Discipling: Mandate to Mission
Anyone can see the number of apples on a tree;
only a few can see the number of trees in an apple..
Waves from the Malaka Strait splashed below me on the rocky shores of Penang, a small island off the west coast of the Malay Peninsula. A fisherman guided his boat into the bay and began his day’s work. As is my custom, I asked God what he wanted to teach me from that situation.
He seemed to say: "What if you were given the task of catching every fish in the seven seas? How would you do it?" I was overwhelmed at the thought. Impossible! "But that is the job I have given you," he responded. "There is no way," I said.
"What if," he broke into my thoughts, "every time the fisherman caught a fish and touched it, it changed into a man? The fisherman could then explain to the first fish-turned-man what had happened to him. He could tell him about the plight of his kinfish trapped in their watery prison and how they, too, can be freed by the touch of a human hand. He could teach the man to catch fish and to repeat the process. Soon their number would multiply."
"If we were doing it like most Christian training," I rejoined, "we would send the man who had been a fish to an institute of fisheries in the mountains. There he could learn out currents, sea life, oceanography, and so on. After three or four years he could return to help the first fisherman. Of course, might not know how to throw a net or bait a hook."
"A much more practical way," the Lord whispered, "would to show him immediately how to fish, thus letting him experience the joy of releasing another man from the fish condition. Then he could pass on what he had learned to the other new man. Someday he might need advanced study to help him teach others, but the immediate need would be to give him on-the-job training. If you would use this method, as I did, you could tell all the men in the world about me."
Jesus painstakingly discipled his followers for three years because he knew that the implementation of God’s plan was to in their hands. Yet by the end of his earthly ministry, all who remained were eleven original disciples, one hundred twenty other followers who attended the prayer vigil in the upper room, and five hundred who witnessed his ascension.
How few they must have seemed when Jesus commanded them to make disciples of all nations! Plainly, they needed to multiply. But Jesus had prepared them well for the coming rapid expansion recorded in the book of Acts.
THE IMPOSSIBLE TASK
Many of us have committed ourselves to taking the gospel to every person in the world by the year 2000. The population explosion makes such a task as impossible as it must have seemed when Jesus commissioned the first disciples.
World population has outstripped our comprehension. If we could have begun winning converts at the rate of one a minute the day Jesus arose, we would have won only one billion persons from then until now. Obviously, that is not fast enough reach our world.
Suppose we could win three thousand persons a day as the disciples did at Pentecost. How long do you suppose it would take to win the approximately six billion persons expected to be on the earth in the year 2000? Fifty-four hundred seventy-nine years! If Abraham had won three thousand converts each day, and his descendants had continued doing so, it would be approximately A.D. 3000 before we could evangelize just the people who will be living on the earth in the year 2000.
In spite of the statistics, we still are obligated to share the gospel with everyone on earth by the year 2000. That means we have to witness to one million different persons each day between 1985 and 2000. And that does not even count all of those who die during those years. The foreign missionary force will continue to operate at the same ratio of missionaries to unreached people, even if an accelerated appointment pace doubles the number of missionaries by that time. All the modern means known to us cannot present effectively the message to that number of people each year, scattered as they are throughout the remote regions of the world, unless there is a miracle from God.
Jesus did not flinch when he gave the command to preach the gospel to every creature. He had a plan; we must recover it. One part of that plan was to select a few men and pour his life into them. He discipled them and taught them by example to disciple others. His plan was followed by the first-century Christians until they had spread across the known world. Stated simply, the plan is this: Each disciple is to disciple one or more persons until the ones being discipled can disciple others who can win and disciple others, and so on.
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To see how fast disciple" can grow by multiplication, multiply 2 x 2. Continue to multiply the results each time by 2 for 33 times. Most pocket calculators have a constant function which allows you to continue to double a number by hitting the equals sign. How many disciples would you have after the thirty-third multiplication’
If only two persons out of each MasterLife group would begin other groups every six months, it would take only 16 1/2 years to have more than 8.5 billion persons, a number well in excess of the world’s estimated population in AD 2000. Although it is theoretically possible, it has not been done yet. Obviously, to reach the billions by multiplication, we must do it in a way other than those ways we presently use.
