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Sparking ‘Great Commission Thinking’: What It Will Take to Restore Our Lost Missionary Spirit

Only by sending our best will the whole church taste the benefits of being on God’s mission.
I was recently asked to describe why our organization wants to send missionaries into new, uncharted, unreached contexts.

The potential answers are many, and rather obvious—to glorify God, to rescue the lost, to go to places of most need, etc. But those weren’t the reasons we cited.

Instead, we stated that we want to pioneer unengaged fields and people groups to spark what we called “Great Commission thinking.”

Why did we choose this phrase? And isn’t that backwards? Wouldn’t we want to think and then go?

The Mission Behind the Mission

When we go to unengaged fields and place a gospel witness where it wasn’t previously, that is a cause for celebration and praise to God. But there is potential for even more than that important outcome. As we communicate that event, we have opportunity to invest in others around us, to see their hearts and minds and imaginations moved in ways that also glorify God.

On our team, we call that added benefit igniting Great Commission thinking.

The Great Commission was issued by Jesus to his followers and backed by his authority. His words are found in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus’ followers are to make disciples of all nations. We, Jesus’ followers, are to be making disciples of every nation, participating in establishing his church in every part of the populated world.

Yet our minds, hearts, wills, and imaginations need to be raised to the level where we not only memorize and repeat the Great Commission, but that we freely obey it. So, when we witness believers around us following the Great Commission mandate, our own Great Commission thinking, feeling, and action are stirred. We internalize Jesus’ words. We begin to notice lost people more often. Pray for fervently. Step out in faith. Do hard things.

Whenever we see missionary spirit ignited—or reignited—in the history of the church, we see this sort of Great Commission thinking and action at play that we have seen at different times in our history. That missionary spirit was displayed by Jesus’ disciples, and in more modern times, by the modern missionary movement sparked by William Carey. It has been carried on over centuries by individuals like Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, and Jim Elliott. These disciples were willing to go and risk all in following Jesus’ mandate and authority.

Beyond One Agency

I have the privilege of serving as a leader in the ABWE global family of ministries. This month, we publicly launched an initiative to open new fields in strategic, unreached areas of the world. But the reasoning behind the initiative stretches beyond our organization. There’s a very particular reason we’ve identified “Great Commission thinking” as our goal.

In our busy world, even our churches have gotten busier. Many meet only on Sunday morning. Our services have gotten shorter. We hear our pastors present God’s word—which is vitally important—but sometimes our engagement with the church doesn’t go much deeper. Our mission in the world is often pushed to the margins of church life.

We’re convicted that our churches need to be restored to a missionary spirit as much as we often do in our own lives. That’s because obeying Matthew 28 isn’t optional. Some of us will be involved in different ways—some will send, some will give, and some will go. The mandate includes every spot on the globe—the easier, “reached” places and the hard ones that remain unreached.

But in order for this missional zeal to spread across our churches, we need to see examples of faithful believers stepping out in faith, leading the way, doing difficult things, setting an example.

Getting Practical

It sounds great to talk about a movement of missionaries and churches who are contagious with zeal. But if we recognize the problem in our own lives and in our own churches, we must take action where God has placed us already.

Here are some practical ways to restore a missionary spirit to your church:

  • Get involved in placing missionaries among unreached peoples. Does your church have any programs or initiatives to motivate and send new missionaries? Has your church identified a people group or country it’s burdened for?

  • Ask your pastor to preach a series from missions texts like Matthew 28:18-20 or the book of Acts.

  • Invite missionaries for a weekend of ministry. Fill Saturday with meetings for men, women, and teens. Then, on Sunday, host a combined class of all adults or children.

  • Include monthly missionary moments for your congregation. Take 10 minutes on a Sunday to highlight your missionaries with a video or video call from them addressing their ministry or a topic of your choice.

  • Offer a missions-focused elective in Sunday school taught by your missionaries remotely or someone from your congregation with a heart for missions.

  • Invite the church to read a good missionary biography and host a book discussion on a Saturday morning over breakfast.

The Big Picture

To see the fulfillment of Jesus’ mandate, it will take more than short-term trips. Those who go must plan on years of involvement to do the hard work of learning language and customs, making relationships with national leaders and partners, and trusting the Spirit of God to move in hearts.

Are we ready to pray more, send our best, and give unreservedly?

A rising tide lifts all boats, and a handful of daring, sober-minded missionaries reaching hard places will have an undeniable effect on the whole body of Christ. That’s why we launched the Open Initiative, and that’s why we’re praying to see God spark Great Commission thinking among all his people—restoring the missionary spirit we need in our churches and ourselves.


You can be a part of igniting a missionary spirit in your church. Sign up to partner with the Open Initiative.

About the Author

Harry serves as an administrator over ABWE missionaries in Islamic South Asian countries.

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