This is article two of a ten part series. Click here to view the previous article.
(a repost but essential to this series)
We’re finally taking seriously our great Co-Mission from Jesus to Go, make disciples. It seemed that the church had forgotten these final words of the Lord, but making disciples is on the lips of every speaker, leader, and preacher you hear today. Frankly, it’s about time! That is what He told us to do, but what does making disciples mean in today’s world. The word, disciple, is not a normal, 21st century term used in business or corporate ventures. It’s a church word that had largely been eclipsed except in programmatic language for what you do on Sunday nights or if you’re really creative, Wednesdays in place of the old Prayer Meeting format – Disciple-ship Training. I’m glad we’re rediscovering this good word and putting it in the right context of an intentionally relational lifestyle of making disciples.
However, I fear that those of us in church leadership want to define a disciple in such glowing terms that our average layperson’s reaction is, “I can’t make one of those! I’m not one of those, yet.” What we’re asking our people to do is more than Jesus asked. He said Go, make disciple not Go, make super Christians!
What, exactly, did He mean by disciple? What is a disciple? Let’s look at what Jesus did when he made disciples. In Matthew 4 when he called his disciples, He simply invited them to come learn from Him. After all, he was a rabbi, a teacher; and it was common for rabbis to attract students, learners to follow him and to study his way. It’s evident that Jesus had already built a meaningful relationship with these men or they would never have left their livelihood or their fathers to follow Him. He promised to teach them how to transform their fishing. What Jesus did was to make students, learners; He called for them to “Come, learn with me.” When Peter and Andrew, James and John left with Him, they were not believers, but they were disciples; learner disciples. Transformation came later.
I see, in Jesus’ Great Commission a simple, three step transformation process for making disciples:
Step 1. Go, make disciples – Learner Disciple
Making super Christians is not our job. Jesus asks us simply to make learners. The best way to do this is by building meaningful relationships with people who are in “our world”. Research shows that 85% of people are willing to have an honest conversation about spiritual things these days, so in conversations, introduce them to the One you follow. This can be done over a cup of coffee at work or a bowl of ice cream at your home. Then eventually connect them with a small community of fellow followers at a cook out with your care group, or a class or small group fellowship. As the relationship deepens, introduce them to your practice of gathering as a small group each Sunday morning or weeknight to discuss spiritual things using the Bible as the basis for conversations. Invite them to Come learn with us. A learner disciple is not perfect; s/he’s rough around the edges, unfinished, a work in progress; s/he’s not a Bible scholar or a spiritual giant, but a learner. Sounds like Peter, doesn’t it? But it took some time for him to be able to say, Thou art the Christ!
Step 2. Baptizing them… – Believer Disciple
I truly believe that the gospel is so winsome that if a learner disciple hears the Word and experiences it lived out in you and the small group, he cannot help but become a believer disciple; one who makes the conscious choice to be a follower of Jesus. For this to happen, however, the group of fellow followers must experience community, that closeness of relationships seen in Acts 2. It must be Word driven, beginning with, returning to, and ending with God’s Word. It has to be small enough for personal discovery and interaction where personal experiences and the biblical passage intersect. It needs to be a “safe-zone” where the hard questions can be asked without threat. Just as Barnabas was to Paul, the mature believer’s job is to be a spiritual friend and mentor to this new believer.
Step 3. Teaching them to observe… Fully Devoted, Reproducing Disciple
When something is observed, it is being demonstrated which means change or transformation has occurred. The work of transformation is not complete when learner disciples become believers. It is the job of the mature believers to continue to be mentors and coach them to become fully devoted, reproducing disciples. The small community is at its best when even smaller groups are formed. Care Groups can introduce the idea of ministry and outreach to new believers. Small triads and one-on-one mentoring groups can be formed within the small community to strengthen the devotion of the new believer. The communities’ job is not just making disciples but also maturing them.
So, when you hear someone pontificating about our great Co-mission of making disciples, think process: From Learner to Believer to Fully Devoted-Reproducing Disciple. All of this starts with the simple act of intentionally building a meaningful relationship, developing a new friend, introducing him/her to a small community of friends, and saying, Come learn with us.
Phil Stone is the State Sunday School Director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.