November 2017

Dear Sisters & Brothers,

This letter will appear in the newsletters of both Batley and Westborough but it is a letter I believe to be applicable to most churches I know. When Jesus leaves the disciples at the end of Matthew's gospel account he speaks in this way:

So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. When a they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Then Jesus came up and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

This closing of the gospel according to Matthew is known as the "Great Commission" by many church traditions. It has about it a sense of dynamism in its imperative to "go" to "nations". And because it has a dynamic quality about it many people imagine the great crusading evangelistic rallies and "mission" initiatives involving great evangelical leaders. If we then consider the word "make" in the midst of "go" and "nations" and we imagine the powers of persuasion of charismatic evangelists then we may be persuaded to hear the word "make" in the sense of compel. We may remember as children for instance, feebly giving the excuse for a misdemeanour "the big boy made me do it". Or in another setting in the face of resistance somebody saying "I'll make them do it" or "I'll make them see my point of view (change their mind)" etc. There is plenty in church history that can lead us to this hearing of what Jesus is saying.

What troubles me about this hearing of Jesus words is that it can lead to a romantic longing for heroes of old and revival of legend. Thoughts such as these can lead to a sense that we are not up to the job; that it is specialist work. Such thoughts can lead to a disempowered church.

Let us remember that the speech comes at the end of, what most think is, 3 years of Jesus walking and talking and living alongside a relatively small group of ordinary blokes and some women. All that shared experience, is life lived together, discipling, in a similar way to an old fashioned apprenticeship. In that sort of a relationship "make" becomes about shaping and forming; moulding rather than compelling and teaching along a shared journey through life and kingdom. To "go" then simply means to leave where we are now and where we might be comfortable. And "nations"? The Greek word "ethne" is translated here as "nations" but elsewhere in scripture is the same root word which becomes "gentiles" when translated into English, and could just as easily be "those other than Jews" which is a bit clumsy, so we could shorten it to "others".

What I am suspicious of is that we risk missing the point of what Jesus was saying. If we see the broad sweep of the commission, we may deduce it is for the gifted specialists in church to evangelise the nations. Instead what I believe Jesus is saying to a small group of ordinary people is "I have stepped out of my comfort zone (heaven) to remould your lives as we've lived the kingdom life these past years together; you step out and remould the lives of others as you live the kingdom with them (expect them to be like you so give it 3 years) - in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit."

The biggest single failing I see of the church over past generations and this one is that we have failed to make disciples; first of each other and therefore secondly, of the others who are not us, that Jesus longs for us to step out to, in his name. The challenge before us, the reworded great commission, is to step out (go) and live kingdom alongside, whilst reshaping (make disciples) others (nations). That starts with us, and as we encounter others, means re-encountering Jesus.

Tek care,


Tek care