MEMORY VERSE: Matthew 28:18-20
BIBLE STUDY: Luke 6:12-16; 9:1-6, 10
Reading: A Biblical Call to Making Disciples
What is discipling?
Discipling is an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well.
Jesus' mission statement for the church is to make disciples. These pivotal verses (Matthew 28:18-20) are commonly referred to as the Great Commission.
Jesus always lived with a view to the end of his earthly ministry. The preparation of a few who would carry on his ministry after he ascended to the Father was ever before him. This Bible study focuses on the training and transference of ministry to his selected disciples.
When Jesus commanded his disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19), he spoke the mission statement for the church. Jesus told his disciples to do what he had done during his three years of ministry. Jesus made disciples by selecting a few into whom he poured his life.
What was the strategic advantage of having twelve men who would "be with him" (Mark 3:14)? There are many reasons, but two seem most relevant.
Internalization. By focusing on a few Jesus was able to ensure the lasting nature of his mission. We might wonder why Jesus would risk others' jealousy by publicly selecting twelve from a larger group of disciples (Luke 6:13). Why didn't Jesus simply continue to expand his growing entourage and create a mass movement? The apostle John captures Jesus' caution when people clamored to him because of the marvelous signs: "But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone" (John 2:24-25 NRSV).
Though Jesus ministered to the needs of the crowds, he knew they were fickle. The same ones who shouted "Hosanna" on Palm Sunday were shouting "Crucify him" five days later on Good Friday. Knowing the whims of the throng, Jesus built his ministry on a select few who would form the superstructure of his future kingdom. Disciples cannot be mass produced but are the product of intimate and personal investment. A. B. Bruce summarizes this point: "The careful, painstaking education of the disciples secured that the Teacher's influence on the world should be permanent, that His Kingdom should be founded on deep and indestructible convictions in the minds of a few, not on the shifting sands of superficial impressions on the minds of many."
Multiplication. Just because Jesus focused much of his attention on a few does not mean that he did not want to reach the multitudes. Just the opposite. Eugene Peterson puts this truth cleverly: "Jesus, it must be remembered, restricted nine-tenths of His ministry to twelve Jews, because it was the only way to reach all Americans."
Jesus had enough vision to think small. Focusing did not limit his influence—it expanded it. When Jesus ascended to the Father, he knew that there were at least eleven who could minister under the authority of his name, an elevenfold multiplication of his ministry. Robert Coleman captures the heart of Jesus' methodology when he writes, "[Jesus'] concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes but with men the multitudes would follow."
We see that the apostle Paul adopted the same goal and methodology in his ministry that Jesus modeled. Paul's version of the Great Commission is his personal mission statement. "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works within me" (Colossians 1:28-29). Paul is so passionate about making disciples that he compares his agony over the maturity of the flock to the labor pains of a woman giving birth: "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19).
Following Jesus' method, Paul invested in individuals to make disciples. He too had his sights on the multitudes, but he knew that solid transmission of the faith would not occur as readily through speaking to an audience. Paul encouraged Timothy to use a personal style to link the gospel to future generations when he exhorted him, "What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well" (2 Timothy 2:2 NRSV, emphasis added). Paul envisioned an intergenerational chain of disciples linked together through personal investment.
We know Paul lived out this admonition, for his letters are filled with the names of those to whom he gave himself. Paul replaced himself in the battle with soldiers like Timothy, Titus, Silas (Silvanus), Euodia, Syntyche, Epaphroditus, Priscilla and Aquila. They accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys, were entrusted with ministry responsibility and became colaborers in the gospel. Paul attributed the change in their lives to the impact of the message of Christ in his life on them.
The Bible teaches us not only the message of our faith but also the method by which that faith is to be passed on to future generations. We are called to do God's work in God's way. The manner in which the Lord works is incarnational: life rubs up against life. We pass on Christlikeness through intimate modeling.
Paul said, "I urge you to imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:16) and "You became imitators of us and of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
Disciplemaking ensures that the gospel is embedded deeply in the lives of mature believers who serve as links to the future. Discipling then is a relationship where we intentionally walk alongside a growing disciple or disciples in order to encourage, correct and challenge them in love to grow toward maturity in Christ.
This book brings together three ingredients necessary to produce maturity in Christ. Relational vulnerability means honest, self-disclosing and confessional relationships that give the Holy Spirit permission to remake us. Second, the centrality of truth is emphasized when people open their lives to one another around the truth of God's Word and the Lord begins to rebuild their lives from the inside out. And third, mutual accountability is authority given to others to hold us accountable to mutually agreeable standards—"iron sharpening iron."
We will not make disciples through methods of mass production that attempt shortcuts to maturity. Robert Coleman clarifies the challenge: "One must decide where he wants his ministry to count—in the momentary applause of popular recognition or the reproduction of his life in a few chosen men who will carry on his work after he has gone." The irony is that focusing on a few takes a long-range view by multiplying the number of disciples and therefore expands a church's leadership base. Though adult education programs and small group ministries are good tools to produce maturity, without the focus of small discipling units a solid foundation is difficult to build. Keith Phillips's chart compares the numeric difference between one person a day coming to Christ and one person a year being discipled to maturity.
|Catch the vision and invest yourself now!|
Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1964. Summarize the eight-step process outlined in this classic.