The Great Commission
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18–20). The command is clear, yet questions remain. What is a disciple? How do we personally follow Christ? What does discipleship look like in the home? How do we implement discipleship in our churches? How do we help new converts become disciples? The purpose of this website is to offer answers to these questions and to provide resources which will help us “go and make disciples.”
What is a Disciple?
The word “disciple” (mathētēs) means “learner, pupil, follower.” Throughout the Gospels, it was used to refer to those who followed after a rabbi or teacher in order to learn from him and emulate his way of living (cf. Matt 10:24–25). For Christians, being a disciple means being a follower of Jesus. He is our master, and our goal as His disciples is to learn His teachings, model His way of living, adopt His values, and embrace His beliefs. In short, we want to become like Him in every area of life—thought, word and deed. “When Jesus commanded us to ‘make disciples,’ He meant more than converts or church members; He meant those who take up their cross daily and follow Him” (Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Pastor, p. 12)
The master-disciple relationship sounds a little strange to us today. Perhaps the best modern equivalent we can understand and identify with is the coach-player relationship. When you join a sports team, you become a disciple of your coach. You place yourself under his authority and agree to do whatever he tells you. Your goal is to learn to think about the game like your coach, to model his actions and follow his direction. You are subject to his correction and discipline, and you work hard to earn his praise and respect. Being a member of a professional sports team is not a part-time endeavor. It affects every area of your life. It's the same way with being a disciple of Jesus. It's a life-long commitment that requires us to give 100% in order to be successful.
How do we personally follow Christ?
It’s important to remember that those who are commanded to “go and make disciples” are themselves disciples. Think about that for a moment. Do we see ourselves as disciples of Jesus? When we think about our spiritual identity, do we resonate with the thought, “I’m a follower of Christ.” Do we ask ourselves on a regular basis, “How can I become more like Jesus?” I hope that our answer to these questions is ‘Yes’ because being a disciple is something that each of us must do individually. We must:
- Take time. The essence of eternal life is to know the Father through the Son (John 17:3). When we repented of our sins and believed in Jesus as our Savior, we began a relationship with God. As we all know, relationships take time. If we don't schedule time for personal discipleship, it won't happen. Jesus left us an example—He regularly left His disciples, went off by Himself, and spent time alone with God (Matt 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). We need to do the same. We need to find a place each day where we can be alone with the Father. We should eliminate as many distractions as possible and focus our minds on God.
- Listen to God. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). If we want to “abide in” (know and obey) Jesus’ word, we must soak ourselves in Scripture. I like the phrase, ‘listening to God,’ because it emphasizes that when we read the Bible, God is speaking directly to us (cf. 2 Tim 3:15–16; 1 Cor 9:9–10; 10:11; Rom 4:23–24; 15:4; John 1:45; 5:39; Luke 24:25–27; Gal 5:14). Most of us think of reading as a solitary activity, but when we read God’s Word, we have just entered into a conversation with our heavenly Father!
- Talk to God. All of us have struggled with what to say to God when we pray, and I’m sure we’ve all thought, “It would be so much easier to pray if God would just speak to me.” Well, the good news is…He has! As I said earlier, when we read the Bible, God is speaking directly to us (cf. Heb 12:5a). All we have to do is respond to what He has said. Think about what this means for prayer: (1) It means we don’t have to think up something to pray about each day; we can simply talk to God about what He told us in the daily reading; (2) It means we can have a conversation with our heavenly Father. He loves to talk with us and to hear what we’ve learned from His Word; (3) It means prayer can become more than just bringing a list of names and concerns to God. Prayer can be the most uplifting and exciting part of our daily walk with Christ!
- Consecrate. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The key to discipleship is self-denial. We must die to ourselves daily (give up the right to have our own way), and we must obey the Spirit, even to the point of death. That’s the example Jesus left us, and we must follow in his steps (1 Pet 2:21). I suggest that we add this prayer to our daily conversation with God: “Father, thank you for your grace, which gives me the desire and power to do your will. Today, I consecrate myself to you. Help me to resist temptation and to say ‘Yes’ to the Holy Spirit. Help me to live each moment under His influence.”
