“Therefore, go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” –Matthew 28:19
The Great Commission. Jesus’ ultimate instruction to his followers – those living 2,000 years ago, and those living today in the 21st century. Go and make disciples. Introduce people to the living God and help them grow in their relationships with Him. A tall order; a hefty mandate. It is our goal and prime objective as Christians and as church leaders. It is a task we all strive to complete.
But what does it take to make disciples? Here are a few thoughts to start the conversation, to get just a taste of what it means to fulfill Christ’s command in the Church today.
It’s everyone’s job.
Making disciples is not something reserved only for pastors, priests, ministers, and church leaders. It is the responsibility of all believers in all parts of the Church. So the question remains: Who are you discipling? What younger believers are in your life that you can bring along in their relationships with Christ? Are you walking together with someone and sharing your life in Christ with them? Are you working with them through their doubts and rejoicing with them in times of celebration and breakthrough?
Some cultures like to formalize a discipleship relationship with agreements and accountability. That works well and meets the needs of so many people. However, other cultures are less formal. The discipleship process need not be an official mentoring relationship; being in relationship and following a Christ-like example is enough. Doing life together is sufficient. It is enough to walk the Christian walk together and follow the leadership of Christ as brothers and sisters who struggle and succeed together. No matter what shape it takes, making disciples is our responsibility. What are you doing today to disciple others?
It’s a process.
Making disciples rarely follows a prescribed timeline. Yes, mentoring relationships can be formalized along certain time boundaries, which are helpful in tracking progress. But the spiritual maturing process is not one that adheres to the calendar. It takes time. This is why relationships are so important in the development of disciples of Christ. Spending time together and getting to know the one being discipled can aid in the process and produce amazing results. Further, the rate of growth depends on a person’s culture and life experiences.
In some cultures, entire communities turn to Christ en masse and then begin the long process of getting to know Jesus better. Many cultures find literacy a challenge and cannot use personal Bible reading as a discipleship tool. Sometimes children follow Christ before their parents, and we find the young discipling the old. A person coming from a life history of abuse or violence may have personal issues that produce barriers to trust and difficulty in accepting Christ’s love. Making disciples is not an easy or straightforward process. It is one that must be fully customized to the individual while giving each one enough space and time to discover the love of Christ.
We ourselves are still in process.
Although many of us, especially church leaders, have been called to disciple others, we must remember that the discipleship process is a continual one that is not complete until we meet Jesus. We are constantly learning more about our Savior. We are developing daily into more Christ-like servants of God. This constant time of development produces results in our own live and in the lives of those we’re discipling.
What is God teaching you? What are you learning? In what ways are you making progress in your own spiritual life? Pass those lessons on to your disciples. Show them that you are still learning and developing. It will teach them valuable lessons, but it will also grow your relationship as they see that you’re not perfect. Be in constant communion with the Lord and walk with Him, seeking out ways you can become more like Him. Those you’re discipling will want to follow in your ways as you both draw closer to our God.
It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to bring growth.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, those we’re discipling aren’t making progress as we imagined. That’s okay. The responsibility of bringing about growth is fully with the Holy Spirit. We can guide them in the right direction and commit their growth to prayer, but we must wait on the Lord for His work in their lives. Don’t be discouraged if the growth is coming slowly. Nothing is too slow for God, and His timing is always perfect. Be patient and wait on the Lord, continuing to build your relationships and faithfully do your part in making disciples.
In many cultures around the world, waiting a long time on the Lord is something in which they excel. Discipling takes decades rather than months. But it still produces miraculous results that can be attributed only to the Lord working in the lives of His faithful followers, no matter their spiritual maturity levels.
We must work together as the body of Christ to follow the Great Commission and make disciples in our own communities and around the world. It will be amazing to see what God will do in the lives of those in whom we have invested our time and effort. Praise God for the glory of knowing Him and growing in Him today.