Fulfilling the Great Commission takes courage. Fulfilling the Great Commission in a local congregation that has been in maintenance mode or declining for a while takes even more courage. Why? Because it requires leading the church through change. And whenever there is change, there is a loss, and whenever there is a loss, there is pain. It’s a fearful thing to have to intentionally make decisions that will cause pain in the people, the church, that you love and lead. It takes courage. And, as you know, courage is not the absence of fear, it is overcoming and taking action in the face of that fear.
How do we gain courage to fulfill the Great Commission in our communities through our churches in our day? Well, Jesus tells us right there in the Great Commission itself – that He will be with you as you do it:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “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 of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
During a time when we were clarifying our vision to strategically reach the unchurched in the neighborhood around my church, there was much pushback from some of the members. The unchurched people we were called to reach in order fulfill the Great Commission were different in so many ways; in culture, income level and personal struggles. Essentially, it meant bringing in “sinners” whose lives were openly broken. To reach them it meant doing some things differently than the way we had always done them! It meant change. This meant pain for some members. Their pain led to anxiety in the whole congregation and resulted in people leaving and/or threatening to leave – with their money! It was a fearful time for me as a priest. I needed courage.
At that time, my deacon gave me a plaque that said, “Courage” on top with Joshua 1:9 written below which reads:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (NIV)
Knowing God was with me, with courage, we made the changes that were necessary. The church not only survived but thrived. I still keep that plaque by my desk to this day as a constant reminder that the courage needed comes from the Lord being with me as I follow him and lead in the church. Courage comes from knowing God is with you, always.
Look at what the Bible tells us in Isaiah 41:10 (NIV):
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
The question for us as we face the fears that come with leading churches to fulfill the Great Commission in our times is this: do you really believe this to be true? Not just believing it intellectually because it’s the Bible, but really believing it in the core of your being?
So, as leaders (lay and ordained) in local congregations commissioned to go and make disciples; as leaders in the Anglican Church committed to reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ; let me ask, what are you afraid of? Is knowing that Jesus is with you, always, not enough to overcome those fears? If not, why not? Do you question whether God will actually come through to strengthen, help, and uphold you? If so, why? In Christ, you are his beloved child whom he’s called and promised to be with, always. Is that not enough? If not, why not? What else do you think you need? The approval of people? The absence of conflict?
The answers to these questions are not easily attained, however they are essential to find in order to effectively lead Great Commission fulfilling congregations. The reason I’m writing about this now is that we are about to enter the season of Lent where we are invited, “in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (ACNA Ash Wednesday Liturgy). Lent is a perfect time to reflect on and seek God’s counsel on answering these kinds of questions.
As a priest, most of my help reflecting on this came from having a good coach and through clergy accountability groups where I could openly look at such things in a safe environment. The American Anglican Council provides excellent opportunities to get both coaching and clergy accountability into your life if you are interested. Contact me if you are.
Therefore, I invite you to a Holy Lent where, among whatever other disciplines you’ll practice, you can include some time to reflect and take courage knowing that you are loved by God and he is with you, always.
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization & Coaching for the American Anglican Council. Reach Canon Mark at MEldredgeATAmericanAnglican.org (replace AT with @)