The Great Commission. A phrase we have adopted to describe the mission Jesus left for his followers. It sounds like an awesome mission (and it is), but I have struggled for years to understand the meaning of discipleship. Is evangelism the same as discipleship? Unfortunately, the church often serves to muddle the situation. Let’s be clear: We have a mission on this earth, and our mission is to make disciples. You and I will be held accountable for how we carried out our mission. This is not something to be taken lightly.
And I believe most Christians believe Jesus intends for us to take the mission seriously, but we have no clue what it means or what it looks like practically. It either seems too confusing or too daunting. Believe me, I am with you. For many, trying to get a firm grasp on discipleship is about as easy as trying to make your tongue touch your nose (if you want to waste a few minutes of your life, give it a try).
So, I want to make a few points about discipleship that might serve to clear the water a bit. Let’s do it.
Is it evangelism or discipleship?
1.) Understand discipleship is the ultimate mission…not evangelism.
We need to start here…as followers of Jesus, we must break down the stigma that says if the person we are mentoring or teaching does not get baptized, we have failed. Making disciples includes those who know Jesus and those who do not. It can take place in entirely Christians contexts (like Christian schools), and it can occur in entirely non-Christian contexts. Young Christians need more mature Christians to model and teach for them new and greater truths about God. Those who do not know Jesus need people to model for them the redeeming power of Jesus. Both are important. There is not one way to make disciples. It looks different for each person because each person is unique. Our ultimate goal is not to ensure we baptize people or even get them to a certain spiritual maturity, the goal is to show them Jesus. David Platt said it this way:
Our goal is not to manipulate decisions…our goal is to make disciples.
Let’s not forget this truth: WE do not straighten up lives. We do not transform people. God handles that. Our goal is to be present in whatever situation God places us. This means we don’t focus on the outcomes as much as we focus on being present. Your job might be to plant the seed. Your job might be to simply speak a kind word or begin the process of turning somebody toward God. Your role might be to evangelize (preach the gospel), but your role might also be to feed the homeless, rescue the orphan or care for the widow. One is not more important than the other.
Primarily, we are ministers of reconciliation. We are redeemers. We have been called by God to step into brokenness and restore it by the power of the Spirit working through us.
When we begin to look at people only as souls that need to be saved from eternal damnation instead of broken people that need holistic redemption, we will start to objectify people and view them as projects.
This is the danger of seeing evangelism as the ultimate mission. It creates a dangerous mentality where we have no real concern with restoring lives. When people do not “get down” with the five steps, we kick them to the curb. When people do “get down” with the five steps, we add another mark on the tally board. Even before we get them out of the water, we have moved on to our next “project.” Either way, this is objectification.
Discipleship is walking with people. Being present in brokenness. Speaking life with our conversations. Constantly trying to model Jesus with our actions. Refusing to go away because our homosexual neighbor refuses to take the trajectory we have mapped out for him or her. Refusing to write off our co-worker because he or she turned down our invitation for a Bible study. This is discipleship. This is our mission.
Do we always baptize? No, but when we do, we party like it’s 1999 (for the glory of God, of course), and we continue to walk with our new brother or sister in Christ. We have a responsibility, but the responsibility is not to evangelize and baptize the world. Evangelism and baptism will flow from fulfilling the ultimate mission: making disciples. The responsibility we have is to be Jesus and show the character and nature of God to every person we encounter.
But this presents a problem for many people. I can feel the tension the previous few paragraphs have created as you read. Tension is good. Let’s keep going. The next point builds on the first.
2.) Be intentional.
Remember we now live in a culture where people are not walking into our doors every Sunday asking us if we will tell them about Jesus. Before the rise of the Millennials, discipleship predominantly played itself out inside the church building. People were coming to the church building because they were broken and looking for something. If you invited somebody to come to worship on Sunday, the response was favorable. Programs and activities were geared toward bringing people to the building because Christianity stood at the center of the culture.
In 2014, the game has changed. Christianity is on the periphery of culture now. Yes, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, people are not beating down the doors of our building and they are not overly receptive to attending a worship service with us. But there is something that has not changed…people are still broken and looking for something.
As long as we are living in this world, there will be people who are broken and looking for something to fill the void.
So, how do we step into the brokenness of people’s lives in 2014? One word: intentionality. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning, we put on the lenses of Jesus, and we move through our day with the lenses on. There is NEVER a moment where we put down our guard. Every conversation, every relationship, every encounter, every email, every text message and every social media post is an opportunity for us to show God to other people. Without intentionality, our jobs, marriages, relationships, etc. terminate on themselves. We view our job as a means to make money. We use our time at the ball field as an opportunity to watch our children or spouse. When we allow our days to terminate on themselves, making disciples is impossible.
Which brings us to point 3.
3.) Weave gospel threads.
This idea was first brought to my attention by David Platt when I went to Secret Church a few months ago. He made a statement that resonated with me and has forced me to re-think how discipleship works itself out in my daily life: Many Christians say they believe in God but speak about their jobs, marriages, successes, failures etc. like an atheist.
Here is what he meant. If God is actually present and active in our lives every day, why are we not talking about Him? Why are we not attributing our successes to Him? Why are we not mentioning God in our conversations? Is it not true that everything we are and every situation we find ourselves in is solely a result of God working in and through us? We need to make God’s name and character known to a world that is looking for something. Why would our co-workers, school mates, etc. be drawn to God if we never mention Him in our conversations?
This is what I believe making disciples looks like in 2014. We weave gospel threads into every situation and every conversation. We find opportunities to give God glory for what is happening in our lives. We talk about the sustaining presence and power of God during difficult times. We don’t leave other people to guess who is at the center of our lives.
When we go eat at restaurants, we pray for our waiters/waitresses. When we go to coffee shops, we look for opportunities to mention Jesus in conversation. At our place of work, we mention the name of Jesus as often as possible. Not because we are trying to give off some “holier than thou” persona, but because we acknowledge God is our source of strength, our reason for existence, our creator, our sustainer, our provider, our source of comfort during hard times and the reason for our joy, peace, hope. We can’t help but speak about Him!
The more gospel threads we weave in our lives, the more opportunities we will have to share Jesus directly with other people. The more opportunities we will have to directly step into the brokenness of the world and be the restorers God has saved us to be. People are still looking for something, and when they see that we have that “something,” they will eventually come asking.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!