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Friday, July 22, 2016

Making Disciples

We are commanded, of course, to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15) Let no one convince you otherwise. However, that is only the beginning. We aren't sent to make converts; we're sent to make disciples. No, more than that.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt 28:19-20)
We are to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe all that Christ commands. No small task. And you can ask anyone -- this is the "Great Commission". That is, it's important. Why, then, do you suppose that it is so very rare to find it being done or to find a church that teaches it? What's up with that?

Years ago at a church at which I was an elder, a church at which I ministered and thoroughly enjoyed, I spoke to the pastor about it. I thought it would be a good thing, for instance, if the pastor would find a young man or two, maybe late high school, who might think they were called to be pastors, and mentor them. Have them hang around while he does his "pastor thing". Visit the sick, go see people, maybe in some counseling and the like. Teach them by word and deed what it means to be a pastor. The church might sponsor them to go to Bible college or seminary. They would might lead children's ministry stuff and, as they grow and learn, higher age groups. They would be known by the church. They might give a sermon when the pastor is away. When it came time for the pastor to retire, no "search committee" would be required; one of these would naturally step in. "Too much work," he told me. Is that why? Is it not worth the time and effort to disciple? Is it too much work to obey Christ?

Discipleship is the process by which a Christian with a life worth emulating commits himself for an extended period of time to a few individuals who have been won to Christ, the purpose being to aid and guide their growth to maturity and equip them to reproduce themselves in a third spiritual generation. If a person commits to bringing 100 people a year to Christ, at the end of 15 years he would have produced 1,500 converts. If a person commits to discipling two people a year, in that same 15 years he would have produced 32,768 disciples. That's the power of discipleship.

Paul told Timothy, "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Tim 2:2) That's basic discipleship. If Jesus is our example, discipleship is not simply teaching information. It is a "walk alongside" process of teaching and demonstrating Christ, of encouraging and exhorting, of pouring your life into another with the end in view of being their example to follow to Christ -- their local Christ-mirror, so to speak. We often use the word "mentoring", and that might work as long as it's understood that it's long term and not merely situational. (Often a mentor is thought of as teaching one subject or handling one crisis.) Jesus told His disciples, "I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you." (John 13:15) Peter said we were called for the purpose of suffering for our faith "since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." (1 Peter 2:21) Paul told Titus to "speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine." (Titus 2:1) He told him to teach older men what they should be and younger men what they should be and older women to teach younger women (Titus 2:2-6) Most importantly, he told Titus "In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us." (Titus 2:7-8) Paul told the Philippians, "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." (Phil 3:17) That's discipleship -- being and staying close enough to be observed and imitated.

Maybe that's why we don't disciple much. It's frightening to any of us who know ourselves as the sinners we are. "Who am I to demonstrate Christ to others? Who am I to be an example?" This, of course, fails to take into account the work of Christ in each of us. Discipleship is a scary thing, the walking alongside of a more spiritually mature believer with a spiritually younger Christian to be the local display of Christ. Parents ought to be discipling their children. Husbands ought to be discipling their wives (Eph 5:25-27). And it surely should go beyond that. True, this discipler is growing at the same time. Sure, the one doing the discipling has not arrived at perfection. And, yes, this is a daunting task. Still, we're commanded to do it. So who is your Paul? Who is your Timothy? How are you doing at following the Great Commission? I ask because I have not yet arrived and I thought maybe -- just maybe -- I'm not alone in this.


Craig said...

Commands, aren't those something like rules? Don't you know that there are no rules in the Bible.

IN all seriousness, this is an incredibly Biblical concept and something that our church takes fairly seriously.

Stan said...

I'd be interested in how your church takes it seriously. What do they do? How do they "propagate" it? How does it work? (You could email me with that kind of information.)

Marshall Art said...

"We aren't sent to make converts; we're sent to make disciples."

Would you explain what you see is the distinction between the two? I'm not seeing one. If a man becomes a disciple, isn't he converted from what he once was?

Stan said...

Jesus makes the distinction. He says, "You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) (Make converts.) But in the Great Commission He goes much, much farther. They are to be not merely converts. They are to be disciples, which includes baptism and being taught to observe all that Christ commands (Matt 28:19-20). Much bigger. But the best example of disciple (versus convert) is Jesus's relationship with His disciples. He didn't merely call them to follow Him (make convert). He walked with them, talked with them, taught them, prayed with them, prayed for them, ate with them, even sent them out. Today's normal method is "Okay, you've said the Sinner's Prayer, now go out and be a Christian." Today's normal method has left Christians woefully ignorant of the truth, of the Scriptures, of Christ.

"If a man becomes a disciple, isn't he converted from what he once was?"

Yes. The "converted" is the beginning of the "disciple". Not all converts are baptized or taught. That's my point.

Craig said...

At our church we have a well developed system in place for allowing young people to be in positions of leadership of those younger than they are.

The student leaders are mentored/discipled in small groups by a young adult (20's), who is mentored/discipled by someone older and more mature.

What I've seen from my son's going through this process in that having to answer questions and deal with issues has forced them to increase their own knowledge, while the relationships with some of their mentors/coaches has and continues to have a positive impact on them.

I suspect that this is part of the reason that both of them have continued to be involved in leadership roles in various ministries and churches as well as why the younger is working toward a ministry degree with the plan to work in ministry to kids after college.

I personally like that idea of growing the replacement for the senior pastor internally for a number of reasons, yet also have some concerns. In our church, our senior pastor fills/has filled that role for multiple people in the course of his tenure and will continue to do so. However, given our church polity as well as the size of the church, I'm not sure that that course would fly.

Honestly, the way our church allows and encourages the development of students in leadership roles is one of the things that I'm really encouraged by. I know how valuable it can be for a kid in middle school have a high school kid invest themselves in the spiritual development of the younger kids.

Stan said...

Back in the 70's I heard of a pastor that structured his (eventually mega) church in a sort of "pyramid scheme", so to speak. He mentored a group of men who, in turn, each mentored groups who then ... well, you get the idea. The structure was mimicked on the women's side and the whole church was built to disciples as well as to be, ultimately, both unified (because it came from the top) and interlinked. Nice idea if you can find it.

As for my "train a pastor from your midst" idea, I realize that this is dependent on the church. Some denominations insist on appointing pastors to churches; the churches themselves don't really have a say. I was talking about the rest, of course.

Craig said...

I understand your point about promoting from within, I was just giving you some reasons why we wouldn't do that.

I think the downside of the "pyramid" approach above is that it seem to become much too dependent of the personality of the person or people at the top and doesn't seem like a place that would be too welcome to people asking tough questions.

Stan said...

Well, often, I suppose, it could depend on the leader (although if that leader was a Paul or a Peter that would be good, right?), but on the other hand the structure also allows for self-correction. Each level would tend to correct itself if it went awry (and we're not talking about a cult mentality or some such thing). The potential problem you describe would require already misguided leadership.

Craig said...

I completely agree that poor leadership would be the problem.