Considering the grand story of God’s redemption, it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of Jesus’ words, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Not only does his Great Commission link the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry with the post-ascension church, but this command encompasses all the other commands.
In doing so, Jesus lays a foundation and DNA for the church’s expansion. In this way, as David Bosch describes, the disciples were “prototypes for the church.” So the call to make disciples is the call to continue the work of Jesus. It becomes the primary task of his people. The church’s other commands and activities are subjected to this primary directive.
Discipleship Is the Primary Task
In the last 30 years, the global picture of missions has radically shifted. As church planting movements have multiplied exponentially, the Great Commission suddenly doesn’t seem hopelessly out of reach. Why is that?
One reason is that those whom God has sent have re-engaged their primary task: making disciples. For too long, cross-cultural missions—not to mention domestic church planting—have looked more like the church copying rather than disciple making. However, incredible things happen when the church engages in its primary task. With the focus on discipleship, there is an expansion and multiplication of the Church.
The call to make disciples is the call to continue the work of Jesus. Making disciples is the core task of all who follow Jesus. With the focus on discipleship, there is an expansion and multiplication of the Church.
Discipleship Is for Everyone
One of the most encouraging statements in the New Testament is right before Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission. “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17).
Within the group that was given the most significant and audacious task ever, some actually doubted. Hopefully, that is fresh air for everyday Christians who want to live on mission and make disciples! If doubt is not a disqualifier, then surely our imperfect level of biblical knowledge or evangelistic persuasion isn’t either.
Making disciples is not just for the “special Christians.” It doesn’t solely belong to people with a particular job title. Making disciples is the core task of all who follow Jesus.
The average church leader needs to take on the role of mobilizer. For most people, disciple making begins with those around them. The problem is that they do not see themselves as players in the game but as spectators watching the “real” athletes. The Great Commission becomes tangible when we realize that disciple making is not just for advanced Christians and that we are miraculously and strategically placed as the most effective missionaries in our relational network.
Discipleship Is Not a Program
The word go within the Great Commission is often translated as an imperative verb in most English Bibles. However, it is a participle in the original Greek. So, a better reading could be “as we go.” The only imperative verb in the Great Commission text is “make disciples.” Therefore, disciple making is not a program. It should be part of our ongoing lives.
Although we have intentional disciple-making strategies, Jesus moved at the monotonous speed of relationships. His followers learned the rhythms and ways of his life. They heard his words, and his commandments became compelling. His love became real. They became mini-pictures of the master they served.
We are not to make disciples of ourselves, but of Jesus, the master.
Dallas Willard said, “The greatest challenge the church faces today is to be authentic disciples of Jesus. And by that, I mean they’re learning from Him how to live their life, as He would live their life if He were they.” That’s disciple making.
We are not to make disciples of ourselves, but of Jesus, the master. Discipleship is not teaching people the information that we know. We want to get them to the feet of Jesus. They need to become his apprentices, not ours. The goal is for them to submit to and learn directly from Jesus.
Discipleship Is Linked to Evangelism
It’s common, for whatever reason, to think that “discipleship” happens after evangelism. Notice that the nations are the ones Jesus told his eleven to disciple. They were not yet followers of Jesus. Therefore, making disciples is deeply connected to reaching the lost. It’s not something that happens after conversion. However, it encompasses the whole missional journey. Roy Moran has said that “making disciples starts with lost people and ends with Biblically functioning churches.”
Discipleship Is More Obedience than Knowledge
Most people believe that the final action of the Great Commission is teaching. They forget what action we are to teach them to do: “Go and make disciples … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded” (Matthew 28:19, 20; italics mine). Disciple making is far less about transferring information and more about teaching them to surrender their lives to Jesus as Lord. Obedience supersedes knowledge as the defining point of a disciple.
One of the primary characteristics of discipleship movements is that they are obedience-based. Practically, this means asking people to obey what God is saying. This approach is encouraging to all since it relies on the compelling power of Jesus’ words and not on our skills or knowledge to convert or make disciples.
Discipleship Is Not Always about Individuals
Western church culture tends to equate discipleship with one-on-one meetings, usually at a coffee shop. Yet, as we observe in the early church, disciple making is about reaching entire people groups, not just individuals. When new groups are reached, entire networks begin to follow Jesus together. The church emerges as a result of making disciples.
Discipleship Is Multiplication
If we’re not making disciples who can reproduce other disciples, then we are not living out the Great Commission. As apprentices of Jesus, we are to do what the master does, and Jesus was centered on making disciples. We are to be all about multiplication.
Mike Breen once said, “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.” Again, amazing things happen when the church remembers her primary commission to make disciples.