in the room and equip your leaders to lead. Then rest and leave the results to God.

GUEST POST: Preparing for Ministry in a Post-Truth World, Part One

What is meant by ‘Post-truth’?

The Oxford Dictionaries’ international word of 2016, “post-truth” points to a society or situation “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

While “post truth” has many political implications, commonly functioning as an expression thrown around by opposing political groups in attempts to discredit one another, the concept goes far beyond politics. London, England—where I have lived and served for 16 years—and Angel, Islington—my local centre and borough within London are said to be post-truth environments. Indeed Great Britain (note: this is a specific geographic indicator that excludes Northern Ireland) as a whole can quite accurately be described as a post-truth society.

My goal over the course of several posts is to highlight what ministry in such an environment looks like and to present some practical guidance that may help readers’ in a similar environment serve well. If you are not in a post-truth environment, but you see post-truth mentalities creeping in, I pray that these posts will help you effectively in your spiritual warfare.

What is a “post-truth society”?

A post-truth society doesn’t necessarily deny that truth exists. It simply doesn’t feel like seeking and finding truth is overly important. There is little knowledge or appreciation for objective facts or lessons from history in a post-truth world. Indeed, when concrete truths are clearly presented every attempt is made to suppress, discredit, deflect, or minimise any claim to exclusive, objective truth (ala Romans 1). Speaking or believing “your truth” is more important than speaking and believing “the truth”.

Within a post truth society exists a toxic soup of ideologies that major in self-absorption, entitlement, and constant questioning of proven and credible facts, finding truth primarily in emotional reactions. Clinging to such ideologies are:

  • Secularists living in the now and rejecting all forms of religious faith and worship.
  • Humanists emphasizing reason, “scientific” inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world while rejecting the importance of belief in God.
  • Postmodernists claiming that realities are plural, subjective, and dependent on worldview.
  • Relativists proposing that points of view have no absolute truth or validity within themselves, but rather only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.
  • Pluralists accepting two or more religious worldviews as equally valid or acceptable as paths to God or gods.
  • Universalists believing that there are no mitigating factors against salvation – all will be right with God.

Despite the presence of people who consciously align with one of the above ideologies, I find that many in post-truth Britain have never considered whether they should believe much of anything, what to believe, or why to believe. Truth doesn’t really matter. Existence and purpose in being is just a day to day routine. Nothing really matters that much to think too much about. Practically this has led to a range of challenges:

  • Identity crisis

At even the most basic, tangible, physical level people do not know who they are. Without any mooring in truth and with widespread embrace of the idea that truth is relative or subjective this should come as no surprise. Previous indisputable human attributes of personhood acknowledging difference between the sexes are for many now disputable. Where “gender confusion” was once a concern, now many celebrate “gender acceptance”. You can be born male and yet identify as female or vice-versa. Confusion in sexuality and questioning personal identity and purpose are extremely prevalent in a post-truth society if not in practice, in acceptance.

  • Dysfunctionality in relationships

While post-truth London, England (and I imagine most post-truth environments) takes pride in multicultural pluralism (the view that all beliefs and cultural behaviours are equally acceptable and right), it is a lonely city. A post-truth society lacks moral objectivity. As such, without a clear framework that values morality and honest interaction, it should come as no surprise when trust is eroded. The consequence is that normal, open, transparent human interaction is hard to find and loneliness increases.

  • Suppression of freedom

A post-truth society does not get on well with any claim to objective truth. Believing something that may exclude others (eg. “salvation is in Christ alone”) or that denies another’s claim of reality (eg. “someone with male body parts is male”) is bad enough, saying it amounts to discrimination and prejudice. Freedom of belief and speech is protected, unless your belief and speech offends, upsets, or excludes. But of course that isn’t free speech at all.

  • Distorted narratives

A post-truth society sets up its own standard of presenting facts. Both sides of the left/right political spectrum (however that is defined) are guilty of such distortion. Truths are withheld, exaggerated, or spun. Post truth society condemns fake news, but enables, endorses, and embraces it at the same time as it has no standard or basis on which to judge truth. This also gives rise to increased obsession with and acceptance of ludicrous conspiracy theories that have no foundation in fact.

  • Selfish ambition

In a place where people lack identity, are dysfunctional in relationships, suppress freedom, and distort narratives, the prevalence of selfish ambition should be no surprise. Indeed, this sin issue is at the root of many of the other issues we have addressed. A post-truth society is narcissistic and entitled. It believes itself to be superior to other societies and its members view themselves as far more intelligent than those who dare disagree with them. The impact of this, if unarrested will be catastrophic.

A society where such features are common-place is undeniably sick. As with any sickness, treatment is needed. But is a cure available? If so, how is it administered? Will it even be accepted? This is what I will deal with in an upcoming post.

