PURPOSE + CHURCH = Growing, Going Learners (my consecration sermon, Matthew 28:19)

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 5/14/17.

“1 Purpose & 3 How-tos ” (long version)

“The “great” purpose, goal, commission, charge.”

In your…
> going, meet their needs daily (prepare the soil) “attendant circumstance participle = !” (an aorist participle preceding an aorist main verb)
> teaching them something you have learned (plant a seed of truth)
> baptizing, as a public statement (water w/ acct)
>> Church purpose: nurture learners
– matheteusate = (mauth-a-two-sa-tay)
– A community of authentic, ongoing learners.
– (BW > Christ is commanding his followers not to produce experts, but rather to foster a community of authentic learners.)
>> Personal purpose:
– Enroll (yourself & others) in Jesus’ school (McGavran)
– Foster active, ongoing learners about their Heavenly Father (BW)
+ + TO DO: each day teach someone what you have learned. + +

Option B:
> first, meet their needs daily (prepare the soil)
> teach them something you have learned (plant a seed of truth)
> pray for them (water it with prayer)
+ ToDo: each day teach someone what you have learned. +

1 imperative verb: in English typically a single action-word, followed by an exclamation mark e.g.…

  • “RUN!” or “FIGHT!” or  “EAT!”
  • = Tells you what to do = 1 purpose.

3 participles: “Participles are “ing” words, e.g….

  • Words like “swimming” and “running” and “eating”
  • = Tells you how to do it = 3 hows.

Participles (“ing” words) in Greek will, depending on who or what they refer to, end with something like “ontes” or “entes” just as our participles typically end with “ing.”  … they are…
1. Poreuthentes  – πορευθέντες
2. Baptidzontes – βαπτίζοντες
3. Didaskontes – διδάσκοντες
+ mathayteusatay (μαθητεύσατε)
“mauth-a-two-sa-tay”
> a 2nd-person plural imperative verb,
= “y’all” (like “y’all eat”)

“Go” is an “attendant circumstance participle” Daniel Wallace’s Exegetical Syntax of the NT offers an introduction to the attendant circumstance participle p. 640, with Great Commission example with explanation on p 645. Retrieved from http://thinktheology.org/2013/11/07/greek-geeking-the-great-commission-in-matthew


GREAT COMMISSION & How Its 4 Verbs Tell Us Our Purpose

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

…the primary goal of every church is not to influence the community for the better, provide a warm place of fellowship, sponsor excellent teaching or even to survive. The church of God has a higher, more encompassing call (that, by the way, includes the previous three tasks).[i] To understand this, let’s look at Jesus’ last and most poignant instructions to his followers (Figure 5.2 which has been called the “Great Commission”)

Figure 5.2 Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt. 29:18-20 CEB)

(commissioning verbs are underlined)

Jesus came near and spoke to them,

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

What makes this a Great Commission[ii]?

The Great Commission is the label that has been given to these final and central instructions Jesus gave his followers in Matthew 28:18-20. In this phrase Jesus is literally “commissioning” or “recruiting” all followers down through the ages into his mission. This commissioning is akin to an “official directive,” a “direct order” and a “command,” such as a military conscript might receive upon entering service. In fact, military personnel reading this will no doubt remember their own commissioning into the armed forces. Veterans have told me this was a powerful and moving experience, with one veteran stating, “You weren’t supposed to have tears in your eyes when you were commissioned, but I did. After 9-11 it was clear to me that I was no longer talking about serving my country, I was doing it! I was ready to put my life on the line for my country.”

Christians, too, are called to put their lives on the line in Jesus’ great commissioning. Here is what others have said about this passage (Figure 5.3):

FIGURE ©Whitesel CURE 5.3 Comments on Great Comm copy.jpg

Jesus came near and spoke to them,

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

The Four Verbs of Jesus’ Great Commission

Because this Great Commission is so important, it is not surprising that each word, each phrase that Jesus uttered in Matthew 28:19-20 seems to have been chosen carefully to convey his message. Jesus undoubtedly knew that believers down through history would return to this passage as they contemplated the goal of their spiritual community.

