Therefore go and make disciples…

(This is a revision of a post that had such a short life, for it was posted just days before my December blog meltdown.)

When Jesus said, “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,” have you ever given any thought to what he meant? I don’t mean what you have been taught about what he meant, but what he really had in mind?

Having spent most of my formative spiritual years in a fine Southern Baptist community of faith, when this verse was read I’d immediately think of evangelism and not much beyond that. We were taught that what this “Great Commission” meant was to go and evangelize the world. This was all well and good, but it focused all our efforts on a transaction, on getting the conversion, on getting someone baptized. But isn’t there more to this charge than a transaction?

What is embodied in making disciples? Here are some thoughts that I’ve been journaling as I’ve meditated on this passage. I share them only to get you started on your own meditative work, for there are deep riches here yet to be mined and understood.

  • It will be necessary for us to leave what is comfortable, familiar and known to go, to become exiles and strangers in the world. Going implies journey and making disciples is about calling others to this journey.
  • As Luke communicated in his account, we have a story to tell, that the Christ lived and suffered and died and on the third day he rose from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins are in his name (this is not a transactional message, but a transformational one). We also have our own transformational story, which is interwoven with the story of Jesus and becomes part of the whole.
  • There was no bounds put on who could be a follower of Jesus. It was for all nations and therefore transcends ethnic, religious, gender, national, economic and sociological boundaries. The bringing of people together from all nations as disciples on the same journey creates a unique community where there is no division into “Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female.” We are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ and with each other.
  • There is intentionality in ones decision to become a Jesus follower which is first represented in the act of baptism. This baptism is also the act by which the disciple identifies with the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and indicates a union with God and his Body.
  • Teaching involve one Jesus follower becoming intimately involved with other Jesus followers in all stages of their lives. This involvement is embodied in community and the interdependence among the disciples within a faith community.
  • Obedience is an easy concept to understand and such a hard one to accept in our society that honors the rugged independent and self-sufficient individualist. But only in laying down “self” do we truly enter in to the fullness of relationship with Christ. I’m reminded of John’s admonition, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”
  • Teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded puts the emphasis on the teachings of Jesus as communicated to us by the Apostles. Our focus should always start with Jesus and his direct teachings. I know that all scripture is good for us and useful, but I do believe far to many Jesus followers dwell on the Old Testament law to excess and not enough on the direct teachings of Jesus and his Apostles.

What is embodied in making disciples. We should move beyond the traditional models we all learned in our faith communities and follow the method Jesus did. Briefly, this would entail:

  • Teaching and building spiritual understanding. Good theology drives good praxis. And by theology I don’t mean stuff like eschatology or predestination.
  • Modeling the praxis and life that the spiritual understanding should produce.
  • Going with them into situations that required the disciple to be out on the spiritual edge, in the deep water, where only God can produce a spiritual result — it is a place just beyond where they can rely on natural talent and skill.

13 Responses to “Therefore go and make disciples…”

  1. Shannon says:

    Rick,

    I like this post! What it does is compels us to look long and hard at the Great Commission and consider where we aren’t fully realizing what Jesus had in mind. For one, I think what you said, “Teaching involves one Jesus follower becoming intimately involved with other Jesus followers in all stages of their lives”, really hits the nail on the head. If Jesus did one thing in the process of making disciples, it was this. He poured himself into those twelve men and gave them everything He was. He withheld nothing! He didn’t give up on them when it appeared they just didn’t “get it” and probably never would. I see too many times where we give up on people because they just don’t get it or they have more questions than we may have answers. We tend not to like “high maintenance” people but Jesus hand selected twelve of the most high maintenance individuals I could ever imagine.

  2. Rick Meigs says:

    Shannon: Good thoughts, thanks. He even pick one that (and stuck with him to the end) he knew would turn on him.

  3. Alan Knox says:

    Rick,

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about disciple making lately. A little over a week ago I started working on the first post in a series about disciple making, and I hope to publish it tonight. It has become more extensive than I thought at first.

    The first thing that I’ve learned about discipe making is that it is less about teaching and more about modelling, imitating. Well, I need to get back to my study now.

    -Alan

  4. Rick Meigs says:

    Alan: Thanks for stopping in and commenting. That is always encouraging to us lonely bloggers.

    I see you are at Southeastern. One of the best pastor’s I’ve ever had was Dr. Wayne McDill who is now Senior Professor of Preaching at Southeastern. If you know him, say hi for me.

