We, as a Church, exist to make disciples.
We have a commission from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
After He was raised from the dead, He met with His eleven disciples on a mountain. At that meeting, He said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) Then He said, “Therefore.” “Therefore” based on His authority, based on His position, Jesus gives a command. He assigns His followers a mission. He says, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19)
The command here is to make disciples. This is why we say we exist to make disciples. Jesus commands us to make disciples.
This is not as mysterious as it sounds. Jesus gives us an outline of the process. He says, “. . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” (Matthew 28:19)
Baptizing them assumes conversion. This is the preaching of the good news. In Mark 16:15 Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” This is the first step in the disciple making process.
A disciple now is the same as a disciple was in Jesus’s day. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. A disciple is a learner, a student of a particular teacher. In Luke 6:40 Jesus says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (ESV) The point of discipleship is to become like the teacher, to receive training from the teacher and to become fully trained.
This is the second part of the outline that Jesus gives when He says, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
This teaching takes many forms. It takes place in Sunday School, and in Worship. It takes place in books and articles. However, none of this is enough. A disciple must be a follower of the Master. In order to do this, each person must learn to follow the Master for his or her self. Jesus challenged anyone who would follow Him with these words:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)
The Apostle Paul told his young disciple, Timothy:
Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Both Jesus and Paul are pointing to the need to follow Jesus daily. This starts with making time to be with Him daily. Make time to read the Bible every day. It does not have to be huge chunks; even a little bit will help. This will lead to correctly explaining the word of truth, and if we are listening to the word of truth, we will know what cross we are to take up.
Being a disciple is not a hobby, a career or an interest. It is a decision and a commitment. It is who we are when we accept Christ. All Christians are disciples. When a person accepts Jesus as Savior, he or she becomes His disciple. Some are poor learners and there are plenty of wayward disciples. No matter where you are on the journey, if you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, you are His disciple.
The command or commission we have from Jesus is to make disciples of all nations.
What does He mean by all nations?
The word translated “nations” here is the Greek word “ethnos.” It is from this word that we get our word, ethnic. It means forming a culture and refers to people joined by practicing similar customs or common culture. The Jews of Jesus’s day used it to refer to unbelieving Gentiles (non-Jews).[i]
In Revelation 5:9, the angels and elders sing a song to Jesus saying, “Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
This has been God’s plan all along. Even as early as Abraham, God was already saying, “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)
The early church immediately set out to obey this mandate from Jesus Christ. Thus, we have in Acts 13:1-3 the beginning of the first missionary endeavor. Jesus had sent His disciples out in pairs to preach, and by this means had taught them how to do missionary outreach. Then in Acts 13 we have this account:
1Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. 2One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” 3So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.
Although the history is long and complicated, our missionary movement started on that day. Jesus told His disciples:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV)
It is our privilege to see in our day the gospel reaching to the ends of the earth. However, the task is not finished. Of the 16,300 ethnic groups in the world, 6,550 are considered unreached, and of those, some 3,000 are unengaged. Unreached means less than 2% Christian, and no indigenous community of Christians able to evangelize the rest of their people group. Unengaged means there are definitely no missionaries, in all likelihood no outreach, no church or fellowship of believers, no Christian materials, and few if any Bibles in these people groups.[ii]
Lest we think these are small insignificant people groups, the unreached people groups account for around 40% of the world’s population.
We, as a church, stay connected with missionaries because it is part of who we are. We are concerned that our neighbors hear the gospel whether they are near or far.
Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.