“Make Disciples.” That was what Jesus essentially told his Disciples to do. In Matthew 28, Jesus last command to his followers was “19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” So there it is. Jesus did not tell his followers to go plant churches. He told them to go “make disciples.”
In many ways we are putting the cart before the horse. There is not one new testament command to plant churches. But Jesus himself gave the command to make disciples. I bring this up because I had heard many years ago that the most effective means of reaching the lost was planting new churches. Indeed, it may be true, but do those new churches actually make disciples or do they make converts? There is a difference and it is a critical difference. We count as converts those who pray a prayer and “accept Jesus into their hearts.” Disciples are ones who actually become followers of Jesus Christ. If we follow Christs Command to make disciples, often new churches will form out of that. The church forms out of the harvest of disciples.
I started one church and have been involved lately in working to start another church. We have had to force ourselves to re-oritent back towards making disiciples because we got so caught up in the whole “church planting” idea. So we’ve scaled back on the “church gathering” side and have put more effort into the discipleship side of the process.
I know there are lots of people who believe that getting someone into “church” the Sunday morning thing with the preacher is key to discipleship. I will argue that has very little to do with discipleship. Jesus did preach, but more importantly he demonstrated the Kingdom of God by living it out among those that he was making disciples. A Sunday morning preacher can’t do. At best the Sunday morning message supplements a vibrant discipleship learning relationship, but cannot replace it.
Teaching as Jesus said here is by his example. He did preach or teach through the word, but he lived it out in front of them. He brought validity to the message he preached by the life he lived. New beleivers need those kinds of connections and relationships. They don’t have to be perfect, as a matter of fact they won’t be perfect. Peter wasn’t perfect, John wasn’t perfect, and much to the disappointment of many, Paul wasn’t perfect. Jesus was and only he was. But if you are a Christ follower you shoud be learning from others more mature in Christ than you and you should be pouring out what you have learned into other disciples less mature in Christ than yourself.
Another point I would make, the ‘church” as in the institution we call the church does a lousy job making disciples and I am convinced that real discipleship costs something. I believe it costs the time and the effort to develop real relationships with people. It’s possible it can happen without those relationships, but not likely. In our western context the message of the church is “we’ll help you be a good christian, just follow the rules we tell you, come to Sunday morning service, listen to the message, and join a small group and everything will be fine.” I’ve seen far too many who follow that path that are still biblically illiterate years on. In addition, they aren’t putting the Word of God in practice in their own lives and even more devestating is that they didn’t learn to hear God themselves.”
We must begin to spend the time and effort to really disciple young believers and not-yet believers so that they can truly have Christ formed in them. I am convinced if we are faithful in this, we will have followers of Christ who will be fruitful and true laborers in the harvest. And if we do our jobs right, new church expressions will flow out of this process.