Boom! Every young person was thinking about the same thing.
One of the most expansive periods of economic growth in American history occurred in the era between 1860 and 1900. Even though this period of time is a bit too far back to live in our corporate memory, it really set the stage for the lives we live and the prosperity that we (and now, much of the world) enjoys.
This era saw an unprecedented boom in entrepreneurism, in virtually every category of life: farm implements, manufacturing practices, firearm production, sewing machines, banking, steel, westward expansion, steam power, railroads – it was a time when chasing after fortune equated to inventing new processes and products, building businesses and conducting trade. The free market was channeling people’s desire for a better life into a pursuit of doing the most good for the most people, in the most efficient way.
This unique spirit was a major reason why America outpaced European powers as a global economy – even though the Old World had a huge head start on infrastructure, education, and culture, their autocratic and centrally-directed systems didn’t encourage personal invention, at least, not on such a robust and wide scale.
One traveler's report from that period noted that on his trip through the Connecticut River Valley (the part of the nation where much of the inventive machining was taking place) it seemed to him that every young person along the way was tinkering, dreaming, and experimenting with machine inventions.
A Call for Gospel Entrepreneurs
The Great Commission task lies before us and, though great kingdom work is being accomplished across the globe, the rate of growth in that work needs to accelerate dramatically, if we are to finish the task Jesus gave us to do. But, on a practical level, what can you or I do about it? The idea of reaching billions of people with the gospel seems far out of reach.
And yet, I wonder: what if we could raise up a new kind of entrepreneur – a man or woman (or teenager, or child) who is captivated by the idea of “inventing” new opportunities to share the gospel? What if we set our sights on the completion of the Great Commission, in our generation?
Historians have many theories about why America blossomed in that particular age – was it the patent system, giving inventors the right to benefit from their risk-taking and inventions? Was it the pro-business reforms enacted during the Lincoln Administration, while the Civil War was raging? Was it the availability of apparently endless land to the west? Was it a result of the great spiritual awakenings that had transformed the social character of the nation during the half-century prior to this boom? Was it a ripple effect of one invention sparking another, then another?
Certainly “all of the above” were involved.
So, let’s think it through. What might be involved in seeing a fresh “Great Commission boom?” The kind of broad spiritual movement that would measurably transform the world? Here are a few ideas:
AN OWNERSHIP STAKE. As long as the Great Commission is “someone else’s job,” it won’t live in our hearts or define our dreams. As long as we think we don’t have much to contribute, we won’t have much to contribute. We may think, “Someone else more verbose than me will share it, someone richer than me will fund it, someone who is a better leader than me will organize it.” Instead of going and telling, we’ll find ourselves waiting and watching. But I wonder, what if you and I took personal ownership of the Great Commission’s completion in our generation? How would that change our day-to-day lives, and how would that change our church?
ENCOURAGEMENT OF FELLOW DREAMERS. There’s something motivating and exciting about being with people who are pursuing similar goals – they expand our thinking, cheer us on, improve our ideas, and even partner with us on projects too big for one person. One new idea sparks another, one testimony of bold faith encourages the next person to take their own step forward. I dream of a time when every Christian young person you encounter is dreaming, tinkering, and preparing to make an impact for Christ, encouraged forward by all those around him/her who are excited about the same thing.
POWER. Rivers, steam power, and eventually electric empowered America’s industrial boom. Without a ready supply of power for movement, most of the inventive machining would have been impossible. This also parallels our gospel conversation, seeing that spiritual power is necessary to motivate life transformation. That’s why Jesus left His disciples with more than just a commission – He gave them the abundant, unlimited power of the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8).
A CULTURE THAT CELEBRATES INVENTIVE CHANGE. When the American inventors starting showing off their wares in Europe, the elites of the time were stunned. The simple precision of mechanized production processes went completely against the artisan-styled old-world grain, and many people resisted change. “It shouldn’t be done that way!” was a common attitude. And yet, the world had already changed. Many businesses went out-of-business if their owners couldn’t adapt to this reality.
I don’t think a new Great Commission expansion will look like the expansions of the past – that is, it won’t be the methodology of previous decades that defines the methodology of the future. We stand on that foundation, of course, but we’re interested in what God wants to do through us today, not just in reminiscing about yesterday.
Imagine if we were dreaming together about the answers to questions like these: "Who will carry the gospel into places that have not yet heard? How will churches be planted in places where none exist? How could we break through cultural barriers to share the gospel effectively in our community?"
Centuries ago, Paul, Silas, Barnabas, and Luke traversed the Roman world planting churches, preaching to crowds, facing persecution, braving the roads and the seas. Why did they do it? Or, what motivated the mission efforts in years past, as brave souls like William Carey and John Wesley went forth into a hostile, lost world? Or what sparked the imaginations of the gospel entrepreneurs of the last century – Bill Bright and his Campus Crusade, Paul Freed and his broadcasting of the gospel, Billy Graham and his preaching to millions?
The thing is, I don’t want to sit on the sidelines of the Great Commission’s advance in our day and age. Too much is at stake. Far more than fame and fortune in this world, laying railroad tracks or improving farm yields – we’re talking about eternity, and the souls of our neighbors.
That’s where we’re going for the next few weeks together, in our new series entitled, “Commissioned.”
Maybe we could begin this journey by praying about what all this might mean. What might a Great Commission boom mean for Berrien County? Or for America? Or for billions of souls across the world?
And what might such a boom mean for you?
Interim Teaching Pastor