If you ask a Christian what it means to make disciples, you might get a variety of answers: blank stares, jumbled thoughts, statements that it is not necessary to our modern culture, or maybe that making disciples is a task for church staff, seminary grads, and other “experts.”
Matthew 28:18-20 The Message (MSG)
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
I love the way this passage is translated in The Message. We have been commissioned. We are on a mission. That mission is to “train in this way of life” and “instruct them in the practice of all [He has] commanded.” Our mission is simple: train and instruct. We are called to share the Gospel. We are also called to train and instruct disciples.
We can’t lose sight of the fact that we are called to be disciples first. Jesus called the twelve saying, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” before He told them to “go and make disciples.”
What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?
“Discipleship is a call to be with, know and enjoy the Master. In this sense, the call to Biblical discipleship presupposes salvation, i.e., that a person has believed in Christ as Lord and Savior and continues to believe in Him. But discipleship is also a summons to follow Jesus and this is, at times, no easy matter. He demands exclusive, complete, and unflinching obedience to Himself. This is where his summons to discipleship is so radically different from Plato who stressed the freedom of the student from the teacher or even the Jewish religious leaders who focused more on the Torah and steered their disciples away from themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, pointed people to himself9 (and still does) and calls them to radical commitment to him.” – Bible.org
When we are disciples ourselves, being trained and instructed through the teachings and presence of Christ, we can then pour out into the lives of others. I used to think “making disciples” was this intense process where we needed a curriculum or something. I just recently realized that much of Jesus’ training of the disciples came through relationship. If I am in God’s word, learning and growing in my relationship with Christ, why not just start there? I changed my devotions with my kids to be more of “this is what God has been teaching me” or “listen to what God’s Word has to say about____.” This has freed me from feeling like I have to follow a set plan or check items off an imaginary discipleship list. It feels natural and real. I wonder if this is what relationships were like in the early church – a process of instructing from overflow and mentoring through life together.
This passage makes one thing very clear:
MAKING DISCIPLES IS NOT OPTIONAL.
Jesus very clearly said “go” and “make.” There were no caveats for whether you feel like it. No loopholes for not having the gift of “teaching.” No red tape for those who feel they aren’t mature enough in the faith yet. If you are a follower, you should be a disciple-maker. You should be sharing your grace story, being honest about the beauty in the broken places of your life, and modeling a life of devotion to your Savior. Of course, all of that is anything but easy or comfortable.
That is why Jesus ended with a promise. “I will be with you always.”
I don’t have to do this in my own strength. I don’t have to do this perfectly. I don’t have to check off boxes.
All I have to do is follow and be teachable. Jesus promises to meet me, work through me, and bring glory to Himself.