I heard a lot during my formative years about the Great Commission that Jesus gave his disciples: “Go therefore into the world” to disciple, baptize and teach others about God in Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
I learned that Jesus also gave his disciples the Great Commandment: to love God with all your being and “your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-37).
Both commands are crucial to understanding the mission and ethic of Jesus. Both must be practiced, one with the other. The most visible way we do this is by being the church.
It’s been my experience that most people who don’t go to church don’t attend for one of four reasons.
1. No family tradition.
Some people have never been involved in a local church. Their parents didn’t go. They don’t go.
2. A terrible experience.
A person previously attended but ran into judgment without grace, discipline without mercy, or angry and bitter people who seemed not at all familiar with anything resembling good news.
3. No spiritual depth.
Some who grew up in church quit going because the church they grew up in was more a social club or society for people who had the same likes and dislikes, preferences and prejudices.
That kind of churchy upbringing does little to prepare a person for the challenges of life when life doesn’t go your way, or you are confronted by hurt, sorrow, grief, death, disappointment and depression – the kinds of trials that every person honest about life is going to face.
Tough times came and they had no rootedness in the depths of God. Church made no difference, so why bother.
4. The challenge of Jesus’ teachings.
Others quit going because they just didn’t want to follow someone who says things like, “Take up your cross and follow me” and “Love your enemies.”
Jesus called his disciples to put down what they were doing – preoccupations with vocation, career advancement, marrying the “right” person, making the “right” kinds of friends, worrying about money – and to follow him.
Following Jesus meant (and means, still) following him all the way to the cross.
While I believe following Jesus is the only way to a life that is deep, joyful, real and true, it takes grace, mercy, love, patience, perseverance and daily dedication to the ways of Jesus, which most of us find a very tall order, even for the most committed disciple.
Sometimes we forget that God did not create human beings to go to church. God created human beings to be the church. We were created to love God and to live in loving community with others.
If Christians are to reach people for Christ, especially those for whom God and church are not important, we are going to have to do it through love. Specifically, we are going to have to love people as God loves them – truly, deeply and sacrificially (see John 3:16).
Our love of God and our love of God-for-others will change us. It will make a difference. It will make us want to be with God and to be with those whom God loves so that we might grow more in love with God and others.
It will make us want to gather as the church, then go out as the church, giving ourselves to the world in ministry.
It’s living into the Great Commandment of love in action that opens the way to relationships among equals. This shows the love of God and is evidence that we are truly Jesus’ disciples.
It is in those moments of love that the Great Commission does its work. In the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God changes people.
It is an amazing thing to see happen, and we are all called to be part of it.
Robert Guffey is pastor of First Baptist Church in Conway, South Carolina. His writings can also be found on his website, Light Reading, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission.
Pastor of Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia.