What really is a Great Commission church?
    February 25 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

    A well-known North Carolina Baptist pastor chokes up when he talks about his “hard heart” toward missions in his seminary days.

    It wasn’t until he worked with the International Mission Board (IMB) that God began to soften Al Gilbert’s heart. The pastor now leads Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, a church that gives generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and is one of three North Carolina members of the Great Commission Task Force, which presented its proposal to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee Feb. 22.

    In a blog post at pray4gcr.com dated August 2009, Gilbert writes this about his seminary days: “Knowing I was called to pastor, I avoided ‘Missions Chapel.’ My call was to the church not ‘missions.’”

    A rather strange statement coming from the pastor of a church that supports missionaries serving locally and overseas, and year after year sends church members on mission trips across the globe. Gilbert goes on to say in the post that “after years of serving as a pastor, God began to deal with my heart.”

    He spent five years as special assistant to IMB’s president, visiting and encouraging missionaries, and challenging churches to take missions seriously. Gilbert traveled to unreached areas of the world, meeting missionaries and beginning to see people as they saw people — lost without the gospel of Jesus Christ.   

    BSC photo

    Al Gilbert says “The Great Commission really is the mission of God, to bring worshippers to Himself.”


    During a recent interview Gilbert gets choked up at times as he talks about these experiences. But the emotion is not for show. Gilbert seems acutely aware of the importance of what he is talking about. Gilbert came to Calvary Baptist Church in 2002.

    Ever since the Task Force was appointed last summer that phrase — the Great Commission — has been used. A lot. So much so that the temptation may become to start unintentionally using it as some type of passing jargon that is said without really understanding its meaning, or perhaps forgetting the weight of what is being said.

    What does it mean to be a Great Commission church? What does it mean to be a church devoted to the Great Commission?

    Gilbert described a Great Commission church this way: “The Great Commission really is the mission of God, to bring worshippers to Himself. We see that pattern from the very beginning when He blessed Abraham and said through him all people will be blessed.”

    Gilbert said a Great Commission church understands the mission of God and its global implications. Churches seeking to be obedient to the Great Commission must make discipleship a priority, and look for strategies to make disciples in their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and ends of the earth, as taught in Acts 1:8. Fulfilling the Great Commission requires churches to maintain a “multiplying mindset.”

    “It’s not how many our church can seat but how many we can send,” Gilbert said.

    From the outset of the interview Gilbert made it clear that Calvary is on the road to becoming a Great Commission church; in no way does the church have it all figured out, right now. Yet, Gilbert is encouraged as the church continues to grow in its understanding of the mission of God and its desire to be part of that mission.

    When he began as a pastor years ago Gilbert had a lot to learn about what it means to be a Great Commission church and what it means to be a church that cares about missions, which he described as essentially the mission of the church, or bringing worshippers to God.

    “Missions has to take on an intentionality of stretching, moving, crossing a barrier and taking the gospel where it is not,’ he said. Gilbert had to get over a “false dichotomy” of being a local pastor and being on a global mission — the two can in fact co-exist.

    As a trustee of the Foreign Mission Board for eight years, his wife told him story after story of God at work around the world.

    “I think she was praying that God would soften my heart and make me open to that,” Gilbert said. “Going on a mission trip did a lot for me in this regard. When I was confronted with poverty like I had never been before I was faced with the reality that God loved those little boys and girls as much as He loved my own. It broke my heart and showed my arrogance.”

    Locally, Calvary takes the waffle approach in determining where and how to minister. The waffle/pancake analogy, one Gilbert picked up from the IMB, goes like this: pour syrup on a pancake and it moves freely and runs over the entire surface. Pour syrup on a waffle and some of the pockets won’t get it.

    “As leaders trying to reach the neighborhoods in our town we need to do a waffle analysis. Try to figure out where those pockets of lostness are,” Gilbert said.

    Churches must consider where in their community the gospel is present and where it is not, what hinders the gospel in that area and what the church can do to help. Calvary often partners with other local churches in their effort to take the gospel throughout Winston-Salem and surrounding areas.

    They are intentional about reaching out to internationals and helping meet practical needs. Calvary includes language congregations, such as Hispanic and Vietnamese.

    Calvary does not try to meet all the needs in Winston-Salem, as that would be impossible and would most likely duplicate ministry efforts of other local churches. They focus much of their outreach on two communities and seek to pour into the lives of those people.

    Pastors must think like missionaries and in turn must help the church think like a missionary.

    “A missionary thinks with a waffle model in mind. We should be trying to work ourselves out of a job. We want to plant reproducing churches that become missionaries themselves,” Gilbert said. “In the local church we do this by finding where the gospel is not. We pastors tend to fall into the trap of thinking we are measured by how many people we gather in our particular location, rather than how many people actually know and are being transformed by the gospel. So I tell pastors they may actually have to get smaller to be more successful because we are working toward giving people away for the sake of the gospel.”

    Calvary keeps missionaries from their church in front of the church. They pray for them, help meet needs when they can and allow them to share about their ministry with the church as often as possible.

    Churches must stay connected with the missionaries being called and sent out of the church.

    “When a pastor feels that the church has transferred the job of witnessing to him, he knows that there is a sickness in his church. He knows he is not to be the only one sharing his faith; he knows his job is to equip them so that they can share their faith,” Gilbert said. “We have made the same mistake by placing the responsibility to reach the world on the missionary and then failed to link our lives with theirs. We are losing the component of tasting and feeling the responsibility. We have to own the task along with them.”

    Great Commission churches are churches with a passion to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ at home and around the world. They are churches not content to maintain the status quo because that’s what is most comfortable.

    Gilbert urged pastors not to get bogged down with church member expectations and measuring themselves by the expectation of others.

    “Get on your face before God,” he said. “Ask Him to help you balance the needs your church has with the direction that the church needs to begin to move in, in order to become a Great Commission church.”  
    2/25/2010 3:31:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments




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