Closing The Gap Of Discipleship
What is the meaning of life? Is there a life after death? Why is the sky blue? What is beauty? What is truth? What is true love? What is commitment? What is a great relationship? What is the good life? What is success? Who is a good person? Wouldn’t you like to have an answer to these most important questions? Without becoming an apprentice to Jesus, no answer can satisfy.
People in and out of the church are asking the same questions. You probably have a few of your own. Some time ago, I dared ask a few questions of God for my life (something I do periodically). Who am I? What shall I do with my life? How shall I live? Who do I follow? Who will be my teacher? These questions and their answer are my way of reaffirming my primary identity as a disciple of Jesus. Go ahead, swipe my questions, and ask them for your own life.
“It is finished,” the words spoken from the cross on which Jesus died for us, announced the completion of a mission, not only of saving the world but also of showing us how to live out our salvation in this world-discipleship that is. I hear Jesus saying, “my life is ending and my mission is complete. I have proclaimed the availability of the kingdom of God to those who repent and trust. I have healed. I have taught. I have pardoned. I have cried. I have lived and modeled the life humanity ought to live. I have paid the penalty. I have suffered and relieved much suffering. Look at my way of life, and do it my way. Friends, followers, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, and bondservants and free, this is the way of discipleship.” I’ve imagined these on Jesus’ holy lips. They are loaded with truths of God. Released, they will flood our souls and enliven us forever. Heeded, they will lead us into the life of the disciple. Please, don’t make me cry by making this way of discipleship into a six-weeks-fill-in-the-blanks booklet. This kind of discipleship is life on life, pain and joy, grace and mercy, and sweat, blood, and tears in the service of our king.
Jesus commanded this in his final post-resurrection appearance, “make disciples’. Do as He did and you too would say at life’s end, “it is finished.” “What would Jesus do?” is an OK question. What did Jesus do? That’s much better. We can answer the second question with much more assurance than the first. The dying part of Jesus’ mission is unique. The making disciples part is not. It’s ours to follow. His way of disciple making must be our way. He made disciples by living life with his disciples. He picked ordinary people to be with him - Marys and Marthas, Peters and Andrews, and anyone else who would learn from him how to be like him and to be fishers of men. They are to catch others and release them into the life of the kingdom of God, the life of discipleship and disciple making. Jesus made disciples and commanded the same of us. Only then can we claim to be the people of Jesus commissioned to do what Jesus did.
Southern Baptists, as do others, use words to label Matthew 28:18-20 and similar passages as the Great Commission. We think of ourselves as great commission people. We’ve gone through a two-year process to redefine ourselves as sold out to the great commission. Our agencies are reorganizing themselves around their understanding of the great commission, which is commendable. However, unless we spell out what this making of disciples is all about, and engage ourselves in it radically and fully, we will still be shouting hollow words from theologically shaky rooftops.
The central commands of Jesus to love God and love others as ourselves, move on the track of discipleship. The nexus, the core from which everything else flows in the Christian life, the life of loving God and others, is the making of disciples. Ministry, planting churches, evangelizing and witnessing, becoming missionaries, and scientists, and teachers, and plumbers, and garbage collectors, are all ways we express our discipleship to Jesus. It must become impossible in our midst to speak of the great commission and not be engaged in maximum and radical ways of being and making disciples.
Preaching, or being a deacon, janitor, worship leader, church clerk or treasurer are secondary to being and making disciples, which is our main identity as followers of Christ. We must subject all we do to being and making disciples. Had our Master not made disciples we would have no disciples today. The way Christianity survived and thrived is by making disciples the way Jesus did.
It comes down to this: every church ministry’s main task is to make disciples. I hear these words of Jesus deep within me: Make disciples or continue to flounder. Make disciples; there are no shortcuts to following me. Make disciples; the world will see the fruit of your discipleship, love, and will follow me. Make disciples; learn of me. Make disciples; live your life the way I would as if I were living it in your place. Make disciples; die to self. Make disciples; pay the price. Make disciples; or be disobedient. Make disciples my way; or struggle doing it your way.
Many among us are sounding the alarm that there is a gap of discipleship in our midst. Now is the time to fill the gap. Brutus’ words haunt me when it comes to discipleship:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224
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