A few days before His crucifixion, Jesus told His Father, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work You have given Me to do” (Jn. 17:4). But which work was Jesus referring to? He was talking about calling and developing disciples who were able to reproduce. After His resurrection and before ascending to glory, Jesus told His then followers and those who would accept his call to “come and follow me” throughout the ages to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28: 19-20).
This instruction, referred to as the Great Commission, can only be fulfilled in a meaningful way if disciple-making is the central focus of the local church. Bonhoeffer understood this truth and taught that Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.
As Bill Hull rightly asserts, the discipling church is the normal church, and disciple-making is for everyone and every church. Jesus instructed the church to lead that process, and He modeled it. The New Testament disciples applied in a way that expanded Christianity during the three first centuries to levels never attained again in the church history.
The secret of the first church’s discipleship success greatly resided in the early Christians’ top priority to win the lost and develop them to their full potential for Christ and His mission. Unfortunately, this flame has not kept burning steadily throughout the church ages. Today, many local churches’ condition is that of churches in profound crisis, the crisis of failing to uphold God’s mandate to make disciples of all nations. I concur with Hull’s assertion that the nature of that crisis is a crisis of product: the church’s inability to produce the kind of disciples who reproduce.
God’s mission for the church has not changed. Instead, He is calling all of us, every church and every Christian, to a 180-degree shift: the shift from making converts and baptizing them into church membership without discipling them to using His all-encompassing power and authority to winning, equipping, and deploying them into the harvest field until Jesus comes back. So let’s unite around this endeavor of paramount importance for our God, and let’s steer all our minds, resources, and energy toward achieving this mission and be gratified by our Lord when He comes back with these words: “faithful servants”!
Pastor Sylvestre Bea
Senior Pastor, ECDM.