The Greatest Vision Of All Time
Matthew 28:19, 20
The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / September 10, 2006
Whether we recognize it or not, we possess a vision of what we would like our life to be. We have a picture in our mind of the ideal.
Our local banking institutions recognize this and so they wisely invite us in, and attempt to put the vision we have for our finances in the form of a written document.
The vision that parents of young children have often reveals itself in the things the child is enlisted in. Whether they are enlisted in music lessons, or ice hockey, or Sunday School, or swimming, or scouting, or all of the above, says something about what the parents envision for their children.
Our vision can be multi-faceted, or it can be very simple. We may be very conscious of our vision, or we may only move subconsciously towards fulfilling our vision. But, be sure of this: you possess of vision of what you would like life to be; you possess a vision of what you would like to become.
What you may or may not have a vision for is what the Christian Church should look like. Put another way, what should be the primary work of the local congregation?
We regularly confess, in response to the overwhelming testimony of Scripture, that our chief aim is to glorify God. Our vision then, becomes the answer to the question: What shall we do in order to succeed in glorifying God?
If we all agree that the promotion of God’s reputation in this world is our fundamental aim, we need next to agree on the ministry endeavours which will best promote the name of Christ.
I am thankful, that our Lord did not leave it up to us to invent such a vision. In fact, Jesus spelled out His vision for the Church in very specific terms. Some people refer to this instruction as “The Great Commission”; I would like us to think of this instruction in terms of providing the Church with “The Greatest Vision of All Time”.
The vision cast by the risen Christ on a hill in Galilee is not only the premiere vision among visions for the Church, but it is also, quite truly, a vision for all time. The words of Jesus, spoken two thousand years ago, are no less relevant to you and I gathered here today.
And I would go so far as to suggest that whatever vision you may currently have for the local church—whether held consciously or subconsciously—your vision needs to be congruent with the following words:
Go to the people of all nations and make them My disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you (Mt. 28:19, 20).
Theologically, there is a lot we could unpack from those verses. And, no doubt, we could write some complicated, hard-to-memorize, vision statement based on those words.
Is there a concise manner; is there a memorable way, to summarize the vision that Christ has cast for His Church?
I believe there is. Notwithstanding the 101 helpful activities that a local congregation could be engaged in, I reckon that The Greatest Vision of All Time is to Bring in Others and to Teach Jesus.
At first blush, the phrasing of that vision may seem to leave out a great deal. But, upon further inspection I am confident that you will find that the wording is highly inclusive.
Bring in Others? From where?
From anywhere and everywhere—as far as the world extends.
Bring in Others? For what?
To make Christian disciples.
And, if they agree to come in, what do we do?
First, we baptize them; secondly, we Teach Jesus.
Everything. Teach them everything that Christ commanded. Teach, not only with words, but also with actions. Teach Jesus by living like Jesus.
I am the kind of guy who tends to have 101 things on the go. I am the kind of guy people warn about ‘spreading themselves too thin’. If I’m not careful, I can find myself attempting to move in ten different directions at once.
I wonder if the concept of a ‘vision’ was invented for people like me. A vision brings focus to a context that requires a myriad of responses.
On my holidays, the Lord arrested my attention with this Scripture from Matthew 28. Bring in Other and Teach Jesus is now etched in my mind.
This should be the focus of every Christian congregation. Needless to say then, I would like this to be the focus of St. Giles Kingsway.
What this means is that we should not run programs for programs’ sake. We should not engage in activities simply because the church down the street is doing it. Nor should we do something simply because we did it last year, and the year before that.
Our programs, our activities, will be sharpened by a vision to Bring in Others, and to Teach Jesus. Our vision will hopefully give birth to new initiatives. And, perhaps, having a renewed focus will highlight that some of our other ministries are no longer on target with our vision. Truthfully, a renewed focus, a clear vision, might conceivably give birth to change.
Change is an ominous word. Change is often shunned because of the inevitable unknowns that are associated with it.
An amusing example of the fear of change comes from the 1820s, when trains were being introduced to society. Here is an excerpt from a letter from the Governor of New York to President Jackson, dated January 31, 1829:
As you may know, Mr. President, 'railroad' carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by 'engines' which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.
What should we think about change? I’m not talking about a change to God’s designed purpose or vision for His Church. We’re talking about the vehicles, which transport His purpose and vision. What should we make of changes to how the gospel vision is delivered?
It seems to me that as long as the change is purposeful—that is, so long as the change implemented supports the vision, it should be embraced.
What, specifically, are these changes? I’m not sure. You see, Jesus did not major in methodology. He did not leave us with a formula to follow. Nor did the apostle Paul spend much time in his letters explaining the how of Christian ministry. Paul’s burden was the what and the why of Christian ministry.
I think we have always agreed on the why. We’re about the promotion of God and His glory at St. Giles Kingsway—that’s the why.
Can we agree on the what for St. Giles Kingsway? Can we agree on a vision that is focused on Bringing in Others and on Teaching Jesus.
Once we agree on the what, and the why, we can then begin to concentrate on the how.
The what is the vision, and the why is the aim of the vision. The how refers to the methodologies employed to fulfill the vision.
Now, a caution should be stated. We need always note the distinction between the vision and the corresponding plans that follow. Organizations that fail to make this distinction will sometimes do away with their vision when their plans fail.
Pastor and author, Andy Stanley (son of the well-known Charles Stanley), insists that we be ‘stubborn with our vision and flexible with our plans.’
In proposing a focused vision for St. Giles Kingsway, I believe I am merely echoing a vision cast long ago. This is a vision for all time. The vision to Bring in Others and Teach Jesus should not be related to my presence or my absence in this pulpit. For these reasons, let us resolve to be stubborn with our vision.
Our plans to fulfill such a vision will always be in flux. Some of our plans will succeed, but other initiatives will fail and will need to be discarded.
The possibility of failure—even the likelihood of ministry plans failing, does not alarm me. I would rather fail in our active attempts to fulfill a God-ordained vision than to sit idly by paralyzed by a fear of change or a fear of failure.
The how in this equation carries a high degree of uncertainty but, at the same time, the great thing about the how, is that we are sufficiently supported. After casting a vision for His Church for all time, Jesus explains, ‘Oh, and by the way—I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.’
Jesus promises to help. The One for whom nothing is impossible (Mk. 10:27) promises to help with the how. So rather than fret about what I don’t yet know, I’d like us to focus on what we do know:
We’re supposed to Bring in Others and Teach Jesus.
Implementing a vision won’t be easy. If it were, I doubt you would see so many struggling congregations.
I’m committed to keeping this vision before us—from now through early December, the emphasis from this pulpit will be on how to implement a vision.
When this sermon series concludes, my prayer is that the emphasis from this congregation will unmistakably be to Bring in Others and to Teach Jesus.
Lord Jesus, make it so.