disciple

What Drives Disciples?

As I approach formal retirement, I can honestly say cross-cultural missions has dominated my life. I believe our God is a missionary God. I believe one of the primary purposes of the church is to ensure that all peoples, everywhere, have the opportunity to hear and understand the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.

In some ways, I am a driven personality. I can almost hear my family and friends shouting a hearty Amen! to that. I see what needs to be done and I try to do it or get it done.

I don't mind the label, because I have that trait in common with others I admire. It’s not enough to just share that label with you. Most of you reading this don’t know me as a person, but I do want you to know what it is that drives me. Why am I in missions? Why am I a part of Mandate? Why am I even writing this blog entry?

As we move along this month, I'm going to compare this with the Jesus and some of his followers, ancient and modern, who were also driven people. Let's see what made them tick. In short, What Drives Disciples?

Jesus was often a frustrating person to those around him. When his friends asked a simple question, he rarely replied with a simple answer. Instead, he usually turned it out into a teaching opportunity. On the other hand, when his enemies asked questions, such as "Who are you?" "Where did you come from?" or "Why are you here?" he often turned the tables, answering their questions with some hard ones of his own.

At least once, though, he gave a very simple answer to that question.

The scene was set in Luke 19. Jesus had come into the city of Jericho and had singled out a tax collector named Zacchaeus. During the dinner that followed, Zacchaeus confessed faith and repentance. He then showed the reality of his faith by pledging to make restitution. Jesus commended his faith, then made the broader remark, “the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Think about how many times Jesus tried to tell his disciples why he was with them and what his life and death would mean. They were a hard-headed bunch and couldn’t seem to understand what he was saying. Even just before his crucifixion Jesus had said, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:23-4).

It wasn't until after the resurrection that they began putting it all together. Even then, they needed help. Within hours of his resurrection, Jesus still had to explain to two of his friends, "‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them,‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’" (Luke 24:44-47).

So, what drove Jesus to come to earth and die for the sins of humanity? Perhaps the best summation of that were his very familiar words of John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." He was driven both by the Father's love for His creation and the necessity of God's redemptive plan. Jesus knew that without his sacrifice, there would be no hope. Everyone who does not have faith in Christ is already lost and condemned. No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Have you heard of the Great Commission?

Have you heard of the Great Commission?

In the last paragraph of his gospel, Matthew wrote:

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.”

If you pay attention to grammar, you might notice there are four verb forms in that passage: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Only one of those is what my high school English teachers would have called the main action verb. It is the word which gives direction to this commission. And, no, it isn’t go.

The main thrust is make disciples.

In this sense, a disciple is basically a student who commits to following a teacher, learning from that teacher, then carrying on the work of that teacher. In modern society, we might see this in the trade unions, where a worker begins as an apprentice, advances up the ladder to master craftsman and then takes on his or her own apprentices.

Isn’t that a great picture of what it means to be a Jesus-follower? We see it biblically in the lives of those very disciples who first heard that commission. They met Jesus through a variety of circumstances. They committed themselves to following, helping, and working together with Him. They learned by doing as He began sending them out to do it on their own. At the point of this passage in Matthew, the disciples were ready to carry on the work of proclaiming salvation as Jesus returned to heaven.

This is what we want to see in missions.

But we can’t stop there. We can’t be content to just present the gospel and bring people to the point of following Jesus. Neither can we be content with just seeing these new believers grow as individuals. If we stop there, we have created a situation where we have to re-evangelize every succeeding generation.

That’s why I consider the last two verbs of the Commission to be so important to the entire passage. Going gets us where we need to be; making disciples starts the process which leads into the next verbs.

Jesus told His that first generation of disciples to baptize and teach.

Throughout the book of Acts, which is the history of the first generation of churches, we note that baptism goes hand-in-hand with believing. Time after time, the word goes out “repent and be baptized.” Baptism, in that first century, as now, is a public identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, baptism was also incorporation into the body of Christ, which is the church. No, not necessarily a specific local church or denomination as it might be now, but identification with and incorporation into the body that includes all believers, of all time, everywhere.

Through the book of Acts and the epistles, we also see local bodies of believers, with specifically-gifted people raised up to watch over, guide, and teach those people who identified with them. These bodies became associated with specific towns and cities, such as Philippi and Ephesus. In time, the size of these city-wide churches grew so large that smaller bodies (local churches) formed themselves, sometimes identified by the private homes in which they met for prayer and worship.

The final verb Jesus gave was teach. As He had taught His disciples, they were to teach the next generation, and so on and so on . . . right up until our generation today. That first generation of disciples, directed by the Holy Spirit, collected and recorded the words of our Lord, then often explained them in culturally relevant and understandable ways to the many people who came into the church. As these writings (i.e. Paul’s letters) were compiled and shared, the local churches became the centers of this teaching.

It would be so easy now for me to rabbit trail into a church history lecture or discuss the function of the local church. But that’s not what I’m presenting today.

Think. instead to the Great Commission as a process, rather than a series of commands. The process begins when those who know Christ go to those who don’t, wherever they might be. Having gone, we find ways to communicate the gospel, help people to make real, conscious decisions to believe in Christ for salvation and then to commit themselves to follow him throughout their lives. As people come to Christ, we bring them together into local churches which guide and teach, helping believers live and mature according to the teaching Jesus gave directly and then the Holy Spirit gave through the writings we know as the New Testament.

If we do this right and well, these same churches will send the next general of missionaries, who will make disciples, organize local churches, train leaders, etc., etc.

Does this work? You’re here, aren’t you? You, dear reader, are a product of your church, which was born from another church, which was born from another . . . No matter where we start, no matter our church or denominational affiliation, no matter our race or nationality, if we trace our spiritual family trees, we will all find ourselves together 2000 years ago on a Palestinian hillside with Jesus, hearing Him say, “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.”

Let’s keep this process moving ahead and actually get it done.