Part 1 of a series on Disciple Making in Community
Many church leaders wonder about the necessity and effectiveness of small groups in leading people to be mature disciples of Jesus. This thread of posts attempts to address these issues by justifying and describing certain essential elements of an environment that is needed to fulfill God’s commands to make disciples.
Having pronounced His personal mission of atonement for the human race complete and before leaving Earth in bodily form, Jesus defined the mission that is to engage all His disciples until His return. At the end of his Gospel, Matthew recorded an eloquent and succinct statement of the main component of this assignment, called the The Great Commission: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”1 The original language makes it very clear that Jesus had in mind one primary directive, “make disciples,” which is carried out in three activities that are to touch all the ethnic groups on the planet: going, baptizing and teaching.
The record in the book of Acts and the New Testament letters give us the model of the Apostle’s method for carrying out this mandate. Paul gets the primary focus because he was specifically tasked to reveal God’s pattern for how the church is to function2. His broad strategy was to intentionally engage people in order to proclaim the gospel in strategic locations, gather new believers into long-term, committed, local family-like communities, often meeting in homes, pass on to them the core doctrines of The Faith that included standards of conduct befitting people who have been reconciled with God, then appoint, train and release leaders to continue the teaching and shepherding of the local church into full spiritual maturity with the intent that the churches would reproduce the process.3
Further study of the New Testament gives us more detail about the process. All disciples are supposed to intentionally engage and enlighten the people around them by demonstrating a godly life and providing an explanation of the gospel. That’s the “going” part of the commission. For some, this means crossing significant cultural and, or, physical distance to reach those who have not heard.4
Through the act of baptism, new believers are accepted by, and declare their identification with, a new genus of human being – the family of the reborn, the Body of Christ.5
The third element, Jesus’ command to teach, requires some explanation because our cultural background makes us prone to misunderstand it. First, it does not simply mean to pass on information or religious tradition. It does mean that each new member of the body is to be engaged in the formation of a new personal character, a Christ-like character that comes about by learning the truth about God and His perspective on the world then allowing these new values to change their manner of living. Another way of putting it is that disciples help one another work out and guard in their mind and behavior, the whole manner of life that Jesus demonstrated, including living in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit while being in a constant relationship with the Father. Jesus intends each disciple to reach a high level of maturity in this process, while accepting that no one becomes perfectly Christ-like in their natural lifetime.
The Christian’s Status
Unfortunately many Christians find the process of becoming a mature follower of Jesus Christ to be a haphazard process in which they stumble through a barrage of sermons, books, conferences, information, and courses sometimes unclear of the goal and unaware that there is supposed to be a basic plan for the process. It’s not surprising why. While some churches in past eras at least had catechisms to present basic information to converts, few churches today have a plan of ordered learning for establishing people in The Faith nor do they have an effective environment that intentionally guides people into the level mature Christian character the New Testament expects. Part of the reason is that by accepting current western educational norms which primarily teach people by imparting encyclopedic structures of knowledge in classroom settings, the church has often suppressed Biblical concepts of making disciples.
This article sets forth a brief justification and concepts needed to help a local church improve this situation.
The Christian’s Responsibility
Since Jesus clearly defined the task that every Christian should be involved in until His return, every responsible church member and especially every leader must be concerned about their role and effectiveness in accomplishing it. Church leaders have many expectations laid upon them by their congregation. However, Eph. 4:11-13, explains that God has given leaders to the church for the primary purpose of bringing people to a high level of unity and maturity of character:
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”((Ephesians 4:11-13))
A word of warning. If you are looking for a pre-designed program, then you are looking in the wrong place. I don’t mean that this article lacks practical content, I just want to emphasize that making disciples involves looking at yourself first. You must let God transform your own character, values and vision, then transfer your life effectively to others. To do that effectively requires some insight into the goal and process involved.Footnotes
- Matt. 28:18-20 – ESV Also see Matt. 24:4-14; John 14:6; Acts 1:4b-8 [↩]
- Ephesians 3:8-10 [↩]
- Col. 4:5; Titus 2:1; 2 Tim. 3:10; 1 Peter 2:12; Acts 15:2; Titus 1:5; Planting Churches Cross Culturally [↩]
- Rom. 10:14-15; 15:18-22 [↩]
- 1 Cor. 12:12-14; 18; Gal. 3:26-28 [↩]