Maps are only useful if one knows how to use them. Understanding the scale, and how to measure distances, becomes essential to accurate navigation. Getting lost is no picnic. To get where one wants to go, a traveler needs to learn how to compare the miniature, two-dimensional map to the dynamic, three-dimensional reality facing them.
When GPS units where just coming into popular use, I spent a day exploring off-trail in unfamiliar woods with a friend who had just purchased his own high-tech mapping gadget. Unfortunately, when we got out of the truck, he forgot to set his current position before venturing alone into the unknown. Hours later, through faint static, I began to hear panic over my hand-held radio. The digital map he had been following, did not match his frightening reality, and as darkness set in, he didn’t know how to find his way back to the truck.
In like manner, a Christian needs to learn how to best use the available measuring tools to figure out what Jesus requires of the Church commission and how that helps guide their faithful walk through this life. To do the Great Commission according to God’s will, we need to carefully measure what is expected and how well we are progressing.
This series will focus on 6 features of the map:
Defining the Commission
Commissioning the Commission
Sustaining the Commission
Maintaining the Commission
Measuring the Commission
Culmination of Mission
Measuring the Church commission begins in the word of God. The initial post in this series highlighted 7 important details in understanding what the commission is about, that come directly from Jesus’ committed mission. The rest of Scripture provides guidelines, adjustments, reviews, and additional commands that help lead or re-direct a believer who is trying to go along the path set by God.
The more time spent studying God’s words, the more likely a person will pick up tricks-of-the-trade on how to skillfully navigate their choices, as they go into all the world doing the work of the Lord. The more practice, the more habit; which translates into better and quicker fine-tuning. The need for constant course corrections are a fact of life for believers who know they still struggle with the natural distortions of human nature.
Whether piloting boats on open water, or balancing a bike down a path, or driving a car between the lines, the best drivers know that constant slight course corrections are far better than waiting too long and trying to make large re-directions to stay on track. In the same way, a Christian will fare much better, if they train themselves to look for constant belief and behavior adjustments per biblical instructions.
Another factor in grasping how to measure progress in sharing the gospel is in understanding our mission field. The general command is to go into all the world, but the specific call to each part of the Body will focus somewhere on a subset of that larger mission. In other words, you will have a focused territory that belongs to you and to those with whom you are yoked together in Christian service.
Trying to do someone else’s mission will be fruitless. We must concentrate on what the Lord sets before each of us. In response to Peter’s question on what the Lord intended for John, Jesus replied, “what is that to you? You must follow me.” The call is to focus doing what we are called to, while doing what we can to support others, without taking over their ministry.
Your mission field may be praying and supporting foreign missionaries in other lands. It might be going into your local neighborhood. It might be reaching out through modern technologies to a diverse audience. It might be reaching into the lives of work associates, or fellow members of special-interest clubs.
One mission field that most everyone has, is their own family. Those who neglect their own are called “worse than unbelievers”, because God puts a high priority on going with the commission into our most intimate relationships.
In contrast to worldly pressures to drag mothers into economic contribution, God says that women will especially contribute to salvation by how they train up their children as Christians (1 Tim 2:15). Godly women have a very high commission. Kids are so important to Jesus, that the entire Kingdom requires that everyone resemble that most significant mission field.
The Church commission applies to young and old, us and them, obscure and famous, familiar and unfamiliar, sinner and saint, non-believer and long-time believer. However, not all are called to concentrate on reaching the same group of people. It is important to stay focused on what the Lord sets before us, and measure our progress to that audience, until the Spirit sends us onward.
This shouldn’t isolate us, however. We are to remain tied together as a Church, concentrating where God has placed us, but also supporting those commission-goers around us as we can. The commission is a team effort, so whenever possible avoid going it alone, either as a group or as individuals.
One of the identified fields that often gets a bad rap is defining what was meant by “all nations”. It is common today to hear the claim that Jesus should be returning soon, because we have finally reached all nations of the globe with the gospel message. That is an error of interpretation. First of all, sharing the gospel does not mean we have completed the commission. It is doubtful that any group has been taught everything Jesus commanded and no longer needs to be discipled. There is far more involved in doing the commission than just gaining converts.
Secondly, the Bible tells us that God has set the exact times and boundaries for all nations throughout history, and that is not determined by how many governments exist at any one point in time. Who knows how many nations have yet to come into existence? The call is to go into all nations; it is not to count how many of those nations exist in our day and call the mission completed. The point is that we are commissioned to go to everyone, without neglecting any corner of civilization, and to not stop doing so until the Lord returns.
