Paradoxes are fun—they’re like brain-teasers. Some people love to talk about them. It’s something else altogether to live inside of them. Jesus modeled living inside the most difficult paradoxes. For example, how can the ruler of the world become an example of obedience? How can the object of worship himself become an example of how to worship? How can the perfect Son of God call others to follow him, and then demonstrate the way to follow? It’s part of his genius, his glory and his nature. What’s more, he not only showed us how it’s done, he empowered us to do the same. I’m not talking about evangelism, I’m talking about making disciples. Real discipling is about making a way for others to approach the Father. If we’re only talking about Jesus, most of us are comfortable with this paradox, but our comfort is not his first concern. He told the 12, “I’ve discipled you, now go and do the same.” (Matthew 28: 16-20)
As his followers, we are called to make disciples as well, teaching others to obey everything he commanded. There are two great problems for church planters as we attempt to live up to this commission today:
First, many of us see discipleship only in terms of following Jesus—almost never in terms of leading others. How many of us receive the call to be his disciple as a personal call from God to become a leader? That’s right, he’s talking to you. We may come to him because we need a Savior, but if we choose to become a follower of Jesus we must also realize we are also choosing the responsibility to lead others. This is what it means to follow him: we act on his behalf in the lives of others. It’s more than “sharing our faith.” It’s taking responsibility for other people’s lives until they are mature followers of Jesus. He showed us—in very practical ways—exactly how it works.
Second, if we try to lead others, we run the risk of demanding from other people obedience to Jesus without actually equipping them to obey him. Jesus gave his disciples the tools necessary to live a healthy life with God. He did more than demand, he empowered his followers. He did more than point the way, he was the way. He pointed to issues of the heart, he included his students as partners in ministry, giving them hands-on experience, and he introduced them to the Holy Spirit, effectively opening the resources of heaven to each of his disciples. What about us? As disciple makers, do we interact with those God has given us in the same way? Do we teach about heart-matters? Do we release our students into ministry? Do we introduce them to the Holy Spirit?
It starts with a paradigm shift: We cannot equip others until we believe we are called to lead others. It will not do to claim, “I have no one to lead.” Jesus is our model: He came in obedience to the Father and simultaneously became a leader of others. We must do the same. God has provided venues for our leadership: in our homes, among our friends, at work or school, or in our community. We were called to change the world by allowing God to change us—and by becoming change agents wherever he leads us.
Both these challenges are critical to our personal development as students of Jesus, and as church planters. Our personal spiritual growth depends on coming to terms with these challenges, and the destiny of others depends on our response as well. Plenty of Evangelical churches encourage their people to share the gospel. Few of them call their people to disciple others in the Way. By disconnecting evangelism from discipleship our churches are effectively suggesting to believers that’s OK to have spiritual babies and abandon them.
What if our spiritual growth depended upon raising others in the faith? In fact, our spiritual growth depends on that very thing. Any responsible parent can tell you that having a child—and raising it—changed their lives for the better. When we look to the development of another our selfishness dies away. When our concern is for the spiritual success of another we are forced to determine what really works in the Christian life—and what doesn’t. Something is missing in us until we make disciples. Something is missing in the world around us when we fail to teach others how to obey everything he commanded us.
Who knew discipleship would require everything we have? I suspect the Jesus did.