What is the essence of discipleship? What did Jesus intend when He gave us the great commission? I have been feeling for some time now that the church at large has somehow gotten sidetracked from its original purpose. I suspect that there could have been a variety of reasons for this happening. However, among all of the potential causes for the church’s derailment, my gut instinct tells me that there was a chief culprit. It is no small coincidence that the prime suspect is also the root cause of most, if not all, sin. Selfishness. Somewhere along the way, a little bit at the time, the church has gradually become more and more selfish. Individuals in the body of Christ have gradually given in to the temptation of thinking more and more about themselves and less and less about others. This paradigm shift has many ramifications, but there is one aspect of it that seems to have become more prominent of late. That one aspect is the selfishness that breeds spiritual immaturity and retarded growth. The reason that this one aspect of selfishness has become more prominent, in my opinion, is because it affects many other aspects of the church. Let’s examine for a moment how this works itself out in real life.
Have you ever heard of any church having issues with music style? Why do you suppose that happens? I’m glad you asked. Every generation has a particular style of music that is contemporary to that particular generation. Many years ago, a church attempted to introduce an instrument into the church to aid in the music program. It was called an organ. This instrument was met with such opposition that after the organ was installed, a group of people sneaked into the church, dismantled the organ from its place in the sanctuary and dumped it into the river. This, by the way, is the same instrument that so many people over recent years have so vehemently fought to keep in its place in so many churches. The irony is unbelievably rich. With the passing of each generation, there is a shift in position. One generation tries to innovate and realize progress while the previous generation fights to keep things as they are. After a few years pass, the generation that was once innovative and progressive becomes the generation that fights against those very things. Why does this happen? Selfishness. People refuse to let go of things that don’t even belong to them because they would rather be comfortable than reach people with the gospel of Christ in new ways.
Have you ever heard of any church having issues with their Pastor and staff because they decide to make some changes in the way the church does certain things? Why do you suppose that happens? I’m glad you asked. Whether or not a church is intentional about it, every church is in danger of developing rituals or routines in the way they do things. The true danger here is that the longer something is done a certain way, the harder it becomes to evaluate objectively. When this happens, people get attached to the particular method of ministry instead of getting attached to the mission of making disciples of Jesus. This attachment becomes something of a security blanket of which many people simply refuse to let go. When changes are either proposed or implemented to an area to which they are personally attached, things suddenly become very heated very quickly. Selfishness, in this case, prohibits objectivity in evaluation. Therefore, people begin resorting to rumors, gossip, and personal attacks in an attempt to protect their “pet” ministry because they are simply too selfish to let go of something regardless of how ineffective or archaic it may have become. It is always unfortunate when leaders who have been called and ordained by God are painted as the “bad guys” simply because some people are too spiritually immature and selfish to see the big picture. On the flipside, however, it is also unfortunate that there have been many ungodly pastors over the years that have gone about change in the wrong way. They have not taken time to build relationships and love people. They have communicated poorly or not at all. The end result is that it is now sometimes difficult for God’s people to trust God’s shepherds.
These are just two examples, but let me go back to where I started. I began with two questions. What is the essence of discipleship? What did Jesus intend when He gave us the great commission? I believe that their answers are inextricably linked. The essence of what was intended by Jesus when He commissioned the church was exemplified with crystal clear clarity by the Savior Himself during His earthly ministry. He chose twelve men. In Lecrae’s song “After the Music Stops” he puts it this way: “The teaching is a process it’s not overnight, and it’s not a stage and a mic, it’s life on life. Christ walked with twelve, ate with twelve, taught the twelve, shaped the twelve, invested in them well, you could say that He made the twelve, who made many more, who made plenty more, now it’s on you and me if there’s any more.” You see, the great commission is not about making converts to Christianity. It’s about making disciples of Christ. That means that conversion is not the destination, it’s the origin.
Here are the fundamentals of the great commission. Jesus doesn’t command us to go anywhere. He presumes that His followers are already going to be on the move. This is why the word translated “go” is an aorist participle, which means “having gone.” The imperative command of the great commission is to make disciples of all nations. Once this is established, Jesus delineates how we are to go about fulfilling His command. We are to baptize those who have professed Christ as Lord in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are then to teach them to observe all that He has commanded us. He then gives us the confidence we will need to carry out this task by reminding us that He is with us always, even to the end of the age. Having a clear understanding of the specific task given to the body of Christ, I should make a few closing conclusions.
First, the blame for the presence of baby Christians in the church must be laid squarely on the church itself. We have become so preoccupied with making converts that we have neglected to make disciples. Second, something can and must be done to intentionally reengage the disciple making process. Finally, the only solution for a problem of this magnitude is the power of the Word of God. I am reminded in Hebrews 4:12 that “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I am further told in Hebrews 5:13-14 that “everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
It is time for a change in menu in the church. It is time for believers to pray earnestly for the church that it would be actively engaged in fulfilling its divine purpose of disciple-making. Ultimately, it is time for people everywhere who claim the name of Jesus to start feasting on some solid food and grow up. One way for that to happen is if men of God will plant their feet, square their shoulders, and proclaim “thus says the LORD.” In other words, it is time for Pastors to teach the whole counsel of God without backing up or backing down.
I have decided. I will. Soli Deo Gloria.