By Terry Tolliver, Central District Lay Leader
In Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV), Jesus 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.” Those of us in the Church are familiar with this Great Commission, have adopted it as our Mission Statement, and each of our churches is involved in various ministries in order to fulfill it.
Just recently, Center United Methodist Church held its Annual Trunk or Treat. Over 800 people came. With the Great Commission in mind, my immediate thought was how could we get those people to come back and attend church on Sunday.
In many ways, looking at missions from the perspective of a salesman trying to close a deal seems misplaced, especially when face-to-face with those that are seeking food, clothing, or just looking to catch a break in life. And yet, we look at declining numbers within the Church and wonder why people do not simply show up, accept Christ, and change their lives for the better. As Christians, we know that Christ is capable of performing miracles and that He gives people hope and a purpose. If only they would walk through the doors of our churches, we know that the Holy Spirit would give our pastors the words to say and they would leave as a new creation guided by Christ. If, they would simply take the first step and walk through our doors, lives would change and the world would be a much better place.
But, what if we have it wrong? What if, instead of waiting for them to come to us on Sunday mornings, we were missional and went to where the people are? What if, instead of sitting in our various committee meetings asking what we can do to show the love of Christ to them, we sought out partners in the community to learn about those needs and developed a plan to meet them? What if, instead of being discouraged by the low numbers of new members joining our churches, we simply prayed and asked God to provide us with the knowledge to fulfill the Great Commission?
When I think of missionaries, the image that comes to mind are those that have been called by God to spread the Word to people in far-off countries in the hopes that they will be touched by the message and grow closer to Christ. Imagine my surprise when I learned that there are churches throughout the country and world that send missionaries to Indianapolis, of all places. What if those of us in the Central District accept that we have been called to reach those in our own backyard? What if, instead of reaching strangers in need of Christ, we first focused our energy on reaching those that we are closest to and meeting their needs? What if we were strategic about our ministries and focused our efforts on those ministries that were most likely to bear fruit? In The Little Mermaid, Ariel simply wants to be “where the people are” and become part of that world. Before us is that same opportunity. We just need to take the step out in faith, go where the people are, and encourage them to be part of our world. Only then will we realize the goal of The Great Commission is to ultimately turn “they” and “them” into “we” and “us.”