by Jimmy Martin
On Mission Every Day and to the End
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).
2020 has been an interesting and challenging year. The pandemic has forced all of us to adapt to ways of “doing church.” In talking with IBC pastors and leaders, I have been amazed how churches have stepped up to learning new ways to carry out the mission God has given them. It has not been without frustration and discouragement, but God has been at work during the coronavirus days in seen and unseen ways.
Most IBC churches did not meet physically until recently as restrictions eased. Some are still meeting online in a variety of ways. Many, when it was okay to do so, continue to provide online services but are also having public worship while practicing social distancing and observing hygiene restrictions.
Most IBC pastors have shared that they have gone to online platforms for ministry and various discipleship efforts like home groups and small-group accountability teams. Leadership meetings and even church business meetings have been done online. One church — IBC Stuttgart — conducted a pastoral candidate “visit” during a week of meetings with various church groups and then called a pastor after a Sunday service — all online!
The results of these efforts have proven to meet the needs of our churches for this time. Many pastors reported an increase in attendance for worship, an increased number of home and other discipleship groups, and even several conversions during the last four months. As churches have learned that online platforms can be a good evangelistic and discipleship tool, they are now looking at ways to leverage these opportunities for the future. Church ministries will look different in post-COVID-19 days than they did in pre-COVID-19 days.
2020 has been unlike any year in my ministry also. Spending most of my weekends on the road in the past to visit IBC churches has helped me to connect but this has not been possible since March. I was personally disappointed not to be able to visit IBC friends a final time before my retirement. Although I have been able to “preach” for various churches via live or recorded messages, personal interaction is missed. Ours is an incarnational, relational faith. In the absence of being together personally we can identify with the Apostle Paul who was eager to see the Philippian church and longed for all of them “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:8).
In our inability to see each other personally, we have on the convention-wide level provided some opportunities to pray for and share with each other. It was good to see and speak with one another, even if on a Zoom meeting or a phone call. The IBC Executive Leadership Team has had several meetings online. Back in March the IBC held an online business session to call our new General Secretary Tim Faulkner. Preparation for such a meeting was a challenge, but most were satisfied that this was the best way to move forward. As I write I am hopeful we will be able to conduct a face-to-face Annual Convention Meeting in Kaiserslautern, Germany, 26-28 October. Some may need to join online due to travel restrictions. Our Women’s Conference was postponed and then postponed again until 23-25 April 2021.
What does all this have to with the Great Commission of Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations”? A lot! First, we have the promise that all authority has been given to Him. It is the Great Claim. He has the power and the right to exert that power in spreading His message to the world. He is not limited by viruses or anything else. Inconveniences, sickness, quarantine, even death do not diminish His authority to call people to follow Him and to expect fruitful discipleship from His church. He is able!
Second, we also have the promise of His presence with us as we seek to obey His call to make disciples. He is with us, empowering us. And we have the presence of God’s Spirit with us every day of our lives and to the end of the age. We are not alone as we seek to make disciples. He has not left us; He is with us! It is our Great Comfort. God’s Spirit breathes life into our efforts; gives us courage, power, and wisdom in our witness; and draws people to Himself as we share.
Third, it is on the basis of His authority and His presence that the “therefore” makes sense. It is His mission, but He chooses to use us. That is our Great Privilege. We are His ambassadors, representatives, witnesses. There is no greater call than to make disciples of all nations (peoples) — every ethnic group defined by race, language, or culture. The church provides the relational environment to give support and challenge to those who are part of the family of God. In our going, baptizing, and teaching to obey, we have the opportunity of becoming disciples and making disciples.
One of Jesus’ clearest calls to discipleship is found in Matthew 4:19: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jim Putman, from Real Life Ministries, says the definition of a disciple is in this invitation. A disciple is one who knows and follows Christ (Come, follow me), who is being changed by Christ (I will make you), and who is committed to the mission of Christ (fishers of men) (Real Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples by Jim Putman).
IBC churches are poised to reach the nations in a unique way. We have the nations at our doorstep. People from around the world are being reached by our English-language ministries. English is the lingua franca of the world. By some estimates, almost 80% of English-speakers are not native English- speakers but speak it in addition to their mother tongue. English is used globally in international politics and diplomacy, international law, business, the media, education, and scientific research. In a typical IBC church, there are between five and 65 nationalities, many who are fluent in English although it is a second, third, fourth, or fifth language. If we will embrace our opportunity to reach the nations — our mandate for global evangelization — we can play a key role in God’s mission.
We state the IBC’s mission in this way: “We exist to mobilize and multiply disciple-making churches.” Our vision states: “We envision a movement of global-minded churches that are reproducing healthy disciples, leaders, and congregations.” I believe our churches are at the “tip of the spear” in fulfilling God’s purpose: “For His glory in the global worship, God purposes to redeem a people from every people and rule a kingdom over all kingdoms” (Perspectives Course).
To the End
During my time at the helm of our family of churches, it has been my privilege to witness God’s work in our world and experience “a taste of heaven” here on earth. What we do for Christ, however small or large it might seem, is leading toward the ultimate gathering — massive, inclusive, worshipful, and victorious: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God” (Revelation 7:9-11).
In these last few months of transitioning to new leadership in the IBC I am praying for our churches that during these challenging days we embrace the mission Jesus gave us. I hope to be able to see many of you before Laurie and I leave in early December but if not, please know that we love you and thank God for the blessing you have been to us. God has been good to us in so many ways. And we believe the best is yet to be.
Soli Deo Gloria