This article was written as a summary of a message preached by David Platt. In it, he explored the relationship between missionaries and local churches on the field.
The Great Commission is not up for debate, but the exact execution of Christ’s commands in Matthew 28:16–20 often is. We must go and make disciples of all nations, of course, but our methods are many and varied. Should we form accountability groups? Find prayer partners? Recruit mentors?
“Our effectiveness in making disciples is directly linked to how we employ the Word of God in our work.”
No matter the choice of strategy, one thing is sure: any plan for disciple making that is not firmly rooted in an understanding of and submission to Scripture will not produce true disciples of Jesus Christ. After all, Christ himself qualifies his command to “make disciples” with another simple direction: “Teach[ing] them to obey everything I have commanded” (Matt. 28:19–20 HCSB). Our effectiveness in making disciples is directly linked to how we employ the Word of God in our work.
1. Read It Daily
To correctly apply Scripture in our work, we must first know it. Simple enough, right? But to really know it is an intentional process. Like a tradesman honing a skill or an artist his medium, we must put hand-to-tool on a daily basis. Intentional immersion in the Word of God must be a daily practice in our lives.
This ancient text is a message, both about an infinite God and from and infinite God. Eternity itself would be insufficient for us to exhaust its depths. Like the righteous man of Psalm 1, we don’t merely consider the law of God in passing. We concentrate on it constantly, consider it from every angle, and allow it to put down roots within us that transform who we are.
What’s more, meditation on Scripture produces joy—a great delight (Ps. 1:2). But though sweet like honey (Ps. 119:103), the words of Scripture are an acquired taste. If we desire to delight in them, we must consume them regularly. In the words of Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book.
But even daily consumption of Scripture will be insufficient if we are not determined to digest God’s Word well. We must not only work at reading his Word but also labor to understand it.
2. Understand It Well
The Bible requires effort to be understood rightly. This process of understanding and interpreting Scripture is called biblical exegesis, and it takes time and hard work.
Each passage of Scripture must first be understood in light of what is called its local context: Who wrote it? Who was it written for? What was going on at the time it was written? What’s the literary genre being used here? Is this a poetic song written by a king for corporate worship, like the Psalms? Is this a letter written by an apostle to encourage a persecuted congregation, like 1 Peter?
Before we can conclude what a Bible passage means for us today, we must discover what the text meant for those who first wrote and read it.
Secondly, we must understand individual passages in light Scripture’s overall context—the essential message that spans God’s Word from cover to cover. The Bible was not written to answer our every question about life but rather to reveal the one true God and conform every one of us into the image of his Son, for his glory. If we approach Leviticus expecting a clear-cut answer for our marital problems, we’ll come away disappointed. But if we approach the same book expecting to encounter God himself and his transforming power, we’ll never be let down.
We must approach every Bible verse we read with this holy book’s overall goal in mind, and we must actively resist the temptation to wring information and ideas from Scripture that simply aren’t there. After all, we’ll never be able to preach and teach the Bible accurately if we don’t understand what it truly says.
3. Preach and Teach It Accurately
Disciples are not made by the discussion of the Word. They’re made by the proclamation of it. Expository preaching is intended to expose people to the Word of God, to preach the point of the text, to magnify the truth of what God is saying, and to minimize our own human thoughts and opinions.
“What matters is what God’s word means, not ‘what it means to me.’”
But so often, sadly, we are tempted to do the exact opposite. We approach God’s Word with our own agendas, imprinting our own interpretations upon his message, and forcing his words to support our own ideas. But what matters is what the text means, not “what it means to me.”
Discipleship tools, strategies, and methodologies will come, and they can be of great use, but they can never take precedence over the accurate communication of what Scripture truly and primarily teaches. Effective methodology is a poor alternative to good theology. And if we don’t accurately communicate what the Scriptures command, we’ll never make obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, for how can we obey what we don’t understand?
4. Obey It Carefully
The Bible was not given to us for our consideration but rather for our transformation. Christ commissioned us not only to teach all of his commands but teach obedience to those commands (Matt. 28:19–20). If the truth of Scripture is not radically changing how we live our daily lives, something has gone dreadfully wrong.
Communicating information is pretty simple and straightforward. Teaching obedience is complicated, dirty, painful, lengthy, and far more rewarding. Teaching others to obey Christ’s commands means walking (and perhaps even occasionally stumbling) alongside them as the Holy Spirit conforms us all to the image of the Son. Obedience must be explicitly taught and intentionally modeled by those who preach and teach it. After all, the only way to measure a disciple’s trust in Scripture is to observe their obedience to it.
5. Trust It Completely
We can never trust anything more than Scripture. Our faith must be in God’s Word, not our experience, not our emotions, not our mentors, our ministers, or our methodologies.
As with obedience to Scripture, trust in Scripture must be both taught and modeled by disciple makers. Our lives must testify to the power of the gospel as proclaimed in God’s Word and nothing else. A well-made disciple will depend entirely on Scripture, not our strategies, our pedigrees, our charisma, or even our presence.
Your local Christian bookstore probably houses stacks upon stacks of discipleship materials, and much of it is well worth your time. But before we turn to these secondary sources, let us build our foundation upon the primary one: the Bible. Let us set up our lives and our work in such a way that when fruit comes, we are compelled to say, as did Martin Luther, “I did nothing. The Word did it all.”