I see in the comment section that there are some good questions about what exactly it means to make gospel preaching a priority. Again, I encourage you to read the book. There you’ll find almost 300 pages on why we think the mission of the church is disciple making by verbal proclamation.
Recently I preached a sermon on this topic and finished with three points of application. They seem germane to this discussion.
First, if we as individuals and churches are becoming more like Christ, there should grow in us a spirit of deep compassion for the needs of hurting people. If we are like Jesus, we’ll see the sadness and confusion and suffering in the world and something in us will cry out, “I want to do something about this. I want to make this better. I am sorry for this pain.” We won’t be able to do everything, but we can do something, especially for those closest to us. Our first obligation is to our family (1 Timothy 5:8). After that, Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” So our church is the next obligation. But beyond that there is still a command to do good to all as we have opportunity.
What we see from the ministry of Jesus is that he had a heart to capitalize on those opportunities. We must be praying, studying, and growing so that we will have our eyes open to see opportunities for compassion. Jesus cared about all suffering. Jesus cared about bodies and souls. He ministered to bodies as well as souls. So will we if we are his followers.
Two, proclamation must remain the church’s priority. It may not be your priority. You may be a doctor or nurse and your job is to help sick people get better. That’s wonderful. Praise God for relief workers and doctors and farmers and well-diggers and reformers. But as the church thinks about his mission, I believe it must find ways to make proclamation its priority.
What does this mean? Well, let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. We see from Jesus’ example that “priority” does not necessitate a strict chronological sequence. It’s not like you can only help someone physically after you share the gospel with them. Jesus didn’t work like that. Proclamation doesn’t have to come chronologically before preaching. And, actually, it doesn’t have to come chronologically after preaching. There’s no indication that Jesus preached a sermon to everyone he ever healed. Sometimes he spent long hours healing and casting out demons. Did he help them only on the condition they would listen to his message? I don’t fault organizations that have that principle, but Jesus’ example shows we don’t have to do it that way.
So what does “priority” mean? It means proclamation is what pushes us along. Jesus healed because he cared for people, but what propelled him from town to town was his desire to preach. This means there might come a time when a church looks at a mission or missionary or organization it supports and says, “I like the good work, but what about the proclamation of the gospel?” That’s essentially what Jesus did at Capernaum. He healed into the wee hours of the morning and then the next day had to move one. He was not a travelling healer who happened to teach. He was an itinerant preacher who healed and cast out demons. In a world of finite time and finite resources, the church will not be able to support every good cause. Those efforts that bring the gospel to the lost and make disciples of the nations should be our first priority.
So I would say the Great Commission is what the church is sent into the world to accomplish while the command “do good to all people” is what we do as we have opportunity. The church’s mission is not best described as “serving others as disciples of Christ” but “making disciples of Christ as servants of others.”
Three, when our churches support “mercy ministry” or “relief work” or “humanitarian aid” or “city renewal” there should always be the overarching goal that Christ might be known, understood, believed upon, and followed. The world needs doctors, nurses, politicians, NGOs, agronomists, social workers, film makers, and thousand other vocations saturated with Christian professionals. But as churches think of mission work, mission organization, and its mission in general, there should also be a larger purpose aimed at and prayer for besides making the world a better place.
I’m not saying you only help people if they become Christians. I’m not saying you trick people into getting the gospel. I’m not saying being a Christian means you shouldn’t aim for excellence in your vocation. What I’m saying is that those people and organization and institutions the church supports and sends out should have as their ultimate aim bringing people to faith in Christ. This may mean praying for opportunities that take ten years to materialize. This may mean you work in a country for two decades to build up trust so you can give a reason for the hope you have. This may mean your expertise is with crop rotation, but you develop friendships so that you might talk about Jesus. There are ten thousands ways to do this, and many of them take a long time. But Jesus was always purposeful in his ministry. There was no wasted effort. The bigger purpose in all he did was that people might see his true identity and follow him in faith. This is the big purpose of the church’s ministry too. Keep it central. Make sure your church gives gospel proclamation the attention, the funding, the prayers, and the people necessary to keep the main thing the main thing.