Few in our modern churches have not heard of Jesus’ Great Commission which is found in Matthew 28:18-20. When we read it, many of us hone in on the first word found in verse 19; “Go.” However, the imperative of the Great Commission is, in fact, “make disciples.” This imperative explains the primary purpose, while the participles (go, baptizing and teaching) explain parts of that process.
In an effort to energize and mobilize missionaries our modern missions movement has focused almost exclusively on the word “go” in the Great Commission. Certainly, the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled without obedient goers. But, imply going can be fulfilled by taking a vacation to a resort town. Making disciples must remain at the center of our efforts in obedience to God’s Great Commission.
The purpose of this article is not to disparage short-term missions, practitioners of mercy ministries, financial supporters of missions or any other non-disciple making ministries. The purpose of this article is re-focus our modern church on the disciple making found in he Great Commission. Just like a good military force needs truck drivers, doctors, and supply lines, missions also needs those who make the battle possible.
In missions, the short-term teams, mercy ministries and missions supporters must always help to refocus our missions efforts so the lost are directed into the disciple making process. These other aspects of missions are valuable in demonstrating God’s grace and mercy to the lost. Frequently the lost can be directed to Christ through short-term or mercy ministry work. But, the long, arduous fight to teach and train believers occurs in the one-on-one or small group settings of discipleship.
Purpose of Missions
Missionaries should not simply seek a confession of faith, but the making of a disciple for Christ. New converts should be connected to fulltime missionaries or national pastors who can facilitate a discipling relationship. Making a disciple who doesn’t yearn to share the gospel is like making a Ferrari that doesn’t ache for the open road. Christ started his earthly ministry by calling his disciples to be fishers of men and ended with the instruction to go, and make disciples. Clearly, discipleship is important to Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer told us, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
Evangelism, the sharing of God’s grace and mercy through word and deed, plays a very important role in the expansion of God’s kingdom and the winning of souls. Discipleship, on the other hand, is the arduous task of training a new believer how to follow Christ. Discipleship is how Christianity becomes the foundation of a new believer’s life. Today, evangelism is eclipsing discipleship because of fear and the self-centeredness of some Christians. Discipleship can be painful, messy and laborious. Discipleship takes effort and time. The hard work of discipleship must remain at the center of missions efforts.
Importance of Discipleship
Indeed going to all the nations is commanded throughout the Bible (Ps 67, Is 49:6, Mt 24:14, Ro 1:5). The Scriptures are equally clear that once followers of Christ have gone into the world they are to proclaim and teach the truth (Ps 22:27-28, Is 42:1-4, Ac 1:8, Col 1:23). The concept going into the nations and making disciples s undeniably linked together throughout Scripture (Mt 28:19, Mk 16:15, Lk 24:47, Ro 10:18). Our purpose in the church is to make disciples for Jesus Christ and teach them to make disciples. Missions should never leave out discipleship.
Do not go on a mission trip to check the missions box. Go so you learn to have a lifelong burden for all the unsaved throughout the world. To disciple a new believer, to teach the lost, to mentor a brother, to share God’s mercies – these are callings and honors for us all. R.C. Sproul once said, “Anyone who would be a disciple of Christ must be a learner of the teaching of Christ.” Missions efforts that do not point to or ultimately increase discipleship are little more than moralistic tourism.
In the End
In order to disciple new believers we must first go, in order to go we must first be obedient. The desire here is not to decrease any kind of missions venture. The desire is to encourage churches to get more involved in missions efforts that make disciples. Preaching, teaching, theology books, seminaries, conferences; these are some of the ways disciple making is done. ESL, business as missions, medical, construction are not disciple making, but if they are done in such a way that they point nationals to a seminary, church, pastor or fulltime missionary they serve a valuable purpose. These important non-disciple making ministries are valuable if they result in new believers who are mentored and discipled in a Christ-centered, Bible-focused teaching ministry.
Many modern churches sacrifice teaching on the eternal wellbeing of others to make room for teaching that emphasizes temporary personal joy. Jesus’ earthly ministry was not centered on teaching large crowds, but discipling 12 men. We too should pour ourselves into individuals. Francis Chan challenged us, “Do you really want to experience God? Then go and make disciples.”
In our reading of Christ’s Great Commission we can only find obedience in Matthew 28:18-20 if our church is going and sending to the nations. However, in order to comply with the entire command we must facilitate the making, baptizing and teaching of Christian disciples.