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.”—Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
When we think about the primary purpose of the church, I say it has to be that we glorify God by making disciples. Of course with this famous “Great Commission” passage that is the exact command Jesus gives us—make disciples; and Jesus even tells us how: go, baptize, and teach. Now as churches we must take this and apply it to our situations and cultures in order to bring about discipleship. Here is one of the areas that I think we have freedom in the “how” so long as our methods fit with go, baptize, and teach.
So, I’m curious, as a matter of discussion—what does your church do to make disciples?
As a pastor, discipleship is my primary purpose in ministry. However, even though I grew up in church, the concept did not appear on my radar screen until halfway through college. As a kid I was involved in “Discipleship Training” which was like Sunday School before the evening service and went away in the late 80’s (at least in my experience). Other than that, I don’t remember anyone speaking about the word or the concept other than the rare sermon on Matthew 28, which was usually turned into a treatise on global missions.
Then my junior year of college when I transferred to the University of Oklahoma, I got involved in the Baptist Student Union where discipleship was everything—even to the point us upperclassmen were challenged to endure suffering (okay, no one ever used that term in this way, it just sounded good!) by living in freshman dorms to minister to and mentor the campus newbies. The church I attended also placed discipleship at the forefront.
Fast-forward to now being a pastor…I also try to bring discipleship to the forefront. Some of the methods the BSU and church taught me still apply, while I have modified others for my present context. But I’ve learned that a lot of churches are like the one I grew up in—the people know disciple is a biblical term, but there’s little thought as to the how, what, and why. A gentleman in my church asked me what discipleship meant and when I told him he said: “I’ve always basically been taught that I go to Sunday School and church and it’s the teachers’, deacons’ and preachers’ job to teach the Bible and help people grow spiritually. I’ve never been taught that I’m learning so I can go mentor and teach others as well.”
Most recently, I’m trying to get the ball really rolling church-wide. In two weeks I’ll be starting a short sermon series introducing the concept to the congregation as a whole. We also recently changed our purpose statement to reflect a discipleship process: We exist to honor Jesus by living the truth, building community, and pursuing missions. “Go” is bound in pursuing missions, “baptize” is the entryway into community, and “teach” is what we do to help people live the truth as they build community.
We emphasize living the truth through corporate and individual worship including prayer, Bible study, and good stewardship of our money, time, jobs, and families. We emphasize building community through fellowship, encouragement in Christian living, and accountability. And we emphasize pursuing missions through serving others and witnessing with the gospel in our community and throughout the world. And the process encourages reproduction, movement, and growth as living the truth leads to building community which leads to pursuing missions to expand our community which leads to helping others to live the truth, and the cycle continues.
As a church, we are still in the beginning phases, but after much thought, some teaching (with more to come), and talking to people, this is the direction I’m leading my church as we seek to put our own process to go, baptize, and teach. Will it work? Check back in a few years and we’ll see what the progress is like. But like I said, as we start this process I’m curious: what does your church do? And, is it effective in helping people know Jesus and become more like Jesus?