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Staying on Mission: The Call to Make Disciples


Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘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.’”

This scripture, often called the Great Commission, provides the clearest biblical description of the church’s primary calling.  In that commission given to His disciples, Jesus calls the church to “make disciples.”  Going, baptizing, and teaching are all descriptors of making disciples.  Some might argue that the church is supposed to assist the poor.  Isn’t the church supposed to impact culture with the presence of the Kingdom?  Aren’t we supposed to be all about missions?  Most definitely yes, but all of that happens as the fruit of discipleship.  Those things are not the commission of the church; instead, they are descriptions of the way disciples of Christ live.  The church’s primary calling is to make disciples.  We do that by going to all the world, proclaiming the Kingdom of God through the atonement accomplished by Christ, baptizing those who believe, and then teaching them what Kingdom living is like.

If the primary commission of the church is to make disciples, then discipleship is not simply another thing the church should do.  It is the core of what the church is called to be.  Everything is to be about discipleship.  All of the ministries of the church, the church schedule, the church calendar, events, etc., must be directed and purposed towards that end. 

Over the next few months, we are going to look at different facets of what discipleship is and how it is to be accomplished within the ministry context of Southwood Presbyterian Church.  This month we begin with the most basic principle, which is the definition of a disciple.

What is a Disciple?
If we look at the Scriptures, we see that a disciple is characterized by several things.  Among those characterizations are: Disciples “follow.”  Christian disciples are those who follow Jesus.  As the first disciples of Jesus did, we are to make following Him our life’s agenda.  We follow Him in the conduct of His life, in what He teaches, and in His mission.  Along with being followers, disciples are imitators.  We follow Jesus that we might be like Jesus.  A disciple no longer lives for himself but gives his life for the One he/she follows.  The first disciples laid down everything to follow Jesus.  A disciple is also a learner, finding the One he/she follows as holding truth that gives life and purpose.  A disciple also serves.  He places himself under the authority of the One he follows, and now lives that His will and agenda are accomplished.

Disciples of Jesus are those who know, love, obey, abide with, imitate, serve, and proclaim Jesus. But the bottom line is that discipleship is about being in relationship with Jesus: Every Christian, every believer in Jesus, is a disciple because every believer is in a marriage relationship to Jesus. There is no other option. So, if we to boil it down to one particular activity, disciples are those who worship Jesus. Jesus is their greatest joy and the love of their lives.  All of life is about Him.  Disciples are those who have given themselves to Jesus as a bride does to her husband with great freedom and delight.  At the moment of conversion, we come to Jesus to worship Him with our lives.  Discipleship is the life-long process of how worshippers and servants of Jesus grow and develop, as if they were in a marriage with Jesus and growing in how deeply and how well they love their bridegroom.  Therefore, if the primary calling of the church is to make and grow disciples, our job is to enable them to experience their marriage to Jesus more and more fully.

To take this a bit further, effective discipleship should directly (though not exclusively) focus on several particular subject areas.


Gospel Knowledge and Living
A disciple first needs a strong foundation of what the gospel is and how it connects with life.  This will include an understanding of who we are as sinners, who Christ is, what He did for us on the cross, our new identity in Him, and then how those truths transform all of life.  Also included in this is the development of solid theological foundations.  This is not the study of theology in isolation but theology and its practical implications for faithful and grace-filled living.


Means of Grace
A disciple must be equipped with the tools of feeding his/her own soul, such as learning to study scripture effectively, learning the practices of regular personal prayer, worship and meditation, and communion with the rest of the body of Christ.  We do this individually, corporately, and as a family.

Family Relationships
The first place of living out our faith is within our family context, whether that is within the covenant of marriage or with extended family.  If we do not live out our love for God and trust in His promise within those relationships, every other sphere of faith will have little meaning.  We must give our families, parents, children, and others all the tools they need for demonstrating the realities of the Gospel within their particular family/relational context.


Christian Community
Disciples do not exist as isolated individuals.  We worship, grow, and minister in community.  Therefore, mature disciples must be equipped with the knowledge and means of growing in relationship and developing a healthy dependence with the rest of the community of believers.


Engaging with an Antagonistic Culture
We live in an increasingly hostile environment for those living openly as believers.  How does a faithful believer navigate such an environment and stand firm against the tide of secularism?  How does the church influence and impact a culture with the realities of the Kingdom of God?  Disciples must be well prepared to do engage with this hostile world without becoming casualties of the very world we seek to influence.


Ministry Preparedness
All disciples are called by the King of Heaven and are His servants, and as His servants we are all now sent into the world as ambassadors of His Kingdom and instruments of reconciliation.  Discipleship must move us outward towards others.  We want to prepare our people to enter into and bring Kingdom life to the community of Huntsville.  Whether it is through advocating for the poor, working for racial reconciliation, sharing about Jesus with a neighbor, or defending the helpless, our discipleship process must educate and equip our people towards bringing the light of the Kingdom of Christ into the darkness of our contemporary cultural context.

In the next edition, we will talk more about the process of how disciples are developed.