  5. Thanks for this post. It took me reading this passage in the Message –

    “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.”

    to get beyond seeing it as referring to just evangelism. It’s part of the whole perspective shift to understanding the full message of Jesus.

  6. Rick Meigs says:

    So right Julie, but I do find old habits of thinking hard to break, which is one reason I need to blog on the subject to work out a better understanding and to remind myself that the message of Jesus is transformational.

  7. Webb Kline says:

    Rick: [I do believe far to many Jesus followers dwell on the Old Testament law to excess and not enough on the direct teachings of Jesus and his Apostles.]

    Thought-provoking post, Rick. I think what you said in above quote speaks volumes to the problem of why the church largely is not sold-out to the Great Commission. Many churches. in their obsession with law, have focused on an inward “mission field of our own minds” way of justifying they are fulfilling the Commission. It’s early, perhaps that doesn’t make as much sense as it does in my head right now. But, I think there is a lot there and to the rest of what you say.

    One thing I’ve noticed as we keep bringing new believers and even not-yet-believers on board in our mission is that they don’t have nearly the problem dealing with sin as did many whom I discipled under traditional discipleship programs. The reason, I am compelled to believe, is that they immediately find purpose to their lives in serving others, in helping the cause of the street kids and orphans we deal with, and those voids in their lives, formally filled with self-gratification, become filled and satisfied by the joy of helping others. It’s the old inward/outward-attractional/missional-sheep/goats pattern, once again.

    Virtually ALL that we do, All that motivates us, and ALL that vies for our attention changes the more we embrace the real heart of the missional mindset. This is why this paradigm shift in the church is so much more than another mere movement. Indeed, it is tantamount to the reclamation of the real implications of the Great Commission. Of course, then one must ask, ‘why now?’ Thrilling times. ;)

  8. Rick Meigs says:

    I always look forward to your comments Webb.

    You have gotten right at what I was attempting to communicate re “Old Testament” law.

    Thrilling times indeed.

  9. Adam G. says:

    Rick, that’s a great post. The whole “teaching” aspect is something the church needs to flesh out better. I’m ruminating over whether missional churches should have Christian schools (I’m asking about that over on my blog today) and I’m leaning towards “yes” both because of the incarnational aspect, and the directive to make disiciples. But, I don’t know….

  10. Rick Meigs says:

    Adam: We have a day care center in our building which is focused almost exclusively toward not-yet-Christians who live in the community. I believe such missional services can be very effective.

  11. John Santic says:

    Well said my friend. One thing I would suggest in light of your list of what consitutes making disciples is that cultivationg a faithful spirituality is quite eschatalogical. I think I know what you mean…that people shouldn’t be so concerned with the details and dates of the end, and I agree…much of that slant on eschatology is quite bad theology and a waste of time.

    what I mean by a faithful spirituality being eschatalogical is this. That we are to be a people of hope with our vision fixed on the healing of all creation…the Patmos dream, if you will in Rev 21. It implies that we are a people living in that reality already and working towards the complete fulfillment of it. I think that being eschatalogical is crucial to any participation in the mission of God. everything the church does should be moving in that direction. There is something about living the reality of the Kingdom that rings eschatology in my ears, especially since we’re in the already but not fully yet time…

    I’m guessing you already know what I mean, but I just thought I’d add a bit of clarity.

    Thanks for the post, it’s quite thoughtful and I enjoy your reflections.
    peace…

  12. Rick Meigs says:

    John: I do understand what you are saying and agree. You are right in assuming that what I was focused on was this bent of so many to waste time working out end time scenarios and watching daily world events thinking in them that they can understand what God is about. Make me want to puke. Oops, sorry for that outburst.

  13. Webb Kline says:

    I think this end-times scenario has had somewhat of a similar effect as the social gospel in that in order to separate from those with whom we don’t agree, we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Of course most people aren’t going to embrace liberation theology, nor are there many proponents of Kingdom Now theology. Yet, I believe that the idea that we are to advance God’s Kingdom until he returns, is a very good and accurate assessment of our calling as believers, and should be the motivating factor of our desire to be a missional people. I mean, what part of ‘thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven” don’t we understand?

    It is my observation that perhaps the missional movement is God’s way of getting His Church to truly fulfill the Great Commission and to prepare the way for His return. This is precisely why I believe these are so exciting times. I don’t know if we’ll see it, but it sure is a joy being part of it.