EFFECTIVE EVANGELISM & Understanding the 4 Verbs of the Great Commission

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2010.

Biblical Support for an Ongoing Journey

As seen earlier, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 is the apex toward which the Great Commandment (Mark 12:31) aims and instructs.[i] Within the Great Commission are four verbs: go, make disciples, baptize and teach. Though in the English they appear identical, in the Greek only one of these verbs is the main verb, and the other three describe it (the other three are participles, i.e. helping verbs that modify or explain the main verb).

Which then is the main verb, the one that the other three are describing? The Greek language holds the answer, for the unique spelling of matheteusate indicates that “make disciples” is the main verb, and thus “to make disciples” is Jesus’ choice for the goal of our going, baptizing and teaching.

But what exactly is this disciple that we are commissioned to foster? Matheteusate is derived from Greek word for “learner” and means to “make learners.” McGavran stresses that matheteusate means “enroll in my (Jesus’) school.”[ii]

And yet, the Greek grammar holds more surprises. Matheteusate has a unique Greek spelling, indicating that it is in the imperative voice and the present perfect tense. These grammatical constructions tell us the following.

  • The imperative voice indicates that to make learners is a crucial and urgent
  • The present tense denotes that making learners should be a current
  • And the perfect tense carries the idea that making learners should be a continual and ongoing

Therefore, the present and ongoing imagery of a journey becomes a welcome metaphor. Engel said,

In short, discipleship requires continued obedience over time…. Thus becoming a disciple is a process beginning when one received Christ, continuing over a lifetime as one is conformed to His image (Phil 1:6), and culminating in the glory at the end of the age. In this broader perspective, the Great Commission never is fulfilled but always is in the process of fulfillment.[iii]

In our search for a culture-current metaphor we see the image of a “journey” emerging, with “traveling wayfarers” moving forward to encounter new “waypoints.” For churches to focus too narrowly on a few waypoints, slows and disconnects the process as travelers will have to seek out new churches to help them travel on the next leg of their journey. Many wayfarers will find the change too awkward, and many will not make the leap at all.

In the following chapters we will carefully examine each waypoint. In the process we will encounter personal stories that illustrate each waypoint and learn what churches can do to help travelers negotiate each point on life’s most important journey.

[i] Still, the mandates are two parts of the same process. Engel however makes a persuasive argument that Wagner (Evangelical Missions Quarterly, vol. 12 [July, 1976], 177-180) separates too greatly the cultural mandate from the evangelistic mandate (Contemporary Christian Communications, 66-68). Engel argues from Scripture and from practicality that it is a “grave missiological error” to separate the cultural mandate from the evangelical mandate at all. It is toward re-coupling these mandates that metaphors of a journey and waypoints are employed.

[ii] McGavran, Effective Evangelism, 17.

[iii] Engel, Contemporary Christian Communications, 66.

Excerpted from Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2010).

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints Introduction & Appendix

keywords: make disciples