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.
Probably every single evangelical church is very familiar with Jesus’ final command to his disciples. It’s written on walls, websites, and mission statements. It’s the key to the growth of the church and the spread of the gospel throughout all the world.
Go. Make disciples. Baptize them.
In baseball, one hit per three at-bats gets you into the Hall of Fame. In football, completing two out of every three passes places a quarterback among the elite of the elite. But in church, anything less than three out of three means a gigantic failure in carrying out what has come to be known as the Great Commission.
And unfortunately, two out of three is found in more churches than we would care to admit.
Go. Check. We send out multiple mission teams every year to all over the world, including our own community.
Baptize. Check. We’ve got a beautiful baptismal pool at the front of the church that is frequented often, plus once a year we do a mass baptism at the lake.
Make disciples. Check . . . ? Doesn’t that just, you know, happen on its own as long as we’re doing the other two?
Hopefully, we wouldn’t actually hear that said out loud by any church leaders, but are some saying that with their actions—with how they continue to minister (or not minister, to be more exact) to new Christians or even just new members or attendees at their church?
To put it as directly as I can, how are you and your church leaders making disciples out of the new bodies in your auditorium seats? Real, authentic, Jesus-defined disciples.
Some churches don’t place much emphasis on membership, which I believe is a mistake. Without a membership in a local body of believers, a churchgoing Christian is like a sheep that gathers together with the rest of the herd once or twice a week in order to get some food, but there’s no real commitment from either the shepherd, the sheep, or any of the other flock members.
Many churches do encourage local membership and commitment, even utilizing spiritual gift inventory tests for new members so that the church can help find ways for everyone to serve within the church. This is commendable and a great idea, if followed through with and used for everyone and in all areas of ministry. But this isn’t discipleship; it’s more like “serve-ship.”
When new attendees join your congregation, hopefully, you provide and encourage a way for them to officially join your local body of believers. Once they are part of your flock, it’s always a great idea to continually keep up conversations with them about how they can serve in the church—perhaps in kids ministry, young adults, music, audio/visual, handyman ministry, or countless other ways. But even if those first two steps have all been checked, don’t believe for a second that your part is done.
Because Jesus said to make disciples, not make diaper changers, or ushers, or parking attendants. Make disciples.
And do not mistake preaching one, two, or even three sermons a week with them in the audience as “making disciples” out of them. Jesus spent plenty of time standing on hillsides, docks, and boats while preaching to large crowds. But that was teaching the gospel, not making disciples. He made disciples by investing in a chosen few. He spent countless hours and meals with them, looking for new ways to teach them about his Father’s kingdom. And then he empowered and commanded them to do the same.
To put it simply, Jesus made disciples who could then go make new disciples.
Jesus’ call to discipleship is an all-or-nothing summons. It means becoming his servant in the world in which we live and placing our relationship with him above even our most important and intimate earthly relationships. It means seeking his kingdom in all areas of our lives—family, work, recreational. This is not a call that is offered lightly or received in mass upon hearing an unknown preacher a hundred feet away. It is given and accepted intimately. It is given and accepted between two friends who understand each other, who know each other well.
So to ask again, how are you and your church leaders specifically making disciples out of those who consider your church their home?
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Want to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.