In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives what we now call “The Great Commission”:
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.” (Matt 28:18-20 ESV)
This is the command that provides our primary purpose as Christians and as the Church. The question I’ve been asking myself recently is, “How do I do that well?” “Making disciples” of Jesus Christ is more than just guiding people toward faith in Jesus. It involves doing all we can to help them become fully mature and fully devoted followers of Jesus. If that is my primary role and I want to do well with the work God has given me, how do I best accomplish that?
First of all, I want to acknowledge that it is God who does the growing in a person’s life. As the Apostle Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 3:4-7
For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
So then, my role is to plant and water seeds of faith in a person’s life and trust God to give the growth in His timing and in His way. For this I am extremely grateful! God knows best how to guide each person toward maturity in their life as a disciple of Christ!
As I have observed people grow in their faith, I have come to recognize three areas where we can focus effort to help make mature followers of Christ.
Training of the Mind
The first area of focus is “training of the mind.” I can teach people what the Bible says. This is where I find a lot of discipleship methods are focused. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Because of this, we need to help people understand what the Bible says. This helps us to know who God is, who He says we are, and what God wants from a relationship with us.
But training of the mind by itself isn’t enough. I think we can all recognize that we don’t always behave according to what we know and believe to be right. I may know that eating a box full of cookies in one sitting is not good for me but still do it because they just taste sooo good! Something else has to change in us before we start doing what we believe.
Training of the Heart
For this we need to train the heart. This is really where God works on each person-changing their motives and desires and challenging them to love & trust Him above all other things; but there are ways we can help ensure this growth happens. In fact, I think this is something we MUST do in the church to really help people grow. It is possible for us to spend all our time focused on teaching knowledge and providing only a superficial level of discipleship.
In order to truly help make mature disciples of Christ we need to go deeper with one another; drawing out what lies deep within our hearts. To do this we need to go beyond just studying the Bible and ask probing questions about why we don’t live according to what we know; or what fears or worries hold us back from fully trusting God.
We also need to be willing to be transparent with one another and confess our shortcomings. And we need to be willing to persevere when things get difficult: when frustrations arise with the Bible and with our relationships in the church; and when our hearts tell us to run away!
In order to provide for this kind of growth, we need to work hard to make our church be a place of deep love and overflowing grace. We need to let people know that we truly care about them, and we need to continue caring about them even in the middle of their struggles.
It also means we have to be willing to stand on biblical truth-all the while testing our own hearts to make sure we are not being prideful and selfish. When the people we love are wrestling with something in their heart, we must gently keep pointing them toward Jesus in order to help their hearts be trained.
In addition to all this, I believe there is one other area of discipleship we can provide in the church:
Training of the Mouth
Jesus’ command to make disciples is the command given to every follower of Christ. This means that every Christian is called in some way to help others know Jesus and grow their faith in Him; which means you will need to be able to say something about what it means to be a follower of Christ! This is what the apostle Peter was referrring to when he wrote, “ but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15).
Being able to speak about your faith with confidence requires practice! People tend to have a fear about speaking to a group or trusting they will be able teach correctly. The only way to overcome these fears is to gain experience, and I think a church with people who want the best for you is one of the greatest places to gain that experience!
Therefore, I can help people grow as disciples of Christ both by providing opportunties for them to teach and by making it an expectation that this is a normal part of maturing in Christ.
So how can I best work at making disciples of Jesus Christ? By training the mind, training the heart, and training the mouth.