First Things First, The Importance Of Discipleship To Missions

The Great Commission (Mat 28:18-20) is Christ’s charge to his followers found at the end of his earthly ministry. It provides God’s command and authority for Christians to participate in global missions. The Great Commission is straightforward and clear. Unfortunately, it is misunderstood by some missionaries and disobeyed by others.

matt 28Jesus begins his command by affirming that all authority has been given to him. This provides him the sole right to say what comes next. The first action word in the English translation is “go.” Going has become the fulfillment of the Great Commission in the minds of many modern missionaries. However, the focus of the original text is not the going part, but the making disciple part. The Greek (mathēteuō) is translated as “‘to make disciples” or “be discipled.” The original word for “make disciples” is used only three times in the gospels, all three in Matthew. Its rare usage adds to its significance. Followers of Christ are commanded to go to all nations. This stands in stark contrast with Christ’s earlier instruction to his disciples to limit their mission to Israel (Mat 10:5–6, 15:24). The other portions of the Great Commission (go, baptize and teach) are all supportive of the focal point, to make disciples. Being a missionary, fulfilling the Great Commission, is done in the making of disciples. The commission concludes with Jesus assuring his followers that he is with them as they fulfill his commands.

Christ’s focus on making disciples is the heart of his Great Commission. But, more and more missionaries are viewing the process of going or the act of evangelizing as the heart of missions. Unless missionaries are making disciples the Great Commission is not being fulfilled.

What It Is And Is Not
The acts of going, baptizing and teaching explain how the making of disciples is done. Going can be fulfilled in a few days, but to make a disciple takes a much more substantive investment of time and effort. Christ says that making disciples is done when we teach them, “all that I have commanded.” That is a lot and is extremely complex. As pastor David Platt preached, we are making disciples when we are, “sharing, showing, teaching the Word.” Missionaries should either be accomplishing this or helping others accomplish it.

Too many missionaries are conceding the primary point of the Great Commission. Many times it seems as if missionaries are doing everything except making disciples. Christ never said to go and build a medical clinic or a high school or an orphanage. The Great Commission does not tell us to go unto the nations and teach English, show a movie and play soccer with kids.

Sharing God’s grace and mercy, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, serving orphans and widows are all biblical and God honoring. They are not what we are called to do in the Great Commission. These other ministries should be used as ways draw disciples in so they can be baptized and taught to observe God’s commands. An orphan comes off the streets for food, but truly he comes to be baptized. A widow goes to a clinic to be healed, but truly she is coming to be taught God’s ways. A child comes to a church to learn English, but truly he is coming to become a disciple of Christ. All other ministries are superfluous unless they are leading people to be discipled, baptized, taught the instructions of Christ.

discipleMaking Disciples Is Hard
If missions was simply programs and events it would be much easier. If read properly the Great Commission is in fact a hard command to follow. Conversion and baptism are required and then begins the arduous task of the ongoing teaching of what Christ taught us. Discipling, mentoring and counseling new converts, these added complications, are why it is important to know we labor under Christ’s authority and that he is with us always. Without Jesus the process of discipleship would be impossible. Of the Great Commission Charles Spurgeon said, “From it we learn that our first business is to make disciples of all nations, and we can only do that by teaching them the truth as it is revealed in the Scriptures, and seeking the power of the Holy Spirit to make our teaching effective in those we try to instruct in divine things.”

Making disciples is not easy, because being a disciple is not easy (Luk 14:27). Believers are called to pray earnestly for workers to labor in the harvest (Mat 9:38), not because making disciples is easy, because it is hard.

When Jesus began his ministry and called his disciples the first thing he said to them is, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mat 4:19) That is how being a disciple of Christ begins and it ends by making other disciples. When we follow Christ we become fishers of men. Instead of drawing fish into a net our job is to draw people to the kingdom and disciple, baptize and teach them. Missions is about making disciples. Making disciples is about multiplying. This is so important it is the first thing and the last thing Christ said to his followers in Matthew.