Matthew 28:18-20 *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.”*
This is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. And at its core is a clear mandate of action for us as believers. But I have some questions to throw at it and see if there isn't something that can help us actually pull it off…
I have read 100's of books on discipleship. I have used and written curriculum on discipleship. I have discipled people and been discipled. And I have a thought long and hard about what this discipleship thing is all about.
Here is my observation: the vast majority of disciple making books, curriculum, and conversations revolve around a couple of ideas. First, the biblical case for discipleship. Which I am going to be so bold as to say - that to me is sad! Really, we have to build a case to convince people that discipleship is the lifestyle that Jesus asked us to walk out?
Sorry for the bold statements here, but it is pretty simple. 1 John 2:6 says, "Whoever claims to live in Him [Jesus] must live as Jesus did." (NIV)
Did Jesus make disciples? Then we must also make disciples! No excuses. No rationale. Do what Jesus did.
Jeremiah 6:16 New International Version (NIV) This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ ”
And isn't that the bigger issue? Jesus says make disciples, Jesus lived making disciples, so make disciples!
The second idea is about the "how" of discipleship. Here is the lesson plan for discipleship. Here is the structure for discipleship. Here is the organizational management system for discipleship. And this is a major step in the right direction.
As I travel around and speak to churches, I find that this is an idea that scratches an itch that many pastors and church leaders have: "How do I pull this off?"
And it is a good line of thinking. There is now even a strong movement towards discipleship through community. Which is the only way that real discipleship can happen. And this conversation is very valuable!
But I wonder if it is missing a key component that I don't see a lot of conversation about at all.
Why are we making disciples at all?
I think that for years I made disciples so that they would "stay a Christian." Essentially, I would get them to say "Yes!" to Jesus (Gospel of Salvation). And then hopefully I could "disciple" them so that they were willing to hang in there till the end of things so that they could get to heaven. Cause we all know the alternative isn't pretty.
Jesus' Gospel was an invitation to the Kingdom of God. It is as if He was saying to all of us, "There is a place of healing and joy and freedom. And I am dying to let you be a part of it. Come join Me. Life is good and full and meaningful here."
Jesus' Gospel was the Good News about the Kingdom of God. Now, think Jewish for just a minute… from an Eastern perspective, kingdoms don't take up territory. They aren't spacial in nature. The only boundary for a kingdom is that it is where a King is reigning. So, if Jesus is reigning in your heart, then He is King and you are in the Kingdom of God - wherever you might be.
You, then, are an ambassador for your King. Your sacred job is to invite people to be a part of the Kingdom of your King. But this is NOT about getting people to say yes to Jesus, only. this is about getting each person you meet to LIVE IN THE KINGDOM. This is not the same thing as getting them to say yes to Jesus. Not even close!
Our sacred responsibility and privilege is to bring The Kingdom of God crashing into earth. this is what Jesus did. And this is what Jesus taught. We have 38 recorded parables of Jesus. 21 of them say directly, "The Kingdom of God is like…" or "The Kingdom of Heaven is like…" (these are the same statements. Matthew is the only one who uses Heaven in the phrase and that is because of his agenda.).
So, if the Kingdom of God is like a generous landowner, then so should we be! Is that how people would describe you? Not the church you attend - YOU! The Kingdom of God is like a Mustard seed that becomes a big tree and gives shade to the birds. Do people who are not "saved" receive blessing because you are in their lives? Not the church you attend - YOU!
Discipleship is not about organizational development. It is all about me bringing heaven crashing into earth. And in the process, I tell a redemptive story of how my God feels about the world and people and social causes and the "less than" in my community and the marginalized people around the world. Not the church I attend - ME!
It bothers me that we have these conversations going on around the Christian world about whether a church should be a "social justice" church or a "discipleship" church. How did those things ever get separated? Engaging in social justice issues should deepen our walk with Jesus and invite others to join us. And Discipleship should always lead us to action in our community in a way that makes a profound difference in every aspect of people's lives, not just salvation.
I think one of the best evidences that a church is doing a good job of discipling is that we have people in our congregation that are actively pursuing social causes in the name of Christ - with the sole intent of bringing the Kingdom of God crashing in to that situation.
I do believe that it is sin for God's people to idly sit by and watch others suffer.
We have to do what Jesus did. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, restore the oppressed, set the captives free. this isn't just a Jesus job. This is a Jesus follower job. And that is why we disciple. To empower and equip those around us to effectively engage the darkness and kick at the darkness with absolute resolve until it bleeds daylight.