That brings us to the first critical point--to reproduce disciples, one must be a disciple. Look at our demonstration exercise above. If the second disciple fails to reproduce, it cuts the final figure in half. Or suppose he is only half-hearted in learning and practices only one-half of what his discipler does. Then his disciple will pick up his half-hearted attitude and again cut in half the standards of the original disciple, reducing them to one-fourth. The next generation will reduce them to one-eighth, and so on, until the original standards and teachings are inconsequential.
Satan seems to have a four-step strategy to sabotage God’s plan. First, he blinds men to the gospel to prevent them from believing in Christ. Second, he tempts new converts to keep them from obeying Christ and becoming true disciples. Third, he deceives and discourages disciples so they will not reproduce disciples. Fourth, he distracts disciple-makers and prevents them from training other disciple-makers.
"Would you disciple me?" a young pastor asked. "I’ve been in a Baptist church since I was saved." He added, looking intently into my eyes, "I’ve graduated from seminary, but no one has ever discipled me."
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How about you? Can you pass the discipleship test below? Write yes or no in each blank after you have read the Scriptures._____Read Luke 9:23. Are you denying yourself and taking up your cross daily?_____Read John 15:5. Is Jesus’ life flowing through you?_____Read John 8:31. Are you demonstrating that you are his disciple by continuing to learn and to follow his teachings?_____Read John 13:34-35. Do people know you are his disciple by the way you love other Christians?
_____Read John 15:8.Are you showing that you are Jesus’ disciple by bearing spiritual fruit?
Jesus did not call people to be Christians but to be disciples. He did not tell them how easy it would be but how difficult. He did not invite them to walk an aisle but to follow him in daily obedience. He did not tell them to forget about the cost but to count it. However, Jesus did not require anyone to have certain talents, to be educated, or to be a member of a certain social class. He only demanded obedience. He took people wherever they were and led them to be more like him.
If we are to do the will of God on earth, we must recapture the life of discipleship as the norm in our churches. A disciple is one who makes Jesus Christ Lord of his life. He may fail in the application of his commitment at times, but there is no wavering in his allegiance to Christ as the Lord of his life.
Jesus said: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever cloth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26-27). How dare we lower the standards Jesus set for disciples? Do we have any right to invite anyone to follow Christ on terms less than those he set?
Would you like to become a better disciple? Here are four basic things a disciple does that you also can do.
Follow Jesus. When Jesus said, "Follow me," Peter, James, and John dropped what they were doing to go with him. They focused on Jesus as the guide of their lives and submitted to his leadership. They obeyed his commands. They conformed to his example. They did what they saw him doing.
One of the best disciples I know is a man who decided on the day he was converted that the commands of Jesus were true and binding on his life. Whenever he found a command in the Bible, he did his best to follow it. Unlike most of us, his life has not been a series of spiritual ups and downs but a continuous growth in Christlikeness.
Be an apprentice." A horse will follow you a long way," a farmer once told me, "but to get any work out of him you have to put a bridle on him."
Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you" (Matt. 11:29). He was speaking of a yoke that two oxen wore when they pulled a plow or a cart. Or he could have been referring to the rabbis who used this phrase to invite pupils to enter their schools. A disciple works alongside Jesus as an apprentice. He is concerned about the same things that Jesus is concerned about. He goes the same direction that Jesus is going. He is Jesus’ partner and friend.
Be a learner. Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me" (Matt. 11:29). One of the basic meanings of disciple is "learner." A disciple is always learning. To become a disciple means to enroll in the school of Christ and become involved in continuing education for the rest of your life.
Be a representative." As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you," Jesus said to his disciples (John 20:21). Not only are you to be like Christ; you are to represent Christ! When someone is said to be a disciple of a famous educator or a psychologist, we expect him to represent his teacher truly. As a disciple, you have a responsibility to represent Christ in the unbelieving world.
To become biblical disciples we must follow the example of the Master Discipler.
Jesus: the Perfect Model for the Disciple
Perhaps you have never thought of Jesus modeling the role of a disciple on earth in his relationship with the Father. Remember, Jesus emptied himself when he came to earth and continually relied on the Father for everything. A study of John 5-7 will show how Jesus was the perfect model of a disciple.
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Read John 5:19-43 and list at least three ways Jesus modeled the behavior of a disciple by the way he responded to the Father.