“It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” (Lu 12:43-44)
Maps have what is called a key that defines how to interpret the symbols and features. That key for rightly measuring commission efforts is recorded with invisible ink. God’s map has a hidden code, a fire-wall that prevents access by unbelievers and the disobedient.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18)
Measuring the commission requires dependence upon revelation through the Holy Spirit. Reading Scripture rightly requires submission to the interpretation of the Spirit. Assessing the fruits of our ministry needs the Spirit of God to show what pleases God and what needs correction.
“In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:11-15)
Scripture gives helpful hints in what to look for, for those willing to submit their opinions to God’s evidence. Here is a description by Peter on a useful approach to self-measuring:
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 1:5-8)
Paul wrote a similar description about the fruits of the Spirit, for which the call is to grow in them more-and-more. All these need to be considered in the context of applying the Lord’s commission to the Church, as well as interpreted according to how the Bible speaks of them. In summary, we should be measuring our efforts per how the likeness and character of Jesus is increasing in all we do as we go.
Beware of numbers. Measuring how many disciples come to faith by our efforts is dangerous math. Counting baptisms or ministry participation is a fools errand. Assessing our success according to the size of our church, program, or following, will result in skewed interpretations that do not depend on the Spirit’s evidence.
Faithfulness to the mission may not show any numbers for those tasked with plowing up ground and preparing the soil in hearts. Missions may appear empty on the surface, when planting seeds and even when watering in the early stages of sharing Jesus. Desired results may only show themselves after we pass the baton to the next runner in our race. Depend on the Spirit’s evidence and not on your sight or other’s opinions to evaluate progress.
A valuable measuring tool may be in listening to what comes out of your own mouth: in detail, in volume, and in mixture. Consider the accuracy and carefulness of what you teach per what the Bible actually presents, and don’t pride yourself on editorializing into your own creative meanings. Ask yourself what is most often on your lips: salvation or selfish interests; and push the volume toward Kingdom-building words. Look for humanism, educated reasoning, and popular philosophy, that so often creeps into the gospel message, and destroys the purity of what we are called to present.
Another is to consider your own motives in seeking, praying, and going with the effort to share Jesus name. The why we go, is often as insightful as how we actually go.
We may have a limited scope to our mission field, but we are expected to give the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God. Measuring personal obedience to “everything I have commanded” is not only part of the commission, it is a self-check in whether or not we are doing the commission God’s way.
Checking our travel bag to see if it contains the “whole gospel”, or just those parts we prefer, is a significant tool for measuring ourselves. This will often require a humility to consider the input of believers from different backgrounds, to consider challenges to our cherished interpretations of Scripture, and even to allow for the possibility that our denomination may not have a complete corner on truth. Truth comes from God, is contained fully in the Holy Spirit and not any organization, and is available in part to those maturing in Christ.
A distorted gospel is often more attractive than speaking truth. To this point, Paul questions believers as to why they wrongly viewed him as an enemy, because he was restraining his teachings to what God wanted taught, rather than appealing to the growing trend toward preaching a cheap-grace gospel.
People want to hear that everything will work out great for them. Preachers can grow their false-ministry faster by telling their audiences that God wants to do amazing things for them to see. It is popular to tell people to forgive everyone, even though God does not smear his grace in such a it’s-all-good manner. God offers forgiveness, as we should, only to those who repent in faith before Jesus and strive to live forward in submission to the Spirit of God.
Offering grace without considering the immense cost to Jesus, or with little cost to a believer in living obediently, is very common and very poisonous. Maintaining the gospel rightly within the commission will require constant measured adjustments to our message and approach to stay faithfully in line with scriptural requirements. Otherwise the going becomes deceitful garbage, and the commission becomes no mission. As the Lord warned, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees”, which is the mixed messages taught by religious leaders, who have some things right and some things not.
Measuring is a command of God and not something to be dismissed.
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor 13:5)
“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lam 3:20)
We are all called to contribute to the Church commission, but we are also expected to check what may be stuck in our own eye, and deal with it, before assuming we can be effective in helping to save others.
Those who carefully and obediently measure their commission progress will ensure they will never get lost or side-tracked, and will be given a rich welcome at their mapped and eternal destination.