Jesus says to his disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matt 28:19-20). The only imperative in this passage is the command to “make disciples.” The “baptizing” and “teaching” are both clauses revealing the result of disciple making.
But let’s be clear about what Jesus says and does not say. Jesus’ command is to “make disciples.” Jesus does not command us to make converts to Christianity and understanding the difference between making disciples of Jesus and converts to Christianity is critical. It is entirely possible to be a convert to Christianity as a religion but not be a disciple of Jesus and the ever present reality of nominal Christianity proves this distinction.
Further more, Jesus does not command us to make, build, and grow churches. Jesus simply tells us to make disciples and there is a reason why. As one recent book bluntly says, “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples” (Building A Discipling Culture, 11-12). This means the church is the result of rather than the cause of discipleship.
As I pointed out in yesterday’s post, being a disciple begins with hearing Jesus’ call to follow him (cf. Matt 4:19; Mk 1:17). Each Gospel makes it clear following Jesus in his way of the cross has everything to do with being a disciple (cf. Matt 16:24; Mk 8:34). In these texts we have the word opisō which is translated as “following” or “coming after” Jesus. This is about our posture and position in relation to Jesus. Accepting our invitation to follow Jesus, we come after him as followers walking behind him so that we learn from him and overtime learn to live our lives more and more like Jesus lives his life.
This involves two commitments. First, overtime we learn to live our lives by the same beliefs and values Jesus lives his life by. For what we believe and value, shapes the way we live and thus, if we are to live in the way of Jesus, we share the same beliefs and values Jesus held regarding God and life. Second, this learning takes shape by doing as we see Jesus do. For example, as we see Jesus attending to prayer, so also we attend to prayer. As we see Jesus attending to acts of mercy, so also we attend to acts of mercy.
As we live as disciples of Jesus, we are able to make disciples. This is not our work or our mission but God’s work and God’s mission among us. So let’s hear the call of Jesus to come follow!