Jesus did what he saw the Father doing, he did it in the same way, and he did it in the Father’s power (John 5:19). Jesus did what the Father showed him (John 5:20). He was given all judgment, but he did not judge anything on his own initiative (John 5:22,30). He gave life to the dead as he received it of the Father (John 5:24-26). He came in his Father’s name (John 5:43).
My applications of these verses include the following. Following Jesus, example, we should listen to God speak to us through his Word. We should look at what God is doing in the world and interpret daily events in the light of his purpose. Our evaluations and decisions should be made only after we consult with God. We should recognize that we can do nothing spiritual without him and, therefore, depend on him for life, love, wisdom, and power. We must be courageous enough to represent God, to seek only his honor, and to lead others to honor him.
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Read John 6:38-57 and write in your own words two ways Jesus identified his mission with the Father’s.
Jesus’ one purpose on earth was to do the Father’s will instead of his own will (John 6:38). Jesus did not lose anyone the Father gave him. Rather, he discipled that person (John 6:39). He receives his life from the Father, and he passes it on to those who believe in him.
As we apply the lessons Jesus has taught us by example, our first priority should be to know and to do the will of the Father. To do that, we must surrender our wills to him. We should follow up everyone whom God entrusts to our care and should do everything possible not to lose anyone. This responsibility of not losing the disciples committed to him probably made Jesus more patient. We should not expect our disciples to do better than Jesus’, but neither should we expect to lose any that were drawn to Christ by the Father. Therefore, we must live in Christ. We must set the example of relying completely on God, rather than on our cleverness, tenacity, or discipline.
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Read John 7:16-28 and list two ways Jesus showed that his ministry was for the Father, not for himself.
Jesus taught the Father’s teaching, not his own (John 7:16). He sought only the Father’s glory (John 7:18). And he saw himself as the Father’s representative (John 7:18).
All truth comes from God. We are only his representatives; and to be his representatives, we must have been with him and must have been sent by him. We must be obedient to learn. We must teach only his doctrine and glorify him. We need to quote the Father instead of quoting others or saying what we think. The wisdom of this world and the trends of the day distort the eternal truth. God is Teacher, Master, and Father; no representative should attempt to be the authority. Even Jesus did not. Jesus perfectly knew and taught God’s way and is our living model of what God wants us to do.
Holy Spirit: the Perfect Model of a Servant
The Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead. But as we examine Jesus’ teachings about the Holy Spirit and observe the Spirit related to Jesus, we realize that the Holy Spirit exemplifies the most important role of a disciple-that of a servant.
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Read Jesus’ teachings about the Holy Spirit in the following passages: John 14:16; 16:13-15. Write two ways the Holy Spirit exemplifies the servant role.
Jesus promised another Comforter. The Greek word translated another carries the meaning of one of the same kind. The Holy Spirit is like Jesus. He acts and reacts like Jesus. He speaks only what he hears. He passes on to us what he receives from Jesus. He never glorifies himself but spotlights and honors Jesus. Jesus receives from the Father; the Spirit receives from the Son; we receive from the Spirit; and we arc to pass it on to the rest of the world. The Holy Spirit exemplifies the true servant heart-the essence of being a disciple.
If we are to disciple men, we need to study how Jesus, the Master Disciple-builder, did it.
The first prerequisite is to be an example of the behavior and attitudes you want your disciples to have. Jesus modeled this in his relationship with the Father. The pattern in Jesus’ ministry was to do something before he taught it verbally. He reacted violently to the Pharisees, who "say, and do not" (Matt. 23:3). Discipling is not only correct doctrine; truth must be demonstrated in daily life.
Jesus prayed all night before he chose the twelve for special training (Luke 6:12). He chose ordinary men who had an extraordinary devotion to him. The one common trait of those Jesus selected was obedience. Imagine what you would do if Jesus had commanded you to walk on the water...or catch a fish and pay the taxes with a coin found in its mouth . . . or borrow someone’s colt without first asking the owner’s permission. The disciples made many mistakes, yet obedience characterized their behavior.
One essential ingredient in discipline is being with the disciple in all kinds of situations. Mark says, "He ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach" (Mark 3:14). The "with him" principle cannot be ignored. Since Jesus was to send them out as his representatives, they must have enough experience to act and to react as he would.
