Is it just me, or is it possible that ‘making disciples’ has become the latest fad for churches? A quick browse of church websites suggests that it is almost mandatory to have some mention of discipleship in your purpose statement or part of your ministry plan. Not wanting to point fingers, but some churches even have the word ‘disciples’ in their name!
Don’t get me wrong, I think making disciples is what we should be doing. It’s not called the great commission for nothing! However, let’s make sure we aren’t following a fad. When we say, ‘we are making disciples’ – let’s be clear what it is that we are actually trying to do.
LOOK TO JESUS
If you are reading this, most likely you believe that the message of the Gospel is the greatest news. However this post is not so much about Jesus’ message, but His method.
Do you think that Jesus gives us the best method for reaching the world? It is a serious question. Does He? If so are you following it? Is your church following Jesus’ method?
I want to contend that Jesus primary method for reaching the nations is through discipleship. He spent three years in public ministry. How did he use that time? For starters He did a fair amount of public teaching. He healed the sick, fed the poor and cast out demons. Don’t forget, most importantly, He died and rose again to pay the penalty for sins. However, if you read the Gospels carefully you will see that He spent most of His time investing in the life of just 12 men. These 12 men would then be the ones to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Read Matthew 4:19. Jesus said, “follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men”. That is exactly what happened. Those men followed Jesus, they became ‘followers of Jesus’ and when Jesus had completed the work of redeeming His people through His life, death and resurrection, these men set about the task of making disciples of all nations (with the help of the Holy Spirit). According to Paul in Ephesians 2, these men along with the prophets formed the foundation of the church, with Christ himself being the cornerstone.
Think about what you know of the disciples. Were they an impressive bunch? Not really. At times they seemed pretty dense. They spent a good amount of time bickering. Yet, after three years following Jesus, and after believing the good news, they were transformed. Even the Chief Priests noticed this. In Acts 4:13 we are told, “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
Can you apply the principles that Jesus modelled and the New Testament teaches about discipleship?
How do you think someone would respond if you asked, ‘Do you want help to grow in your walk with Jesus?’ In my experience this is what every Christian longs for. Yet, so few Christians have more mature brothers or sisters intentionally walking alongside us.
Churches are notorious for teaching people what they should do, and then telling them to do it. Yet, we don’t equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Yes, our churches need to be taught the truth and we need to be called to live out the truth. However, our flock also need to be shown how to follow Jesus, and they need help when they fall short. This, my friends is where Jesus' model of discipleship is so powerful. He taught his disciples and he sent them out to minister, but He also spent time equipping them with how to understand and live out those truths.
DISCIPLES MAKING DISCIPLES
Obviously, you and I are not Jesus, nor are we trying to be. Let me be clear. You aren’t called to make followers of yourself. That would be idolatory. However, you are called to make followers of Jesus. Paul puts it well. “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” We want those we are discipling to follow Christ. More than that. We want to see those we disciple grow to maturity and be able to make more disciples.
This is the plan Jesus has for reaching the world. Make disciples who will make more disciples.
A PERSONAL ENCOURAGEMENT
Recently I received a note from a man who I spent some time intentionally discipling about 5 years ago. We initially began meeting because he was so weighed down by sin, struggles and pain. Listen to what he writes now:
I've got some quite exciting news to share. After a number of years of prayer and consideration, we've decided that I'm going to apply to attend seminary… As I filled in the application form one of the questions concerned those people who have been of greatest spiritual influence on me. I listed a number, and you were one of them. I shall never forget the time you invested in me during those Friday mornings in Toowong! You were the first man to ever really come alongside me in discipleship, and it had a life-changing effect on me. I really wanted to write to encourage you - I don't know what's going on in your ministry at the moment but I feel compelled to exhort you to keep faithful to the Lord and to discipleship and preaching and prayer, because you will never fully know the work God can do through that.
I am glad this man is pursuing full time ministry. However, what really excites me about his letter is that God has been transforming his life and that this man wants to be used by God in the life of others.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
You may well be making disciples far more effectively than our church. We are certainly neither experienced, nor are we experts. However, it would be somewhat remiss of me to say you should be equipping the saints without offering to help any who are interested in being further equipped to make disciples. Please feel free to get in touch. I would relish the opportunity to share what we’ve learnt. We have particularly benefited from some resources from Perimeter Church in America such as the book ‘Insourcing’. If you want a method to grow your church quickly, discipleship is not for you. However, if you want to see your flock grow in maturity and wisdom so that they are equipped to spread the good news of the Gospel, then perhaps making disciples really is Jesus method to reach the world.