Let’s Talk about Planning Events for the New Year

As the calendar year or the church year draws to a close, every minister is faced with the question in the next year: What are we going to do? This is a question that very well may cause anxiety on the part of the minister, but in a church walking through a revitalization process, this may be an especially anxiety-inducing time. Walking through revitalization, church leaders are often forced to balance exciting new initiatives and events with programs from the past. When planning out the church calendar of events in a revitalization context there are three key things to remember: aim, audience, and action.

Aim

As you begin planning your event calendar, begin by considering what the aim of your events is for the year. In most congregations, the aim of events should fit into one of four categories: praying, playing, partnering, and proclaiming. The first two aims, praying and playing, are taken from Eugene Petersen in his book, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. In this text, Petersen writes, “Playing and praying are like the musicians’ art that combines discipline with delight. Music quickens something deep within us. . . . This discipline, while arduous, is not onerous, but is the accepted means for taking us beyond our plodding exterior selves into perceptions and aspirations that stretch us into beauty. And any time we are beyond ourselves, by whatever means, we are closer to God.”

The first aim, praying, should be considered more as a concept than as a task. Events focused on praying are events that are oriented and focused on church members growing in their knowledge of God and his will. These events may be focused times of prayer, times of quiet reflection and fasting, or organized readings and reflections on passages of scripture, but each of them are aimed at knowing, experiencing, and following the Lord.

The second aim, playing, is an aim that has been lost in many churches. With the rise of the church growth movement, churches have often sought to eliminate anything from their schedules that does not directly lead to the achievement of a desired outcome usually centered around a discipleship process. Though I am certainly on board with churches focusing the majority of their time and resources on discipleship, these efforts to bring focus to their ministry processes have forced fellowship and social events off the calendar of many churches. Gone are the days of fellowships, events, and activities focused on the church members growing deeper in their relationships with one another. A church that isn’t connected socially is a church foreign to the New Testament pattern where “all who believed were together and had all things in common…attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:45, 46).

As you plan your event calendar, don’t forget to bring opportunities for fun and fellowship into the church calendar.

The third aim, partnering, often is an outcome of the second aim. As members in your church create personal relationships through playing they often see the need for partnering together in discipleship relationships and the work of the ministry. Titus 2 seems to indicate the type of partnership that is necessary for the life of the Church: older members teaching younger members how to be faithful to the Lord. Many churches aim their events and connecting like age groups together, however it is helpful in the revitalization process to think through how you can encourage intergenerational relationship through events and activities for the sake of discipleship. Events aimed at partnership are events focused on establishing and celebrating discipleship relationships in your congregation.

The fourth aim, proclaiming, are events aimed toward the church living out the Great Commission and taking the Gospel to their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Many churches going through the revitalization process have lost their focus on reaching anyone, but have especially lost their focus on reaching their own Jerusalem, their community. Events aimed at proclaiming will look different from church to church, but a great way to get started in looking for physical needs in your community where your church can shine a light. Many times, ministry leaders feel they must be the ones to uncover these opportunities, but the members of your church are probably far more in tune with the needs of the community than you are. Ask around, look for areas of need that are clear to your congregation and start there. Though you may be seeking to meet a physical need, be sure your people are prepared to proclaim the truth of the gospel to meet the spiritual need of those they encounter.

Audience

After you have thought through the aim of your event be sure to consider the audience for your event. Is the focus on a certain group of church members, the church as a whole, the community as a whole, or a certain group within the community? How you answer this question will impact how you execute your event. Determining your audience will help you determine a lot of the practical event matters such as time, location, and logistical needs. Thinking through the audience of your event will also help you determine what level of involvement you will have to have in the event as a ministry leader. As ministry leaders, it is easy to feel like every event requires your direct involvement. However, Scripture reminds us that the church is one body with many members and one group with many gifts. The great news is you don’t have to be in charge of everything. However, as a shepherd of the flock, you do have to be sure everyone in your flock is cared for. As you think through the audience for events in your church and your community be sure every audience is receiving proper investment.

Action

As you come to the end of event planning within your congregation you must ask yourself one question: What’s next? Each event in your congregation should lead naturally to something else. Every church event should lead to a specific action step for your congregation or community. For example, if you have an event aimed at prayer and finding God’s purpose schedule a time of testimony for a month following to discuss how people are living out the purpose God is calling them to. If you have a potluck event focused on getting to know other church members, encourage each person present to schedule a dinner or coffee outside of the church with someone they didn’t know previously. If you have an event focused on partnership, plan a start date for people to form discipleship mentoring relationships and groups, encouraging them to meet regularly for a specific amount of time. If you have an event focused on proclaiming the Gospel to your community such as a fall festival or Easter egg hunt, be sure they know the next action step is that they are invited to your church service, and more importantly that they are invited into God’s family through a relationship with Christ. Often churches host events without any anticipated action step to follow. An event for event sakes are fine, but events with action steps can lead to eternal implications in the life of your church members and community.