The nearer Christ came to the end of his earthly ministry, the more time he spent with his disciples. He poured himself into his men because they were the ones who would determine the scope of his future ministry.
The purpose of a discipler should be to share the secrets of his ministry. I once knew a plumber who would never tell his apprentice how to "wipe pipe," because it was a trade secret. The apprentice had to pick up the process for himself over a four- or five-year period. Jesus never hid his secrets from his disciples. Instead, he took his disciples aside and made sure they understood his teachings.
Jesus taught his disciples in the hustle and bustle of life. He never said, "In the morning at eight o’clock we will study ‘Old Testament Prophecy’ and at nine o’clock ‘Modem Trends and Interpretation of the Torah.’" He lived with them twenty-four hours a day and used his own ministry as the primary reference point for teaching them. He used an incident, such as the rich young ruler who would not follow him, to teach about the relationship of possessions to the kingdom. On another occasion he prepared Philip for learning by telling him to feed the five thousand when they had no food. When the disciples’ boat was tossed in the storm, they awoke him. Jesus immediately used the occasion to teach them a lesson. Jesus was always teaching them lessons from life that they could never forget.
Discipleship should always be linked to evangelism and ministry, or it will become sterile, ingrown, and ineffective.
Jesus sent out the twelve with only minimum instructions and limited responsibility, but he allowed them to learn on the job. At times, such as when he went to the mount of transfiguration, he left some of them behind to force them to serve. He followed up each assignment or task-related experience with explicit teaching.
Later Jesus sent out the seventy to learn on the job. Before he sent his disciples on their first mission, he demonstrated how they were to minister and gave them specific instructions. After they returned he talked with them and pointed out what he wanted them to learn from their experiences. Jesus planned for his disciples to be successful by preparing them ahead of time.
Jesus supervised the disciples’ ministries to develop their character. He properly balanced love and rebuke, because they needed both to become disciple-makers. Delegation, without supervision and accountability, is abdication of responsibility.
The phrase translated go ye in the Great Commission is a participle meaning as you go or having gone. Jesus assumed his disciples would go.
Going can be interpreted in two ways. First, as disciples went about their tasks in the world, they came in contact with people from many nations. Some even went to other countries for business or because of persecution. Through their ordinary life patterns disciples would reproduce other disciples who in turn would repeat the process and spread the good news in enlarging circles from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Second, disciples would go as missionaries to other cultures and nations. They were to go until they had made disciples of all nations. Jesus knew that the Holy Spirit would thrust them out. The universal nature of the gospel would cry in their hearts until they proclaimed it to all people. We find ourselves in a long chain of global discipleship.
Christ’s mandate leaves no option. We are to make and to develop loyal disciples. The only imperative in the commission is, "Make disciples." Too often, we are satisfied with converts rather than disciples. Jesus never commanded us to engage in an evangelism that requires only mental assent. Nor did he expect us to take shortcuts in our haste to reach out. We should train new converts by taking them with us as we evangelize others. Both evangelism and discipleship can, and should, be done at the same time.
The second participle in Matthew 28:19, baptizing, relates the new disciple to Christ and his body, the church. Baptizing them is not an option either. If a person is not committed enough to Christ to be baptized after he has been instructed properly, he is not worthy to be Christ’s disciple. People in many lands face ostracism, persecution, and even death when they are baptized in water, but Jesus said it should be done.
The third participle is teaching. I often ask people what Christ commanded us to teach. Almost invariably they will answer, "All things." Not so. He commanded us to teach them to "observe all things." He wants practice, not just doctrine. The word observe means to conform one’s actions or practice to something. The job isn’t finished when a person says yes to Christ. It has only begun. We must teach him to do Christ’s commands and to become like him.
The discipline process comes alive in the vivid experiences of the main characters of the New Testament. Barnabas, nicknamed the son of encouragement, is one of the best examples. He probably trusted Christ at Pentecost and was discipled by one or more of the twelve.
Later he discipled Paul. When the apostles refused to have anything to do with Paul, Barnabas vouched for him, and they served together for a while in Jerusalem (Acts 9:23-29). Several years later Barnabas was sent to Antioch to help the young church during a great turning to Christ. Barnabas traveled an additional one hundred twenty miles to find Paul (Acts 11:2526).
