We are right to teach the Great Commission of Jesus to His followers found in Matthew 28:18-20. It’s essential for the church of Jesus to be active in the work of evangelism and missions. As a pastor, I’ve preached many sermons on the subject of personal evangelism and global missions. However, when was the last time you paused to consider the actual wording of the Great Commission?
There’s actually two components given by Jesus to His people in the Great Commission, and one is greatly neglected. One commission involves reaching unbelievers with the good news of Jesus, but the second commission involves teaching those who follow Christ in sound biblical doctrine. Just as both wings on any airplane are mandatory for flight, so are both aspects of the Great Commission to the mission of the Church. We can’t accomplish the Great Commission without faithful teaching.
The very word disciple means learner. In order to be a disciple of Jesus, one has to be willing to learn about Jesus and from Jesus’ own teachings (Rom. 10:17). The evangelical church is filled with people who want to be busy doing things for Jesus, but at times those same people neglect learning. People in the church would often be more interested in reaching unbelievers in Zambia, Africa or the mountains of Ecuador with the gospel than they would to submit themselves to pastors and become learners of God’s Word. Therein is one of the critical errors of today’s evangelical church.
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).
The word, “teaching” comes from the Greek term, “διδάσκω.” It means to impart instruction or instill knowledge. There are two important components to discipleship in the Christian life. One aspect involves disciples learning truth by receiving biblical teaching. As we look at the early Christians, we see immediately after Peter’s famous sermon at Pentecost, the new disciples were baptized. Immediately thereafter, they are found submitting themselves to the teaching ministry of the apostles (Acts 2:42).
The second aspect of discipleship involves followers of Jesus investing in the lives of others. Titus 2 provides a great model of the older training the younger. Jesus Himself took a small group of men and poured into them. It should be noted that His discipleship model was not merely pizza and video games. Jesus was a powerful preacher and teacher of God’s Word. The ministry model of Jesus was built upon far more than gimmicks and tricks. His ministry was not a man-centered humanitarian ministry—it was a gospel teaching ministry. Unless we want to be learners, we can’t be disciples. Unless we first learn, we can’t disciple others. Beware of the one who wants to teach others but has very little passion to be taught.
The First Mark of an Authentic Church
If we look at the early church, we see an imperfect group of Jesus followers who were learning how to worship, serve, love, reach, and teach through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The first and authentic mark of the church is that of true biblical preaching. If the church is not being built through faithful preaching and teaching, all other activities, ministries, and service will be in vain. Just as the early church was built upon sound biblical teaching, so should our modern day evangelical church as well.
Although we must emphasize a robust preaching and teaching ministry, we must not neglect faithful service. Andrew Davis, in his excellent book titled, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, writes:
The Church needs to reclaim a Bible-saturated, Spirit-drenched emphasis on both of these infinite journeys, learning that they are absolutely intertwined. It is impossible for the Church to make progress externally to the ends of the earth if there are no Christians mature enough to pay the price to go as missionaries and martyrs. And it is impossible to make genuine progress in sanctification if the people only read good Christian books and stay in classrooms, but refuse to get out into the world as witnesses. These journeys are mutually interdependent: without progress in one, there can be no progress made in the other. 
While we must avoid the false assumption that discipleship is more caught than taught, a church with a robust teaching and preaching ministry should likewise have mature believers who model what genuine discipleship looks like in action as well. Andrew Davis writes:
This one passage of Scripture has been the central motivation for more missionary sermons, books, strategies, and fruit than any other passage in the Bible. However, in an effort to An Infinite Journey Mapped Out “get people saved” (by which they mean justified, these converts having merely “prayed the sinner’s prayer”), they have neglected the fullness of Christ’s command. As I will argue in this book, the goal is for the Church to make mature disciples (learners) of Christ: disciples who are taught the fullness of his word and obedience to all of his commands. 
Could it be that the Great Commission is the neglected commission? Like two wings on an airplane, both elements of the Great Commission matter—reaching and teaching. The church that emphasizes reaching but neglects teaching has neglected the Great Commission altogether.
- Andrew Davis, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2014), 24.
- Ibid., 33-34.