What is discipleship and what is Jesus calling us to in Matthew 28:18-20? Is this a command, or a suggestion; does it mean we are just to evangelize and let people find their faith on their own, or does this mean we are to lead others and teach the precepts of the Scriptures and the character of our Lord? Does it require obedience and action on our part, or are we disciples just by being a Christian and being in a church on Sundays?
This passage at the end of Matthew’s Gospel is what is called the “Great Commission.” This is also the great failure of the church! This is the main call to the church from our Lord and Savior, and is the one thing most churches do not do at all! This is the main reason for a church to exist, yet can you name one church that actually teaches people the basics of the faith and then moves them deeper into the precepts of His love and Word through all of the seasons of life? If discipleship is mostly absent from our churches, then most Christians will not understand how to live out their faith. They will not be able to handle problems, witness, share their faith, or grow effectively spiritually, because no one is modeling, or showing them the way! Some churches do a great job with evangelism, but once the people come in, they are stored in the pews. Where is discipleship? What is it? Is the back door of the church as big as the front door?
Being a disciple encompasses more than just asking Christ in, and goes far beyond baptism. Our conversion, our acceptance of Christ as Savior, our election, is the beginning, the entrance, into the faith and Christian life. It is not the only act of being a Christian! It would be like joining a club, but never venturing into the club. Baptism is initiation and public dedication. It is to be the door through which we go in our walk of faith, as is also our profession and testimony of our faith publicly. It does not stop there! It starts there!
So, what does the average church do about discipleship? In most churches, people are encouraged to accept Christ or make a profession of faith. Then, they are congratulated, put on the membership role, and then quickly forgotten. Sadly, the Church has forsaken discipleship, and has left its members to figure out these spiritual growth things on their own. In doing so, it causes many to give up on Christianity, while others become confused, calloused, or complacent, or they are swept away by false doctrines and cults because they do not know the difference.
The Church Is Called To Make Disciples
“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.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
This is perhaps the chief characteristic that most churches somehow forget. It is also the quintessential aspect and reason the church exists. So, why is it that so few churches actually have disciple making as a primary ministry? For most churches, it is something they think they are already doing when in fact they are not. Saying that going to church on Sunday is discipleship, or providing a couple of token adult Sunday school classes that few attend, is not discipleship. Some churches throw it in as an after thought, or may offer a class or something related to the subject.
Due to our human, fallen thinking, we desire the right to ourselves more than we desire the life that Christ has for us. It is difficult for the non-Christian to except a Savior when they think they have to give up their rights. It is similarly difficult for the Christian to live a life that is truly surrendered and poured out to the sovereignty of God. Yet, true discipleship cannot begin until we learn one key important aspect of life: there is one God and you are not He! We must learn to yield to the Lordship of our God and not to the desires of our will. When we do this, the discipleship process can begin. However, when we refuse, we will be the strife and conflict that gives Christianity a “black eye.” We become the problem rather than the solution.
Therefore, discipleship as a priority gets lost. We make up excuses saying, “Well, people will not come; We are Christians already, so we are Disciples already; The Spirit will guide them; That is not what Jesus was saying; He is saying for us to evangelize only; we do not have anybody to lead it; etc…” Excuses, excuses, excuses, and no response to Christ! What they do not realize is we are not responsible for people coming; we are only responsible for obeying our Lord and doing it! The reason there is no one to lead it is that there is an extreme lack of real disciples in the church; that is, people whose lives are surrendered to Christ and out of gratitude to Him are modeling and teaching Biblical precepts to others. Even the Apostle Paul spent three years being discipled by Barnabas, and he received his call and was empowered directly from Christ Himself!
Humbleness is characterized by the willingness to grow in Christ, and receive learning and experience growth. Peter tells us we ought to be humble toward one other so that we can know the grace of God and not be in opposition to God. Then secondly, he says, we had better be humble, not only toward one another, but toward God. This is so straightforward. This is so essential to be a blessed church, to be a growing church, not in numbers, but in discipleship!
Check out some passages that tell us discipleship and mentoring are not an option, but a command: Matthew 28:16-20; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 6:1-10; Mark 1:35 – 2:12. We must follow out of our obedience and mentor in a multigenerational lifestyle, caring for the total person. This will move us from just playing church, to really being a church.
The effective church is mentoring, building relationships, and teaching each of the members by other, caring people, who are being discipled themselves, who are being taught, encouraged, and led. The death of a church happens when we follow political trends, not the national politics, but the patriarchal personalities that want to control people. In addition, when we have a controlling attitude, we do not allow God to control us, thus, we become empty shells and hollow logs. Being hollow means there is nothing working within us, there is no Creator of the universe leading and directing our ways, so, we become worthless to the Kingdom of God.
Making disciples takes vision and the understanding of Scripture. It gives the church a purpose to forms leaders who grow other leaders in an outgrowth of their growth. The Christian, especially the leader, who disciples and equips others is a person who is living the faith for themselves and setting goals for their personal growth before they set goals for others. Their skills and abilities are growing them to be a better worker because first, they are striving to be a better child of God.
From the character of Christ will come the conduct of Christ, if we chose to follow Him. Then, those values of our daily walk, which drive our behaviors, will, in turn, influence others. You cannot lead where you have not been, or where you do not know the direction to go. This is why discipleship is so essential to the aspect of being a Christian. We are called, not to just visualize discipleship, but to do it; not to just talk about it, but to do it. One cannot just think about dinner and satisfy hunger; the meal has to be prepared, then eaten! The effective church will take Scripture and the call of our Lord seriously, and then implement it into functioning!
Jesus’ purpose for His three years of earthly ministry was the discipleship and equipping of the 12 Disciples. This was His drive and where most of His time was spent. He was focused on the teaching of the kingdom of God, teaching men to see beyond their present situation to the life to come. With His teaching, Jesus entrusted His church and people to the care of the people He taught. They were to replicate themselves to others. The objective was that every Believer was an equipper, every member a minister, every Christian involved in the life and gifts of the Body to influence the world.
The Word must touch who we are, and transform the very core of our being. This is the knowledge that leads and transforms. One cannot lead where he does not know the way, and to know the way you must have knowledge. Knowledge comes from experience, and experience comes from discipleship. The will of God is for us to study His Word, which will change our behaviors. A Christian and especially a leader in the church must have the knowledge and experience to put into practice the work that needs to be done. The disciple will be studious so that the Word nourishes him. He must study and apply the Scriptures, not just read it occasionally like a novel. The Word must touch who we are and transform the very core of our being. This is the knowledge that leads and transforms.