Barnabas continued to disciple Paul during the first phase of their ministry together in Antioch. Barnabas’ name is always mentioned first. Only after they began their missionary journey does the order reverse to "Paul and Barnabas." Barnabas had led him until Paul surpassed his teacher. Barnabas’ servant heart is revealed in his willingness to allow Paul to take the lead.
Later Barnabas discipled John Mark, even against Paul’s advice, with the result that John Mark later wrote the Gospel of Mark. In the end Paul agreed that Mark was profitable to him (2 Tim. 4:11).
Paul followed Barnabas’ example and chose Timothy as his disciple Nearing death, Paul wrote Timothy, "The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).
The reproduction principle of discipline has now become clear in an ever growing chain of five generations. Barnabas discipled Paul, who discipled Timothy, who was to disciple a faithful man, who was able to teach others also. Reproducing disciples who will reproduce disciples is Christ’s plan for world evangelization.
The local church is the proper arena for discipline. Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church. Because churches have neglected discipleship, groups outside the local churches have reclaimed the emphasis. But discipline outside the local church is out of context.
The church should be involved in three processes in its discipline ministry. First, the local body of believers wins converts and integrates them into the fellowship. Socialization occurs as the person adopts the attitudes and the patterns of the group. Few people who have been reared in a warm, evangelistic, nurturing local church realize how much their lives have been shaped by the behavior and attitudes of that church.
Second, the local church provides small groups that aid in internalization. Internalization is the process of incorporating a group’s values and beliefs into one’s own. Character formation takes place best in small-group interaction, such as in the family, in Sunday School, in Church Training, in missions organizations, and in special-interest groups. If a special small group covenants together to help one another become disciples and to hold one another accountable, it can be the most effective context for discipline. Small groups should be integrated into the local church program and add to its leadership.
Third, the local church should contain disciple-makers who can advance the process of multiplication. The multiplication of disciple-makers occurs in small groups and in one-to-one relationships between church leaders who have a vision of global discipleship and those who have already become disciples. It occurs when church leaders follow Jesus’ example for making disciples.
I asked my grandfather, age ninety-six, and my grandmother, age eighty-nine, how many descendants they had. "Sixty-two," my grandmother answered quickly.
For fun I asked, "My, how did you raise them all?"
"I didn’t raise them all, thank goodness," she exclaimed with a chuckle. "I just raised six of them."
"What about the rest?"
"Well, I helped some on the nineteen grandchildren; I helped some on you. But I didn’t do much on the thirty-five great-grandchildren or the two great-great-grandchildren. Their parents took care of them."
I developed MasterLife: Discipleship Training for Leaders, a six to twelve-month, small-group discipline process, out of twenty-five years of experience as a pastor and a missionary. In 1980 the first MasterLife workshop was conducted in the United States. A South Carolina pastor attended and caught the vision for discipline. He led an initial group of ten persons in his church through the process. Five of those persons began new MasterLife groups. One of the couples discipled over one hundred persons in the next four years! A member of their first group, the church youth director, felt led to attend seminary. He led three groups at the seminary, and then those he discipled led six more groups in the next cycle. Here are five "generations" of disciples, each of which continues to multiply today.
Spiritual reproduction is God’s mandate to mission.1
1. A course designed specifically to help disciples make disciples and develop persons in Christlikeness was published by The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1985. It is MasterBuilder: Multiplying Leaders by Avery T. Willis, Jr.
Coleman, Robert E. Master Plan of Evangelism. Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, Co., 1978.
Eims, LeRoy. TheLostArtof Disciple Making. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publish-ing House, 1978.
Hendrichsen, Walter A. Disciples Are Made--Not Born. Wheaton, III.: Victor Books, 1974.
Heunel, Albert. The Humiliation of the Church. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966.
How to Pray for Others. Equipping Center module. Nashville: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1979.
Willis, Avery T., Jr. MasterLife: Discipleship Training for Leaders. Nashville: The Sunay School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1980. Revised 1982.
_____.MasterBuilder: Multiplying Leaders Nashville: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. 1985.
Wilson, Carl. With Christ in the School of Disciple Building. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976.