by Allen G. Arensen
In this article I stress the great importance of making disciples in relation to the missionary task.
In one of his final conversations with his disciples Jesus said to them, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:19, 20, NIV). This command may be called the "hinge" of history because in obedience to it Christ’s followers took his teaching and the fact of his saving death and resurrection to the entire known world. This work is still being fulfilled by Christians all over the world, as they strive to help others believe in the life-giving words of Jesus. Because of this the world and its history have been irrevocably changed.
The heart of the great commission is the phrase, "to make disciples." In this article I stress the great importance of making disciples in relation to the missionary task. I want to establish principles for making disciples as we examine Christ’s preparation of the twelve.
Jesus desires that each person be a disciple of himself. Discipleship involves acceptance of Christ’s authority both by believing in him as Savior and then by obeying him as Lord. The person of Jesus is central. The attachment that men acquire to Jesus shapes their whole life. The key to discipleship is one’s relationship to Jesus Christ. As people involve themselves in him, they become obedient to him; not because of impersonal laws, but because of who Jesus is.
This disciple relationship does not exist for its own sake. Rather, it exists to call those who have not yet believed. When one has come under Christ’s authority he will go out and make new disciples.
Thus, the task of making disciples is the key to the overall task of missions. We speak of creating an indigenous church. Yet the believers of this church are often merely parrots of what they have been given by the missionary. They may only be disciples of the foreigner and of a foreign way of life. When for any reason the missionary has to leave, the local Christians are left running an organization and going through motions which can be meaningless. Christ’s command in Matthew 28:19 is for us to make people into disciples of himself. This means the bringing of people under God’s control. When a person comes under God’s control, he goes out and makes new disciples. Thus an unbreakable chain is formed.
As we succeed in making people into disciples of Christ, we will have truly established an indigenous church, one which is solely dependent upon Christ for its strength and purpose, and one which is fully capable of reproducing itself.
How to make disciples of Christ is the task before us. Let us examine five of Christ’s discipling methods. Perhaps by observing these we can discover some principles that will be useful to us in the mission to which God has called us, "to make disciples."
JESUS SPENT TIME WITH HIS DISCIPLES
The first method I notice is that Christ spent a great deal of time together with his disciples. "He ate with them, slept with them, and talked with them for the most part of His entire active ministry. They walked together in the crowded cities; they sailed and fished together in the Sea of Galilee; they prayed together in the deserts and in the mountains; and they worshiped together in the Synagogues and in the temple."1 Jesus did not have to lecture his disciples on who he was. They were with him day and night. When he did ask, "Who say thou that I am?", Peter’s immediate answer was, "Thou art the Christ, the Son o£ the living God."
This is perhaps the most important and the most difficult of Christ’s methods of discipling. It takes time spent with that other person. This does not mean time spent in the classroom only, or occasional minutes snatched during the week. It means time in all areas of life. It means time over an extended period. As they dive and walk with us, our disciples should see Christ living in us and desire a similar walk for themselves. This time given to our disciples is time given to God and less and less time for ourselves. It means sacrifice of two things that our Western society holds precious–time and privacy.
JESUS TAUGHT BY EXAMPLE
The second method that I see Christ using is closely tied to the first. Jesus taught by example. After having been with Jesus for some time, the disciples came to him and asked that he teach them to pray. ‘Why? The disciples had seen Jesus talking with his heavenly Father. They had seen the strength and comfort that Jesus received through prayer. By observation they realized the importance of prayer. They did not need to have this lesson forced upon them. Rather they came to Jesus saying, "Lord teach us to pray.
To practice this principle means that we have to follow after Christ. We must, like Paul, be able to say, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Cor. 11:1) . Every minute of every day we must be given over to God and under his control. Others are watching us. We cannot pretend to be something we are not. Christ must really live through us and be seen in us. This is, of course, central to the theme of discipleship. We cannot bring others under Christ’s discipleship until we are disciples.
JESUS GAVE SIMPLE INSTRUCTIONS
A third method follows closely. When Jesus was imparting some needed skill to his disciples, he gave them a simple pattern to follow. His directions were explicit and uncomplicated. Take, for example, the Lord’s prayer. When asked how to pray, Jesus did not give them a long doctrinal lecture on prayer. Rather, he gave them an example, a blueprint. At first, all the disciples needed to do in prayer was to repeat the prayer. Later as they developed a deeper and more personal relationship with the Father, they could use their own words. But Jesus set them the perfect example. The Lord’s prayer includes all necessary and important elements of prayer.
When teaching a new convert some new skills, it is of great help to him to memorize a simple pattern. This may be a prayer, a statement of belie, or a method of witness. Later he may choose to adapt this pattern to fit his own personality and needs.
JESUS MADE THEM PRACTICE
A fourth method Jesus used was to send out his disciples to practice what they had learned (c£. Mark 6:7-13). After the disciples had been with him for a considerable time, and after they had heard, seen and spoken with him, Jesus sent them out.
Teachers know the tremendous advantage of learning by doing, if the doing is based on what the student has heard, seen and questioned. Jesus was and is the supreme teacher. He did not send them out without first giving them explicit directions as to their activity. Nor did he send them out alone, but two-by-two. Thus they could encourage one another. We should do the same with our new believers. We need to give them work to do. But not until after explaining what to do and how to do it, and also showing them by our own example. Then we can send them out in the company of one another to help and encourage them.
JESUS SUPERVISED THEM
The final method is that Jesus supervised his disciples in their practical work assignments. When they came back, he called them together. He could listen to the reports and blessings of their ministry (Mark 6:30, 31). This was probably very encouraging to them as well. It was here that they heard the reports of the other disciples. It was here that they shared defeats and victories. It was here that each realized that he was not the only one who failed, and it was through the failures that they learned. It was here that each realized the source of his victories; together they could glorify the one who had called them and subsequently sent them. This time together was also a time for further teaching. Jesus showed them how to improve what they had done. He also had a foundation of shared knowledge and experience upon which to further his teaching.
As our disciples go out, we need to follow their progress and meet with them regularly. We can help them learn by their successes and mistakes. As they continue serving their Lord and Savior, our disciples will gain more understanding of God and his word, and we will have a larger foundation upon which to teach. Best of all, we can continue to point them to the source of their victory and power, Jesus Christ.
These five are by no means all of Christ’s discipling methods. He is the supreme teacher and he has endless creative ways to help us in making disciples. However, these five are basic to the missionary task. In drawing a conclusion, I am forced to look at Christ. The key to making disciples for Christ is to be a disciple of Christ. We must be able to say, "Brethren, be followers together of me" (Phil. 3:17).
1. Coleman, Robert E., The Master Plan of Evangelism (Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1964, p. 43.
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