“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).
Jess Moody describes the contemporary church as a gathering of “undiscipled disciples.” He says that our membership roles are filled with these types of folks. The obvious contradiction of this phase certainly catches our attention and should cause us alarm. Given that the term “disciple” is used over 250 times in the New Testament and the term Christian only 3 should make the disposition of early followers of Christ quite clear. But what is a disciple? Here is a definition:
The word “disciple” literally means a learner. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, it denotes “one who follows another’s teaching.” But a disciple was not only a learner, he was also an adherent to and promoter of a system of thought or belief. For this reason disciples were spoken of as imitators of and advocates for their teachers.
But is this what we see in the visible church today? Do contemporary American churches expect following Christ in His example, Spirit, and teachings as a mark of saving faith? Do we see an emphasis on progress in discipleship? Not according to Dallas Willard, who describes the current methodology as “Make converts (to a particular faith and practice) and baptize them into church membership.” By doing so he sees two great omissions from the Great Commission: the enrolling of people as Christ’s students and training them to ever increasingly do what Jesus taught. Frankly, in this case, I think Dr. Willard nailed it! Why? Because that is exactly what Jesus called us to do.
I believe we must return to the model of Christ’s discipling of His followers. This includes:
- Focusing on the necessity of discipleship in the true Christian. In Jesus’ day, and with the birth of Christianity, there was no such thing as an “undiscpled disciple.” All true followers spent time with the Master himself or with those that He had called as apostles and teachers. Being part of the body of Christ was not defined as “being on a church role” but being born again into Christ and imitating Him. Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
- Explaining the cost of discipleship. Jesus made this clear to all who claimed they wanted to follow Him. He said to count the cost: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:26-28). Being a true follower of Jesus requires radical surrender that reveals radical transformation.
- Teaching converts to imitate Christ and live out His teachings. In the Great commission Jesus said to teach people to obey all the things He had commanded (v. 19). Jesus said that his disciples should seek to be like Him (Luke 6:40). Paul said to the church at Ephesus, “Be imitators of God…just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). And the great missionary told the church at Rome that we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).
- Emphasizing the provisions available to us for being a disciple of Christ in this life. With His commission Jesus explains his power (authority, v. 16) and presence (v. 20) in the endeavor. His power assures that we are capable, in Him, of accomplishing His mission. His presence through His Spirit guarantees us all the treasures He has to offer – joy, peace, and life more abundant and full.
All of this begs the question: are we disciples of Christ and all that entails? Or are we falsely secure in our state as “baptized and on the church role?” Jesus calls us not to be just “church members” but disciples and the makers of disciples. And with that calling He gives us the unmistakable and infinitely valuable gifts of Himself and His power. He also tells us that being His disciples is an act of worship in its highest form (see v. 16 and Romans 12:1-2). And isn’t He ultimately worthy of our following and worship, of our being His disciple?