February 3, 2010 by Dave Harvey
Categories: Church planting
I’ve got a friend named Jim. He’s an evangelist. An evangelist is a guy who takes his wife to a romantic restaurant and then spends the meal witnessing to the waiter. That’s Jim, and that’s a true story, but probably for another time.
In my world, Jim exists to help me—and the other guys on our pastoral team—break out of the church and into the world. Jim’s on a mission to make sure our community hears the gospel and that every member of our church is sharing it. Each week, Jim arranges for one of the pastors to go out witnessing, and that’s what put me on a local campus standing in front of a student—I’ll call him Jesse.
As a philosophy student, Jesse was wired for God-talk. As for me, …umm, I was trying to remember my name, how to string words together to form complete sentences and, oh yes, the gospel. Eventually I fumbled through it and Jesse appreciated the conversation. But I don’t think he walked away impressed by my power or presence.
Church planters can relate. Sure, the field is ripe, but the worker feels weak, alone, and ill-equipped for the moment. But even when we feel like we’re laboring alone, our mandate—the Great Commission—fills the field with one magnificent promise.
Check it out in Matthew 28:20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Our commission is great (always!) because it comes with the promise of God’s enduring presence.
God’s Powerful Presence
Think about it: we are sent by the risen Savior to do his ministry in the earth. So we spill out of the locker room with the Great Commission, the greatest pre-game speech ever delivered, ringing in our ears. Through the tunnel of planning and preparation we run, ready to burst out on the field of church-planting opportunity. But then we realize something: we’re on the enemy’s turf and there is opposition everywhere. Suddenly our numbers seem puny and our playbook pathetically thin and predictable. It is for this moment that Jesus ended his Great Commission with these words:
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We can tend to extract this verse from the context of the Great Commission and slap it on all kind of situations. The primary context of this promise informs us that God is with us as we go. As we seek to plant churches, God is with us. As we stammer to share the gospel with guys like Jesse, God is with us. As we huddle up, looking to call the first play on our launch Sunday, God is with us.
Jesus doesn’t toss out this promise as a stray thought—“And dude, by the way, I’m always around if you need me.” No, when he says, “behold,” he means, “Listen up, you need to know this!” “Behold” typically precedes a payload. And the payload is his permanent presence as we go.
In other words, what he’ll do is always more important than what we’ll do.
Go into all the world and make disciples? That’s great.
Jesus with us? That’s greater.
Baptize and teach? Seriously great.
Jesus with us? Amazingly greater.
Planting churches? Exhilaratingly great.
Jesus with us? Even greater.
God’s Enduring Presence
And this isn’t a time-determined promise. He isn’t going to be with us for three quarters of the game and then hang out in the luxury box for crunch time. He is with us always…even to the end of the age. He is with us every moment in equal measure. And he will be there when the final whistle blows, when the final trumpet sounds. It’s at that time that the mission will be done and we will be with him in glory. Always and without end.
There are eight, or maybe it’s now nine, church planters connected to Sovereign Grace Ministries starting churches over the next year. Can anything strengthen their hearts more than Jesus’s words?
“I am with you always.”
To Dave who is breaking ground for us in Sydney, Australia; Toby in urban San Francisco; Songhwan in South Korea; Kenny in suburban Philly; David planting a church in an unreached region in southeast Asia; Eric in Arlington, Virginia; Wilbroad in Zambia and others already in the field or just preparing to launch—Jesus reminds you:
“I am with you always.”
How about you? Do you have any doubts about your participation in the Great Commission? Christ is with us. Do you have any doubts that your church can make a difference, that your church can actually raise the number of conversions? The Savior is with us. Do you have any doubts that your people can gain an enthusiasm to actually become a church-planting church? The Savior is with us in our going.
Part of the reason I was sharing the gospel with Jesse is because I want to do something great for God. I want to play in the game and score something for God’s glory. But the Great Commission dwarfs any idea of my contribution. The Commission is great in spite of me. It’s great because it comes from one with great authority. It’s great because it is entrusted to a great church. It is great because it graciously allows even people like us to participate in it. It is great because it carries a great promise…even to the end of the age.
That’s truly awesome. So next time you’re planning to share the gospel (and I hope it’s soon!), remember the promise: God is with us in our going. That’s what makes it a GREAT commission!
leads international expansion and church planting for Sovereign Grace
Ministries and is based in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. For more
information about the Sovereign Grace church-planting process, click here.