So when you plan your calendar for this year ask yourself: What’s our aim? Who is our audience? What is our intended action step?

Planning Worship Services for the New Year

Eleven plus hours on a plane is a long time! Along with the deluge of thoughts, experiences, and conversations from my time in the Horn of Africa, I was overwhelmed with the reality that a new year was quickly approaching.

I was leaving a context that did not have a complete Bible translation; a context that did not have a complete New Testament translation. I was leaving a context where God is at work, void of resources, and returning to a church revitalization context with a new appreciation for resources and a fresh desire to see God’s work.

While cruising at 37,000ft, I thought, “How can we (lead pastors, teaching pastors, and ministry leaders) have a solid plan for ministry as the new year approaches?” The idea of a new slate of 365 chances to have a meaningful impact, the roughly 150+ opportunities to teach strategically, and the opportunity to take full advantage of key holidays and engage our communities obediently certainly creates mental turbulence.

However, ministry planning doesn’t have to be that way. The way in which we can approach developing a ministry plan for the new year is fourfold.

Pray

I know. The words “prayer” and “pray” are devalued and cliché today. We litter our lives with the words, but our life and ministries reveal the glaring void of the power of Christ. Dr. Dan Crawford, Senior Professor Emeritus of Evangelism and Missions at SWBTS, and a personal friend says it this way: “We’ve mastered prayer when all else fails. How about this? Let’s master prayer before all else fails.” Take some time to get away and pray before the first decision or plan for the new year is made regarding our Lord’s bride. You’ll be glad you did. As you pray, you’ll better process, with clarity, both the upcoming year and the year that’s winding down.

We’ve mastered prayer when all else fails. How about this? Let’s master prayer before all else fails.
–Dr. Dan Crawford

Process

To make a plan you need to know where you are going. More importantly, you must know where you’ve been. Each year I evaluate everything. Sermons, groups, community engagement, outreach, discipleship, first experiences, overall vision, etc. . . . are open and fair game for evaluation. The tool I use is called a SWOT evaluation. It’s an approach whereby the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of areas of ministry can be analyzed. For example, start with a general evaluation of your church family. Analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats the church faces. After a thorough and fair evaluation, celebrate strengths, but focus-specific ministry plans for the new year on how to improve weaknesses and take advantage of new opportunities.

Without a way to process where you’ve been, knowing where to go can be a daunting task. Once you take time to intentionally evaluate where you’ve been, a framework for determining a purposeful plan for the new year develops quickly. After you’ve taken time to process where you are and where you want to go, start planning.

Plan

When establishing a ministry plan for the new year, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats tend to be the key areas for strategic planning. However, don’t neglect to plan around the strengths. Think through key touch points of the church’s ministry.

For example, once you’ve processed where your people are and where you want to lead them, take time to plan your preaching/teaching schedule for the year. Look at your preaching schedule as a process through which you provide a path for your people to grow in truth, spiritual disciplines, doctrine, and obedience. This is a key opportunity to think through strategic sermon series and book studies.

As you plan your preaching, be sure to focus on key holidays. While Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter tend to be the holidays we think people will pack the place out for a service, Mother’s Day and holidays that honor service members are opportunities that are growing in impact over the traditional holidays. Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day are key occasions when community impact can be maximized, especially in a church revitalization context. As you think through holidays, be sure to pay close attention to the demographics of your community as you plan.

In addition, as you plan ministry to equip your people, be sure you strategically plan opportunities for them to put into action what they are being taught. For example, think through ways you can provide opportunities for your church to engage the community throughout the year. Take time to sit down with community leaders and seek ways the church can assist needs in the community. You may be surprised at what you find.

The process of putting a solid ministry plan in place can overwhelm. Remember, pray, process and then plan. When the thought creeps in, “Is planning worth it?,” know that it is. As it has been said, “He who fails to plan plans to fail.” Once a plan is established, pursue it.

Pursue

Often people grimace at the thought of a plan, especially in ministry. Remember, the Lord has entrusted a flock to you for you to shepherd. To shepherd well, a plan is essential. For those who think, “What about being led by the Holy Spirit?” It’s healthy to remember Proverbs 16:9, “A man may plan his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” You plan and trust the Lord with the plan. If He needs to deter the plan, He’ll direct your steps.

As shepherds, we are called to do everything we do as unto the Lord (1 Cor 10:31). We are called to die to self while knowing that as we do, the Lord is producing life in others (2 Cor 4:12). Pray, Process, Plan, and Pursue. It will cost you time and effort, but it is well worth the cost and time for you and your people.