The World Needs Disciples – Not Converts
“…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Disciples…this is the whole ball of wax. It was the only plan. Jesus had no plan B and he still doesn’t. When you focus on making disciples, you get everything else. You get educated Christians, motivated “self-feeders”, selfless God-lovers, committed church members and empathetic evangelists. A mature disciple is all of these things. He or she loves God, the church and the lost. Our problem is that we largely have not focused on biblical discipleship. The church has been guilty of making converts, but left them to fend for themselves as baby Christians. Sometimes we have focused on making better church attendees and have lowered the bar below the challenge/growth level to entertainment. Other times we’ve focused on Bible knowledge and left the lost out in the cold. Why we have we done this, we cannot be sure of. Perhaps we have focused on the perceived efficiency of larger gatherings. Maybe we have been scared to challenge people toward growth and possibly lose them from our church. Making disciples Jesus’ way is not easy and it is not clean. It is a relationship. And relationships are a messy and time-consuming endeavor. One thing is very clear, making disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey IS what Jesus told us to do. We do many good things, but largely miss the main thing he focused on. He could have told us to build bigger buildings, start a TV ministry, build a school, focus primarily on deep theological teaching, focus on excellent programming, etc. These things aren’t inherently bad, but if they interfere with or impede his prime directive to make disciples, then they need to finish second. Discipleship is the main thing and we have to keep the main thing the main thing.
So, what is a disciple of Christ? What do they look like and how do we make them?
Disciples do not just happen – They are made
Intentionality is a great word. It means “on purpose.” Are you ready to live life on purpose toward God and others? This means denying yourself (Luke 9:23). It means that you understand that your life is not your own and that you were bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You were dreamt up by the creator of the world, placed specifically in the history of time and gifted just so that you could help mankind seek God and find him (Acts 17: 26-27). You are no less magnificent than the sun. You are just as crucial as H20. The same God that gifted and planned these resources for growing earthly life planned and gifted you for growing eternal life. If we think on this long enough, we eventually begin to live like this. Everything changes. We realize that we are made to reconcile men to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20). This is our purpose! It begins with clarity of that purpose and the intentionality that flows from it.
Disciples are only made by a disciple
In order to make disciples, YOU yourself must first be one. You must be following Jesus. That means you must be obeying and seeking him. You must be intentional and disciplined in your walk with the Lord and those you wish to disciple. “What is my next step with God?” This is a question you must constantly be asking of yourself. Be honest. Think small steps. Don’t try to boil the ocean. How often are you spending time with God in prayer and reading the Word? How often are you challenged to step further into obedience? How are you giving? How are you serving? Does it require faith? If not, how can you be in a place to lead others in the same process? How can you lead others if you are not going anywhere? Jesus said many things but, “Do as I say, not as I do” wasn’t one of them.
Disciple-makers are ready to lead others
How can you lead someone where you have not been? A travel agent points the way, even though they may not have ever been there. The church will not grow with travel agents. It needs seasoned and salty tour guides. These disciples of Christ have been “there” before. They know how to get “there.” Where is “there?” It is a life devoted to Christ apart from Sunday. It is a daily, cross carrying, selfless life. It is the knowledge of our grand purpose and the commitment to carry it out. Are you willing to lead by example? A disciple-maker goes before others and travels with them at the same time. They take your hand and help lift you up just one more time. They’re with you in the trenches and they know how to get to the next step. Seminary is not required to be a disciple maker. Jesus used fisherman and tax collectors! What is required is integrity, intentionality and commitment.
Disciples are baptized
What is it to be baptized? We know Jesus did it and therefore, set an example for us. His blood on the cross washes away our sin, so we know baptism doesn’t accomplish that. However, we also know it identified the believer with a local church and the Christian faith. In the early days of persecution, this was a bold move. It signified you were resolute in your decision and there was no turning back. Indeed, you were willing to die for it. It was an outside sign of obedience and adherence. The new believer is identifying with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection. They are now showing the world that they are a new creation and they are letting go of their past. They now adhere to a new life and a new family. Why is it important to be baptized? A young believer must let go of their old life and cling to a new family. (2 Cor. 5:17) This family plays a critical role in their budding faith. Without it, one is easily dragged back into old lifestyles and sin. A public profession of faith helps a believer fully commit to the journey of discipleship with a local body.
Disciples are taught to obey
By definition, knowledge that doesn’t lead to experience is useless. If you don’t use it, it’s useless. Jesus is more concerned with our next steps than our last. He is more excited about a young obedient follower than a well-trained bench rider. God made you with a jersey, so to speak. You were made to play on the court and you are expected to run the plays your coach calls. Imagine someone who studied the game of basketball and could quote every rule and statistic, but refused to lace up their shoes and step on the court. Following this basketball analogy, you were not made to keep score or call penalties. You were not made to sit the bench or just visit the concession stand. You were made to score points, make passes and grab rebounds. A disciple must be challenged to obey. Inherently, this means they need to take new steps deeper into obedience with Christ. Most people don’t like change and challenge. That’s why we need coaches to push us and hold us accountable. They hold us to higher standards than we will hold ourselves to. They believe bigger things about us than we do ourselves. A good coach will know what areas a player needs to be taught on. They will teach the “why”, but will then run drills on the “how” so that the player can accomplish new and greater things. Most times, the lessons learned on the court are the best lessons. Moreover, the player will be in a position to take newly acquired skills and teach them to others as well. The knowledge is only important in that it leads to action. Otherwise, we have players on God’s court who know the game well, but have never learned how to play the game. They will not win the game. They will not push back the gates of hell. They may be well-informed, but they are not transformed.