Have you ever felt inadequate or even guilty about trying to fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples? If so, read on…
As followers of Jesus Christ, He gave us a parting challenge just before He ascended into heaven. You probably know what I’m talking about. We call it The Great Commission. It’s found in Matthew 28:18-20. There, Jesus 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.“
The gist of what Jesus is telling you and me as His followers is that we’re to make disciples. (There are some additional aspects to this passage of course. But that is its primary focus.)
May I be very transparent with you? I have often felt very inadequate when it comes to making disciples. To be sure, I’ve had my moments of victory when I either had the opportunity to tell someone about Christ or lead a follower of Christ into deeper relationship with Him.
But often I’ve felt inadequate and a failure when it comes to fulfilling or even doing anything about the Great Commission and making disciples. And I would venture to guess that I’m not alone.
But I’ve discovered that Jesus never intended disciple-making to be difficult, or requiring extensive training. Instead, He put disciple-making on the “bottom shelf” so any follower of His can make disciples.
Actually, Jesus’ simple approach has been under our noses all along. Also, I think we’ve unintentionally complicated things by referring to disciple-making as The Great Commission. The term itself is so lofty and intimidating that we relegate discipleship to pastors, missionaries, and other trained “professionals” when it’s just you and me that Jesus seeks to recruit.
Oh, and there’s one more thing—we trip over the word, “Go” as in “Go and make disciples.” We read or hear the word “Go!” and naturally think of a call to missions. And in doing so, most of us conclude that we were not called to be missionaries and therefore, the command to make disciples doesn’t apply to us.
But in the original language, “go,” “baptizing” and “teaching” are all written in the form of participles. The verb to “make disciples” is the primary verb of Jesus’ command. What that means is that “go” would be better translated, “As you are going…make disciples.” In other words, “As you are going about your life, make disciples.” This brings disciple-making into the doable realm of every follower of Christ. At work, home, or play we can disciple others.
So, let me attempt to define disciple-making in a less intimidating, but biblical way:
We make disciples by representing Christ to others through our life and words.
That’s it! It’s that simple!
When we represent Christ to others through our life and words, we’re discipling them.
Let me show you how simple this is. Many years ago, I was meeting with Steve, a 17-year-old, who had just given his life to Christ. Steve and I met weekly in our home so I could lead him into deeper relationship with Christ. But Steve could not bring himself to pray in front of others.
So, one evening when we were scheduled to meet, I invited Steve to eat supper with our family. Our son, Jason, was just five at the time. When we all sat down at the dinner table, I asked Jason if he would give thanks for our meal. Jason prayed a spontaneous, heartfelt, five-year-old’s prayer.
After supper, Steve and I retreated to the basement. No sooner did we get there, and Steve blurted out, “Here I am a senior in high school and I’m afraid to pray, but your little boy just prayed a beautiful prayer! Could I pray right now?” And Steve prayed his first prayer in front of me.
My point in telling that story is that it was our five-year-old son, Jason, who discipled Steve and taught him to pray in that simple act! If a five-year-old boy can disciple someone, I know you and I can! And by the way, Steve is a pastor today!
What we are, and aren’t responsible for
If we’re representing Christ to a person who doesn’t yet know Him, we pray that this individual comes to faith in Christ. But we cannot bring about their salvation. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Our job is to represent Christ well to them through our life and words. We cannot measure our success (or obedience) by whether they decide to follow Christ, since that is their decision.
Instead, if we’re living and speaking in a way that represents Christ well, we’ve been faithful as a disciple-maker.
Similarly, if we’re living and speaking as representatives of Christ before other followers of Christ, we can’t measure our success based on their spiritual progress, but simply by our faithfulness as Christ’s representatives.
I think many of us have taken on responsibility for others’ spiritual growth and salvation that we were never intended to carry. And by doing so, we’ve unintentionally derailed the discipleship process because we felt we were failing at it. It’s hard to persist in something we think we’re failing at.
Instead of focusing on representing Christ well, many of us have focused on other measures over which we have no control.
We need to focus on Christ and follow Him.
And we must represent Him well to others.
Again, because we’ve been side-tracked to think of disciple-making as something unachievable, we’ve neglected the very things we can do and say to make disciples.
What it means to represent Christ
A number of years ago, I noticed something quite profound and perhaps you’ve noticed this too. Let me put it to you in the form of a question:
If you were to ask someone whether they are a Christian and they respond, “Yes,” what do you now know about them? Not much I think. Unfortunately, the term “Christian” has come to mean nothing and everything in our culture.
Instead, what if you were to ask someone, “Are you following Jesus?” Notice the difference in these two questions. The first question can be construed as an association with a system of belief. The second question gets at a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ and the impact that relationship is having on their life.
