My thinking is changing about the great commission given by Jesus to his disciples. These
days, I think it’s more like a cup of water than it is a proselytizing tour with Bible in hand. I’m a product of my early training in evangelical religion and I’m trying to get over it. I was taught the great commission was about convincing people to confess Jesus as Lord, get them baptized, give them a membership card, and write their names on the church roles. Why think any different?
Having your name on a church directory means little when it comes to filling a deep hunger and thirst in people. Membership in a church has long been part of the culture,
except that it’s part of a culture that is waning. It’s waning because institutional religion isn’t meeting the needs of people who are hurting. The church still believes it is God’s gift to the world, when it was Christ who was God’s gift to the world.
I like the story I heard of the young salesman who failed to close on a big sale. He was
complaining to his sales manager, “I did everything I was supposed to do; I went by book: I did everything perfectly. I guess it just proves that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The sales manager said, “You’re job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.”
We do a very poor job in the church of making people thirsty for what we have to offer. To
promise dehydrated people a drink of water that they can sip after they die does very little to draw people into your fellowship today. If a church has so little to offer a hurting world today, why does it think people should be drawn to it?
What’s the Water?
The first half of the great commission is to go out and make disciples – which means to make students. It doesn’t mean to make worker bees. Make them want to learn more
about Jesus. Make them want to study Jesus to see what makes him tick. Make them thirsty to know more. Trying to force water on someone who isn’t thirsty is a form of waterboarding.
The second half of the commission is the well from which the water flows. This is what
will attract them to the body of Christ. Jesus said, “Teach them to attend to all the things I charged you to do.” In Matthew, Jesus charged his disciples to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned. This is what it means to be Christ in the world. Only when we act like Christ will people be drawn to us, just like he always attracted a crowd wherever he went. Where there is no healing or feeding going on, there is no Christ present.
My church feeds children in the Christian schools in Haiti through a program called
Trinity/HOPE. Children get a meal of beans and rice every day they attend school. They ask, “Where did the food come from?” They are told that some people in Kentucky who love Jesus sent it. Then they ask, “Who is this Jesus?” They want to know more about this man who inspires someone to give away food to people they don’t even know.
When we give to stop a belly from hurting, to stop a wound from getting infected, to prevent a mosquito from spreading malaria, to dig a well for clean water, we are bringing good news and God’s love to the world. Jesus never asked for any kind of repayment. He gave his love and help and then only told a few of his recipients to go do the same. No membership cards. No baptisms required. No study groups. Just go and do the same. Spread a little love. Doing this, you spread a little bit of God to others. And they can drink, or not drink, as they choose.
And, if you happen to be the one on the receiving end of the love, then the water is the experience of that love – given to you so you can share the experience with others. To drink of that experience is like a cold cup of water on a 95 degree day. It refreshes you. When you tell your neighbor how good it was to know and experience the love of God today, he may want a drink, too. You won’t have to sell a thing.