"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.