Here is an interesting nugget on the subject of discipleship. To not get rusty after all my blood, sweat and tears invested in learning Biblical Greek through my seminary study, I’ve been trying to use it daily in my devotional time as well as sermon preparation.
This morning I was following a discussion on leadership and mentoring, which is another way of saying ‘discipling’ in biblical language. This, of course, landed me at the Great Commission in Matt 28:18-20. What I found particularly interesting there is the fact that the only word of Jesus recorded explicitly in the imperative (i.e. impertative means to command or order to do something) form of the Greek was ‘matheteusate’, which literally means to “disciple”. Following this as the direct object (the part of the phrase that receives the action rather than does the action) is ‘all nations’, written as ‘panta ta ethne’ in the Greek.
We often cite this verse to mobilize our churched people into the field of evangelism and missions. While there is nothing incorrect about this application, ‘GO’ is not the actual emphasis of the great commission. To ‘make disciples’ is the command. The words ‘go’, ‘baptize’ and ‘teach’ are participles in the Greek, which would be like saying ‘while going and baptizing and teaching’. These are all an implicit part of the great commission, but they are merely part of the greater focus and actual command of making disciples as Jesus gave it.
Let me explain why this challenges my approach to ministry. Often, we place the emphasis encouraging people to ‘go’ to the field for missions. Always, we make sure that believers are ‘baptized’ after trusting in Jesus. Sometimes, this takes an all-too-legalistic application as part of a creed or requirement for membership into certain denominations. And few reading this post will argue against the importance of teaching others what Jesus did and said. However, my execution of making disciples has fallen far short of what I believe Jesus to have said in Matthew 28:18-20.
Discipleship in light of Jesus’ definition as a Jewish rabbi in New Testament times is to be our goal. A disciple in Jesus’ day was a student who learned closely from his teacher – both by example – and by instruction. Much time was spent together between instructor and disciple. There was a hands on approach too, an apprenticeship if you will. In all, there was a careful nurturing in order to bring the disciple to a specific destination in knowledge and application so as to form his or her character. In other words, we can go, baptize, and teach, without ever truly making a disciple as Jesus intended. For those elements don’t make a disciple. Knowing Christ, walking with him and picking up ones cross to follow him, living by faith and loving Jesus. These describe what I see in the New Testament disciples.
While I have focused often on evangelism, and weekly on teaching, I have fallen pretty far short of Jesus’ definition, and need to reconsider how I am making disciples. Surely my pulpit time goes but a limited distance on the road to Emmaus. May the Lord, the master disciple maker himself, teach us to make disciples, lest we be guilty instead of fulfilling the ‘Great Omission’.