To represent Christ well means that we’re following Him
Let’s go back to our definition of making disciples: Representing Christ to others through our life and words. While we aren’t responsible for someone else’s response, we are accountable for our own.
You see, in addition to the reasons I stated above, I think another reason we have not done well at making disciples is that we’ve forgotten (or never knew) what it means to follow Jesus. Consequently, many of us (all of us at times) are not following Him and therefore don’t represent Him well to others. And when we’re not following Him, we derail the disciple-making process.
But when we are following Jesus, we represent Him well to others. In other words, following Jesus will naturally result in discipling others! Let me say that again…
Following Jesus will naturally result in discipling others!
That brings me to the purpose of this website, the blogs, podcasts, books, and other materials. I see in Scripture some simple skills that help us in following Jesus. This website is dedicated to those skills for following Jesus. I want to be faithful in following Jesus and if you know Him, I believe you want to be faithful in following Him too. And as we do, we’ll represent Him well to others.
I’ll introduce you to one of those following skills in this article and then unveil some of the others through blog posts, podcasts, and other materials in future weeks. One of the chief following skills is that we follow Jesus in the context of relationship with others.
We follow Jesus in the context of relationship with others
When you think about it this makes total sense. Following Jesus is all about cultivating our relationship with Him. And when He saved us, He not only reconciled us to the Father, but to other people as well (Ephesians 2:14-18). We find this relational theme all through the Bible:
- When Jesus called His disciples, He not only called them to Himself but to each other.
- When asked what the single greatest commandment was, Jesus responded with not one but two commands: “Love God and love others.”
- The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 are nearly all relational skills.
In fact, the bulk of all that’s written in the Bible has to do with our relationship with God and with people. Apart from relationships we cannot disciple others and we cannot grow as disciples of Jesus ourselves.
We also find passages of Scripture like Proverbs 27:17 that remind us how crucial others are in our spiritual growth and how vital we are in their growth. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
That verse gets at a key following skill that will help each one of us not only in following Jesus and being His representatives, but also in making disciples. That leads me to the BIG CHALLENGE that I’d like to propose to you and me.
The Big Challenge!
Are you up for a challenge that could not only change the course of your life, but of all those around you? Here’s the big challenge:
- Recruit one other person to walk with you in following Jesus. If you’re a man, choose a man. If you’re a woman, select a woman. We call this person a spiritual partner, a comrade in arms, or a spiritual confidant.
- Meet with this person weekly for a year. Together, decide when, where, and what you’ll do, but I’ll provide plenty of ideas so you never lack for a plan. (See some ideas below.)
- Meet with a purpose. The purpose of your meeting together is to spur one another on in following Jesus (Hebrews 10:24). Together, you’ll actively and deliberately grow in your relationship with Christ, with each other, and with others. In other words, you will be discipling one another!
- Meet, knowing that Jesus promised to be present with you. He will teach you what to do and say. Listen to His voice and follow Him. (Matthew 18:20; 28:20; John 14:16; Hebrews 13:5)
- Multiply! At the end of the year, you’ll each recruit another person to meet weekly with you and grow together. Your group will now consist of four, same-gender individuals. Consider recruiting someone who doesn’t yet know the Lord if they’re willing to meet with you. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a part in bringing them to Christ?! Repeat the above process, discipling one another.
- Divide! At the end of your second year, divide your group into two groups of two and have each group invite two more same-gender individuals to join them for a year. Repeat the above process.
- Hint: this isn’t intended to be a perfect model. If you end up with three or five in your group, that’s great! Just don’t let your group get so large that it becomes unwieldy and ineffective. Also, the annual mark for multiplying and dividing is not written in stone. Let the Holy Spirit lead you. Do keep these groups same-gender. Mixed-gender groups cannot explore and deal with the same issues that same-gender groups can. This was Jesus’ pattern with His twelve disciples.
That’s the challenge: meet with one person for one year, then multiply, and do it again!
By following this challenge you’ll be discipling each other because you’ll be representing Christ to each other through your life and words. If you think this sounds too simple or too easy to be true, I dare you to reread the Gospels and observe how Jesus discipled His followers!
I’m joining a host of other followers of Jesus. Our goal is to help mobilize and equip one million disciple-makers!
I am taking on this challenge, will you?
If you’re up to the challenge, would you please let me know?
My pledge to you is that I will provide blog articles, podcasts, books, testimonies, and other resources so that you never run out of options with your spiritual partner. The two of you will have the tools you need to propel each other forward in following Jesus Christ and making disciples.
Your brother in Christ,