(Read Part 2 here)
Is making a new disciple something you feel you’re able to do? If so, how would you go about it? What does it take?
I ask that question because I get the sense not a lot of us in the Church feel very capable of making disciples. It seems we believe discipleship is something better left to professional clergy. After all, the clergy have been to Bible schools and seminaries, and they get paid for doing that sort of thing.
But did Jesus intend for disciple making to be left to an elite few? I’ll share some thoughts our church planting team is developing on this subject.
First, let me point out that I’m talking about the ‘simple way’ to make disciples, NOT the ‘easy way.’ There’s a big difference. Making a good disciple takes time and energy. There are no shortcuts.
Let’s look at Jesus’ command to make disciples – the Great Commission:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Here are a few things I would like to point out about that passage:
“…Jesus came to them and said…go and make disciples of all nations”
Jesus gave this command to his disciples. We who follow Him today are his disciples; therefore, He has commanded us to make disciples of all nations. (If you check out the Greek for all nations, by the way, it translates to all ethnic groups, not just political countries. There are 200 some odd political nations in the world – 238, if I remember – but there are around 16,000 ethnic groups.) Okay, so we know that each of us, the rank-and-file disciples, have been commanded to make other disciples. So what do we do?
Jesus commanded us to do two things:
1) “…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
Baptism is an outward act whereby someone commits his/her life to Jesus Christ, demonstrating belief in Jesus and repentance of sins. This cannot happen until our disciple has come to some knowledge of the Truth. Of the two parts to Jesus’ command, I think we’re a little better at this one than the second one in the North American church. We have done a decent job of getting people to understand their responsibility to evangelize others and lead them to Christ. The second command is the one that gets a bit more problematic…
2) “…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
This is where those of us who don’t feel like worthy disciple-makers start shirking our duty quickly. We’re usually quite content to tell the new believer they need to get plugged into a local church. Better yet, we invite them to our local church where they join a discipleship class for new believers. In this discipleship class, the well-educated teacher [sigh of relief] may proceed to spend a number of weeks or months expounding all the important and not-so-important doctrines of Christianity to our new disciple.
I see a couple of problems with that model:
- It takes rank-and-file believers out of the game, because they don’t believe they have the necessary expertise to disciple a new Christian. In this case, it’s hard to feel confident about discipleship if I don’t feel ready to field questions about, say, the scriptural merits of pre-trib pre-millennialism versus amillennialism. Have you ever felt incapable of discipling someone else?
- In many instances, the discipleship model I described above almost entirely boils down to head knowledge. Look carefully at Jesus’ words, though – He said to teach them to obey all that He has commanded us, not just to know all that He has commanded us. Commands are not mere doctrine; a command implies action!
(Note: I am certainly not trying to make a blanket statement about all discipleship in all North American churches, because there are many good things happening. The above problems do seem common, though.)
So discipleship, in its simplest form (and I do think the pattern in Matthew 28 is simple), means baptizing people and then teaching them to obey. Why is this difficult for many Christians to do? I would say because we make discipleship more complicated that it’s supposed to be.
One of the ways we overcomplicate discipleship is by emphasizing teaching vast amounts of doctrine in the early stages of discipleship. If you look at Jesus’ command, you see that He told us to teach them all that He commanded us. No more, no less. We need to figure out what things Jesus commanded His disciples, and then stick to that as our curriculum for discipleship. We often major in the Epistles and in doctrines supported by various Old Testament texts when teaching new believers, but all of Jesus’ commands are found in the Gospels. (Remember, when Jesus gave the Great Commission to his disciples, they didn’t have the New Testament available. In the first generation of the church, Jesus’ commands had to be passed along orally.) I’m certainly not saying it’s wrong to teach parts of the Bible other than the Gospels, but Jesus seemed to indicate that all the essential teachings were things that had come from His mouth.
In Part Two, I will discuss the specific commands Jesus gave us that we should be teaching our disciples to obey. Stay tuned…
(Read Part 2 here)