The Brilliance Of Bill Bright

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Diane and I just spent the last week in Fort Collins, Colorado taking part in the bi-annual Cru staff conference. It was a wonderful time to reacquaint ourselves with the US ministry after having served in Mongolia for 10 years. In fact, this was our first staff conference since 1999, 14 years. As I reflect on the presentations and seminars my thoughts turn toward the person who started it all, Bill Bright.

Dr. Bright has been in Heaven for 10 years. It was July 19th, 2003 that he died, leaving the reigns of the ministry in the hands of Cru’s now president, Steve Douglass. During one of the sessions Steve told a story about his last face-to-face conversation with Dr. Bright before he died. Dr. Bright asked him what he intended to do with the ministry. Steve answered that he would do what the Lord commissioned Dr. Bright to do when he founded the ministry in 1951, help fulfill the Great Commission.

Before my association with Cru began in 1995 I had never heard anyone refer to their ministry as helping to fulfill the Great Commission. We always talked about fulfilling our ministry, doing the Lord’s will, telling people about Jesus, and so on. But no one ever said to me that they wanted to help fulfill the Great Commission. That kind of statement now sticks with me. Think about the audacity of such a statement. Who would claim to do such a thing? I think about it this way: If we are not called to fulfill the Great Commission, then what in the world are we supposed to do? Fulfilling the Great Commission is our calling. It is the calling not only of Cru, but of every Christian who has ever lived, and I’ll tell you why.

In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said to his disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on Earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” That’s the Great Commission, making disciples from every nation and people group. In our modern vernacular we usually refer to this as evangelism and discipleship and we leave out the specific words that Jesus used. We’ve condensed it to something simple. There’s nothing wrong with something simple. The Cru mission encapsulates the Great Commission in three simple words: Win, Build, Send. I think that’s brilliant. But there’s something to be said about the whole commission.

We are called to change the world. Not change the world in terms of changing culture or politics or such temporary things as these (thought these are also true). Rather, the central focus of the Great Commission is to change people’s lives by bringing them into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There is no single task on Earth that is more important than this. As Christians we are not just involved in changing people’s lives in the here and now (though that is true). We are involved in changing people’s eternities. Will a person spend a joy-filled eternity in Heaven with Jesus or will he spend a terror-filled eternity in Hell without Jesus? There is nothing more important or urgent on the Earth as this. So when Dr. Bright said, as Steve Douglass says today, that we are called to help fulfill the Great Commission, it is not an audacious statement. It is a statement of calling. We might even say it is desperate. We are desperate to save those who are lost for eternity without Jesus.

When I worked on radio projects in Dr. Bright’s office, on occasion our team would come up with ideas for the radio program that we thought would be effective and cool to implement. On more than one occasion I was tasked with presenting the idea to Dr. Bright. On one occasion I laid before him the idea we had. I was a bit nervous and stumbled through things. Dr. Bright stopped me and said, “I only have one question. Will this help fulfill the Great Commission?”

I was stumped. I hadn’t been thinking in those terms. I was thinking in my old radio terms of simply producing something that a lot of people might want to listen to. I wasn’t focused on the ministry impact. I was only focused on impact. Dr. Bright looked me in the eyes and said, “If it doesn’t help fulfill the Great Commission then I’m not interested.”

“Will this help fulfill the Great Commission?” That’s a question that I need to ask myself more often. It is simple, but it’s brilliant.
During the staff conference last week we saw the impact of 6,500 US staff focused on the Win, Build, Send strategy of the Great Commission. Millions have come to Christ—especially through media. Fulfilling the Great Commission is the heart and soul of Cru. We may be a big organization. There may be 25,000 global staff sharing Christ in nearly every country of the world. But we can’t do it alone. It takes partnerships with other ministries and churches to bring us closer to fulfilling that goal. But Cru’s singular focus on the Great Commission forces people to think outside the box of traditional ministry and reach and stretch for creative and effective ways to introduce people to Jesus no matter their language, culture, or sub-cultural context. This is the passion of thousands of Cru staff working tirelessly to give every person on Earth an opportunity to say yes to Jesus.

While Cru is focused on fulfilling the Great Commission there are some who say that it won’t be done until Jesus returns, that we are reaching for that proverbial pie in the sky. Maybe that’s true. But thinking in terms of less than fulfilling the Great Commission isn’t an option. It was Jesus’ command in Matthew 28. Thinking in terms of doing less than fulfilling the Great Commission ends up leaving some people out of the picture, and that’s not a viable option for the person who wants everyone in the world to experience the joy of knowing Jesus.

When it comes to your personal ministry, in what terms do you think? May I challenge you with the notion that anything less than the whole world is less than acceptable for the Great Commission Christian. That’s the brilliance of Bill Bright.

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