And, in this commission Jesus used four commissioning verbs. Because the Greek language (in which much of the New Testament was written) is much more precise than today’s English, Jesus was able to use a special wording that stressed one verb as the primary verb over the other three. In Figure 5.4 let’s look closer at the verbs in his Great Commission and see if we can locate the one that Jesus emphasized as its central aim.

FIGURE ©Whitesel CURE 5.4 Four Verbs Great Comm copy.jpg

Jesus came near and spoke to them,

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

Finding the main verb

In the English, the four verbs seem equal. But, when Jesus spoke these words, he pronounced one verb with a special spelling, thereby indicating that this verb was the main verb or “goal” of the passage. Which verb was Jesus pointing to as the goal of his Great Commission? You must wait a few paragraphs to find out.

Take away the three helping verbs to find the main verb

Now, you are probably thinking, “What are the other verbs then?” The three other verbs are called participles, which means they are “helping verbs” that tell “how” the main verb will be accomplished.[iv] Jesus chose specific spellings of the participles to show that three verbs are participles telling you “how” to accomplish the main verb.[v]

So, which three verbs are participles (telling us “how”) and which one verb is the main verb (telling us the “goal”)? The spelling of the Greek verbs indicates the following:[vi]

FIGURE ©Whitesel CURE 1-2 Verbs Great Comm copy.jpg

FIGURE ©Whitesel CURE 3-4 Verbs Great Comm copy.jpg

Therefore, the uncommon church’s goal must not the “going,” the “baptizing” or even the “teaching.” These are the “hows.” In the words Jesus chose he made clear that for the uncommon church he was founding, it was “making disciples” that was the goal.

What Do Disciples look like?

As a young junior high student, I heard a pastor say we are to “make disciples.” Being an inattentive youth, I never quite grasped a correct image of what this looked like. From my rudimentary knowledge of the Bible, I pictured Jesus’ disciples and figured the church should make more longhaired individuals with beards, robes and sandals. Because the only youthful image I could conjure up were the “hippies” of the era, I wondered in my naïveté, “Was the preacher really telling for us to go out and produce more hippies?” Now this was not what the preacher intended. But the word disciple had become so archaic and tied in my mind to first century images that a modern depiction was needed.

Picturing a Disciple

To picture a disciple we begin with the Greek word matheteusate, which means “a learner, a pupil or an apprentice.”[i] It carries the image of a trainee or a student still in school more than it depicts an expert. Christ is commanding his followers not to produce experts, but rather to foster a community of authentic learners. Following Jesus should feel like you are enrolled in his school of learning. Therefore, a church is not a cadre of experts, but a collage of fellow learners.

Theologians have sought to convey the rich and multifaceted meaning of the verb: “make disciples” in several ways.

Donald McGavran[ii] said …… “It means enroll in my (Jesus’) school…”

Eddie Gibbs[iii] stated ………… “It is learning, not simply through being given information, but in learning how to use it. Discipleship is an apprenticeship rather than an academic way of learning. It is learning by doing.”

James Engel[iv] summarized…“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.”

An Up-to-date Image of a Disciple

From a closer look at the words Jesus used, we see that the goal of every church is to help people become “a community of active, ongoing learners.”[v] It is not just to baptize or to teach as we are going out (though all of these are “hows” of the disciple making process). The goal, toward which a church should focus its attention and its resources is to produce people that are actively learning about their heavenly Father.

Still, this goal includes binding up their wounds, meeting their needs before they even know who Christ is, standing up for their justice and righting their wrongs. But all of these worthy actions if they become the goal, will make your mission misdirected. God’s goal, the purpose he has for every church, is to reconnect his wayward offspring to himself (the essence of the missio Dei). And, the church’s goal (Figure 5.6) is to foster this reunification by helping people become learners about a loving, seeking Father.

The Goal of the Church Defined

While the common church has mistaken many “hows” for the “goal,” Figure 5.6 is the goal against which the uncommon church will be measured. In our commissioning, Jesus has handed us a different measuring stick.

Figure 5.6 The Goal of a Church

The goal of a church is …

To make active, ongoing learners.

(i.e. learning about a heavenly Father who loves them, sacrificed his Son for them and who wants to reunite and empower them.)

Jesus wants the uncommon church to focus upon reuniting his wayward offspring with him by making active, ongoing learners about his great love, sacrifice and future for them. And so, be careful not to make some of the following common missteps.