- Be accountable. We all need a fellow believer to whom we can be accountable. We need to humble ourselves and confess our faults to them (Prov 28:13; Jam 5:16), and then ask them to enter into a commitment of accountability. We are not meant to live the Christian life apart from the help and encouragement of the church. That’s why accountability to other believers is so important (cf. Heb 3:12–14; 10:23–25; 1 Thess 5:11; Gal 6:1–2).
- Model discipleship. Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Although sound teaching is essential to discipling others (cf. 2 Tim 1:13), our personal example is the foundation on which disciple-making is built. If we aren’t being disciples ourselves, our plans to make disciples will falter and fail.
What does discipleship look like in the home?
Most people think that discipleship starts in the church, but actually, discipleship begins at home. One of the reasons we’re losing our children to the world is because we’ve taken a passive role and expect the church to disciple our children. We must disciple our families! That means we should:
- Lead. Encourage each member of your family to practice personal discipleship. The husband should lead by example, and the wife and children should follow the husband’s leadership. When an entire family is engaged in personal discipleship, the results are amazing. I recommend that you have your family on a common reading plan—this will facilitate discussions of God's Word.
- Fellowship. Take time each day to discuss what God is telling you in the daily reading. Share ideas and personal applications. Help your family develop the habit of discussing their relationship with God: what they're learning, how they're growing, what God has been saying to them, etc. This will prepare them to discuss spiritual things with people outside your family.
Teach. Schedule a time each week/month when your family gets together for a discipleship lesson. Make the occasion special, something your family will look forward to during the week. Pick a lesson from the website (see the Lessons menu) and go over the material. Encourage questions—don't worry about covering the entire lesson in a single session. As time goes on, and your family gets used to the process, have your children take turns being the teacher/facilitator. This will prepare them to host a discipleship group of their own one day. If your children grow up with daily discussions of God's Word and regular discipleship lessons, it will be natural for them to disciple others.
How do we implement discipleship in our churches?
One of the reasons our churches aren't growing is because we aren't discipling the sheep. If we want to have healthy, vibrant churches, we must:
- Promote personal discipleship. Pastors need to tell their congregations that they are committed to practicing personal discipleship, and then lead by example. Pastors should also call on the men in their churches to step up and be an example to their families. Imagine a church where everyone was practicing personal discipleship each day!
- Promote family discipleship. Pastors need to explain the basics of family discipleship to their congregations, and encourage them to begin immediately. Pastors should also encourage their churches to be on the same reading plan. This will be very helpful in promoting discussions of what everyone is learning from God's Word.
- Train the core. Pastors should take stock of their congregations and decide which individuals make up the core (the people you can always count on, the people who are there every time the doors are open, the people who testify that God is doing something in their lives). Pastors should then choose one or two couples from the core and begin a weekly/monthly discipleship session with them. It doesn't matter if they are the most mature people in the church—the goal is to train them to disciple others. As in family discipleship, the occasion should be a time of food and fellowship, because discipleship is founded on friendship. As time goes on, have them take turns leading the sessions. This will prepare them to host discipleship groups of their own. The goal here is to spend a year or two with these couples, and then have them pick out another couple in the church and begin discipling them. They should know at the beginning that this is the natural progression—be discipled so that you can then disciple others.
How do we help new converts become disciples of Jesus?
Discipling new believers is at the heart of Jesus' command to “go and make disciples.” Without proper guidance, many new Christians become confused and discouraged in their walk with Christ. We must:
- Nurture. New converts are like babies: they need lots of love, care and attention. Pastors should work to build a strong relationship with their new converts. I recommend that pastors interact with them daily in order to counsel them and guide their progress.
- Promote personal discipleship. As soon as possible, pastors should encourage their new converts to practice personal discipleship. Hold them accountable and praise them as they begin to grow and mature in these important disciplines.
- Teach weekly. Pastors should meet with their new converts every week for a discipleship session. Whenever possible, do this in the home of the new convert. People are most comfortable in their own environment, and it will make sharing and accountability much easier. Begin with fellowship and be prepared to address issues that come up during this time. Sometimes a problem will be mentioned that should take precedence over the intended lesson. Be sensitive to what they need to talk about. Also, be transparent. It’s good for new converts to know that all believers face the same battles they do. As time goes by, and the new converts get used to the process, have them take a turns being the teacher. This will prepare them to host a discipleship group of their own one day.