When Jesus gave His Great Commission, He wasn’t simply assigning a task to people. He was empowering them. Indeed, the verb “to commission” carries some of the same nuances as the verb “to empower.”
Empowerment means giving people authority and power. Jesus did not hesitate to do that. He did not try to keep followers on a “short leash.” Though His earthly ministry lasted only three years, the Gospels mention instances of Jesus sending followers out on short-term preaching/healing/deliverance missions. More importantly, Jesus empowered others for the future when He would not be there. For example, the night before His crucifixion, Jesus said to His closest disciples: “You will do greater things than this” (John 14:12). Because those words exuded trust and gave people permission to dream, they were empowering.
Jesus certainly knew how fallible human beings can be. Even so, He expressed confidence in His followers. Why? Was it because empowerment tends to result in growth and maturation? Perhaps. Empowerment does open up new vistas for people. It turns people into decision-makers. It fosters the development of previously-dormant leadership gifts. Empowered people gain confidence because someone believes in them.
Empowerment does not mean shoving people out the door and leaving them to flounder with no mentoring or accountability structures. Jesus debriefed those he sent out two-by-two. His Great Commission includes the words, “I will be with you.”
The Apostle Paul followed Jesus’ example of empowering leadership. As Paul made his missionary journeys, he appointed “elders” or leaders for the churches he planted. Then, he kept in touch with these churches, writing letters to them and visiting them. When a pastor/evangelist needed some training, Paul turned to a couple from Rome: Aquila and Priscilla. Paul also empowered people like Titus and Timothy by making them “overseers” or superintendents of groups of churches.
Global missionaries dream about reaching lost people (or at least they should). One potent way of turning such dreams into reality is to empower newly-developing churches and their leaders. Among other things, empowering others multiplies the reach and effectiveness of evangelistic and discipleship ministries.
Once in a while, missionaries fall into the trap of staying in charge as they wait and wait for the perfect successor to emerge. Others think they have empowered people when all they have really done is give out a checklist of tasks to be completed. Jesus did not approach His earthly ministry in either of these ways. Missionaries who follow Christ’s model of leadership will empower people in the same way Jesus did.