  • Teaching without learning: If a church is teaching many people, but few are actively learning over a long period of time, the church is not “making active, ongoing learners.”
  • Having learned once, but not learning now: If a person has learned once, perhaps in the past at school or as a child but is not learning now, then the church is not “making active, ongoing learners.”
  • Baptizing without ongoing learning: And, if the church is baptizing many souls, but there is little ongoing education about what it means to follow Christ, then that church is not “making active, ongoing learners.”

In the next chapter we will learn “HOW” to make learners. But, in this chapter we have seen the “WHY” is because nurturing “learners” is the goal of the Great Commission that Christ has given us.

Download the chapter here:  book-whitesel-excerpt-cure-chpt-5-why-learners

Footnotes:

[i] Walter Bauer, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 486-487.

[ii] Donald McGavran, Effective Evangelism: A Theological Mandate (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Pub. Co., 1988), p. 17.

[iii] Eddie Gibbs, Body Building Exercises for the Local Church (London: Falcon Press, 1979), p. 74.

[iv] James F. Engel, Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice (New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 66.

[v] The “ongoing” emphasis in making disciples is created by both the preface of Matthew 28:18-20 (whereby Jesus declares his command is a result of non-temporal authority, v. 18) and by the aorist tense of make disciples, which can convey the sense of an action that should commence at once.

[i]I am not saying that winning souls to Christ is not important and central to God’s mission, for it is. As I have stated in the first chapters of this book (and in every one of my previous nine books) reuniting wayward offspring to their heavenly Father so they can receive salvation from their sin, gain new purpose and enter eternal life is the mission of God (i.e. missio Dei) in which we are called to participate (Matt. 28:19-20). However, the point I am making here is that “winning souls” is a supernatural connection that though we can help facilitate, is something only God can accomplish (see for instance Acts 2:47 where Luke writes, “The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved”). Jesus, in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, gives his church not the task of soul-saving (he reserves that right for himself), but rather gives the church the task of “making learners about him.” If a church is making learners about God, then he can supernaturally connect with them through their growing knowledge of his love and bring them into a reconciled relationship with himself. Thus, in this chapter I will show that “making learners of Christ” is the task for which the church should aim, and when we connect people with their loving Father this way, he can add “daily to the community those who were being saved.”

[ii] David Bosch has rightly pointed out that you cannot fully understand the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 without an understanding of Matthew’s gospel as a whole. The reader who wants a fuller appreciation for the power and influence of the Great Commission in context should see David J. Bosch’s chapter “Matthew: Mission as Disciples-Making” in Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 20th ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), pp. 56-83.

[iii] Hudson Taylor quoted by Stan Toler, Practical Guide to Solo Ministry: How Your Church Can Thrive When You Lead Alone (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2008), p. 136; C. T. Studd quoted by David l. Marshall, To Timbuktu and Beyond: A Missionary Memoir (New York: Thomas Nelson, 2010), p. 87; William Carey quoted by A. Scott Moreau, Gary B. McGee and Gary R. Corwin in Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), p. 201; and C. S. Lewis, The Complete C. S. Lewis (New York: HarperOne, 2002), p. 96.

[iv] Daniel B. Wallace, The Basis of New Testament Syntax (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 274-275. A good way to think of this is that the participles (go, baptizing, teaching) tell “how” making disciples is done. Thus, to the question, “How do you make disciples?” one could answer “by going (means) and baptizing (manner) and teaching” (manner).

[v] The relationship between the three participles and the imperative “make disciples” has been described by Robert Culver as “the words translated ‘baptizing’ and ‘teaching’ are participles. While these participles are immensely important the imperative ‘make disciples’ is of superlative importance.” “What is the Church’s Commission,” Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, July 1968), p. 244.

[vi] Daniel B. Wallace, The Basis of New Testament Syntax (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 280 states “a greater emphasis is placed on the action of the main verb than on the participle. That is, the participle is something of a prerequisite before the action of the main verb can occur” (italics Wallace). In other words, the “going,” “baptizing” and “teaching” are prerequisites that must occur before the action of the main verb (“making disciples”) can take place.

Excerpted from Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan for Church Health, chapter “How to Grow Learners.” Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CURE Chpt 5 WHY LEARNers

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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

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