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The Great Commission: Shifting from an 'Infinite Game' to a 'Finite Game?'

Game theory distinguishes between two types of games, as explained by Simon Sinek in one of his many viral talks on the subject, finite games and infinite games.


Baseball is an example of a finite game with known players, set rules, and a predetermined goal. A finite game has winners and losers and a clear endpoint.


Variable rules, known and unknown players, and the goal of continuing the game are characteristics of infinite games (e.g., the Cold War). Everyone is trying to keep the game going in an infinite game. Often, there are those who give up the game because they lack the motivation or resources to play on.


I was thinking the other day about the mission of the Church in this framework. Is the Great Commission a finite or infinite game? Does it matter? What would it change in our leadership if we determined one type or another? Certainly, some aspects seem infinite; no one knows the day or the hour that Jesus will return (Matthew 24:36). But also, within Matthew 24 is a peculiar verse where Jesus might suggest that his return is directly related to our obedience to the Great Commission.


"And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." - Matthew 24:14 ESV

Many churches and mission organizations have approached the Great Commission as an infinite game, staying faithful in proclaiming the Good News but understanding it as a continuous, never-ending mission. While this perspective has its merits, it might not fully capture the potential impact and urgency of the task.


Is The Great Commission an 'Infinite Game?'

In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus instructs his disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations." And again, in Acts 1:8, Jesus tells his disciples that they will be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth. What would happen if we shifted our perspective from an "infinite game" – a never-ending endeavor – to a "finite game," one that can be completed? How might this change how we act as a church, train leaders, and pursue our mission?


To see The Great Commission as a finite game implies that there is a finish line, a goal to be reached. Specifically, this goal could be seen as fulfilling Matthew 24:14, presenting the gospel to all people groups. By embracing this viewpoint, several aspects of church and mission work might undergo significant transformation.


Bible Translation as an Example

In the fall of 2020, amidst a billion statistics we heard that year, Bible translators worldwide celebrated that the entire Bible was now in 700 different languages right in the middle of the pandemic. Today, that number is already up to 736! To make this statistic even more incredible, in the early ’90s, just thirty years ago (yes, it was that long ago;


I feel old.), there were only 350! This rapid acceleration is attributed chiefly to significantly improved technology and intentional collaboration between several translation ministries such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, Pioneer Bible Translators, and many others.

The Great Commission Infinite Game, or Finite Game?
Global Scripture Access Infographic - Wycliffe Global Alliance

According to Wycliffe, of the 7,394 living languages, about 1,268 (representing just shy of 100 million people) have no scriptures in their language.


Bible translators are clearly playing a FINITE game, partnering together with over 100+ organizations globally to see this work completed. Nearly all of the people involved in this effort believe it to be finished before 2050, with many suggesting it to be much sooner!


While I would never claim the date of this work completed equates to the year that Jesus returns, it's interesting to note that many of these organizations believe their work, according to Matthew 24:14, is directly related to ushering in His return.


But Bible translation isn't everything. Workers are needed in the harvest to preach the Word and make disciple-makers.


Urgency in Training and Development

If the Great Commission is a finite game, then training and developing leaders becomes crucial. The urgency to equip and send out capable leaders who can effectively engage with diverse cultures and people groups becomes paramount. The emphasis shifts from long-term, gradual progress and meeting needs to focused and accelerated preparation.


A finite game perspective might prompt reevaluating how we carry out the Great Commission every week. What if our mission strategies and investments, outreach methods, and cultural engagement could adapt to ensure that the task of reaching all nations with the gospel could be accomplished within a set timeframe?


Embracing a Global Vision

The shift to viewing the Great Commission as a finite game invites a more expansive, God-sized, global vision. The idea that this mission is not endless but can actually be accomplished encourages a broader perspective on reaching unreached people groups and making disciples worldwide. It compels the church to step outside of its comfort zone and into the global arena.


Luke's Finite Statement

At one point in Church history, the incredibly bold claim could be made that EVERYONE in a certain part of the world had heard the Gospel. Utilizing Ephesis as a major training hub for church planters and leaders, Paul and his team trained so many people and sent them out over the course of two years that Luke makes the finite statement that "all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." - Acts 19:10. After multiple missionary journey's, Paul found a way to be extremely effective at playing what seemed to be a finite game in his mind.


What would it take to recapture that perspective?


I was working with a church recently and posed the question to them, "If yours was the only church in this region, what would you do differently in order to reach this entire valley for Christ?" The reaction I perceived was they had never considered this as their purpose as a church. Too often, we get busy "playing church" every seven days and forget that we're on a mission to make disciples of all nations.


Activation of Every Believer

One key transformation is the activation of every believer in the church to play an integral role. This involves encouraging and equipping them to advance the gospel within their "oikos," or their sphere of influence where they live, work, and play. This approach acknowledges that every believer has a unique sphere of influence that can catalyze kingdom advancement. In the Funnel Fusion process, we call this the Crowd Cloud.


Each believer's "oikos" is their everyday mission field. By activating every church member to be intentional about sharing their story and sharing the gospel, the message can reach corners of society and communities that traditional invite-someone-to-church strategies might struggle to access. When we as church leaders train every believer in the power and authority given them by Christ, we empower and equip them to multiply the message of the Gospel in ways we never could.


Vocation as a Catalyst

One of the central ideas here is recognizing that a believer's special calling and vocation can be a catalyst for advancing the kingdom to the ends of the earth. When believers understand that their passions, abilities, or gifts are not separate from their mission but an integral part of it, it can have a profound impact on everyone around them. This perspective challenges the compartmentalization of faith and work, encouraging believers to see their vocations as platforms for spreading the gospel, starting in their "Jerusalem" and extending to the ends of the Earth until there is no place left without the Gospel.


Bridging Global and Local Missions

By empowering believers to see their vocations as tools for kingdom advancement, the church can bridge the gap between global and local missions. It highlights that the ends of the earth can begin in one's neighborhood, workplace, or social circles. This approach can lead to a more comprehensive and interconnected approach to mission work, fostering unity and synergy within the church.


Conclusion

Rethinking the Great Commission as a finite game with a clear endpoint challenges the church to activate every believer to advance the gospel in their sphere of influence and to multiply that mission until everyone hears the Good News. The goal is to inspire and train every believer to be a catalyst for kingdom advancement, working toward a world where no place is left without the gospel, fulfilling the very essence of the Great Commission.


What if we saw every church member not as passive attendees but as active agents in the mission? Imagine the potential transformation in our approach to fulfilling the Great Commission. It's not just the task of a select few but an endeavor in which everyone participates.


What if the church could bridge the gap between global and local missions by acknowledging that the ends of the earth could begin in your own backyard? What if we saw our neighborhoods, workplaces, and social circles as integral parts of a larger mission strategy?


What if our vision was truly "no place left"? What if we believed that every interaction, every relationship, and every vocation could contribute to a world where no place on earth is left without the gospel? How might that inspire us to be more intentional in our work as church leaders?


Now I'm not 100% sure that The Great Commission is a finite game. It's just a thought, but what if this were true? Would it change the way you invest your time next week?

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