Many churches quite rightly place a high emphasis on what is often called the “Great Commission” as an essential part of their Mission Statement. That is Jesus instruction to his disciples to “Go and make disciples” as we read in Matthew 28:19. This mission component usually results in a significant effort to make disciples by running a range of ‘Outreach’ activities such as evangelistic breakfasts, dinners, ‘outreach’ playgroups, other special events and the offering of basic Christianity courses to those contacts who show interest.
This is all good, but for the most part the fruit is essentially limited because praiseworthy attempts to fulfil ‘The Great Commission’ are usually severely limited by failure to exercise what might be called the ‘Great Permission’ that we see in 1 Corinthians 9:22.
“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
Here is Paul’s model for fruitful mission which amounts to a preparedness to do ‘whatever it takes!’. Note the number of times the word ALL occurs in that verse. Yet while many churches emphasise the ‘Great Commission, exercise of the ‘Great Permission’ is rarely present.
It is not hard to see why this is the case. For churches can claim to be pursuing the ‘Great Commission’ by traditional (I would say generally 20th century) mission strategies without changing their church model. Whereas to exercise the ‘Great Permission’ i.e. do whatever it takes and thereby multiply the chance of missional fruit, requires church members to get out of their comfort zone, which very few are prepared to do.
The chronic missional failure of churches should cause us to go back to basics and ask why? Part of the answer is that the pursuance of the ‘Great Commission’ requires the exercise of the ‘Great Permission’ the willingness to adopt a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude to mission, yet that linkage is largely absent in the thinking of most church members.
Jesus did not promise his followers comfort but that discipleship would be a rough ride (Matthew 8:20). To demand that our Christian life be comfortable is in effect sheer disobedience to His call, the result of which is greatly diminished fruitfulness in mission.