The Great Commission
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 am with you always, to the very end of the age.‘” Matt. 28:16-20
I have been emphasizing lately the importance of discipleship. I make a distinction between believers and disciples. Believers are those who believe, but disciples are those who actually follow. It is one thing to believe that Jesus died and is raised from the dead, but it is another thing to commit to following His teaching and His manner of life. All disciples are believers, but I am troubled that not all believers are disciples.
Jesus’ “Great Commission” contains only one imperative – “make disciples.” It sounds to us like the first verb is to “go” and then to “make disciples,” but that is not really correct. The passage actually presumes the going. We might get this point better if we translated it “As you go, make disciples.” It’s a very straightforward assignment, and if we’re not making disciples as we go through life, we’re failing our mission.
So how do we make disciples? I think the answer is also contained in the Great Commission. It is a two-stage process. First we baptize believers. Baptism is a rite of passage, an initiation into the Christian community, a declaration to the whole world that we belong to Jesus and are committed to following Him. That initial act of obedience takes just a moment. Then comes the hard part – teaching a convert to be a disciple. Or, in Jesus’ words, teaching them to obey everything He has commanded. In other words, someone who believes in Jesus should be mentored or coached by a more seasoned and mature Christian to actually learn the art of living as a follower of Christ.
I think many Christians are spiritual obstetricians. They want to birth a baby Christian, then move on and birth another. The great need of our day is spiritual pediatricians, those who will take care of that baby Christian until they are mature.
Notice something else about the Great Commission. Jesus does not say to merely teach people about Him, but rather to teach them to obey Him. Big difference! I think the last thing some Christians need is another Bible study. They have already filled up their heads with more knowledge than they are using. What they really need is a life study. Rather than an instructor who will give them more info, they need a mentor, a coach, someone who will help them apply what they already know.