Why Emphasize Discipleship?

This excerpt is taken from Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington (with Robert Coleman), DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples

Discipleship.org is focused on Jesus Christ and the necessity of helping people trust and follow Him. We do this because it is the greatest cause on earth. And we do it because it is the focus of the New Testament.

The New Testament is intensely Christ-centered. Jesus is the key to everything. He is the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the Vine, the Gate, the Way, Truth, and Life, and the model to follow. The ideal life is focused on Jesus. It is not just trusting him but also truly following him. To focus on him is to live a fulfilling life. It is about becoming more and more like him in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God. To be conformed into Jesus’ likeness is the goal (Romans 8:29).

The New Testament church was all about being and making disciples of Jesus.
DeYoung and Gilbert’s comprehensive study What Is the Mission of the Church? deals with many of the complicated questions about the mission or purpose of the church that thoughtful people are asking. I could not recommend it more highly, especially to young leaders. They sum it all up every thing in the New Testament on the purpose of the church in a simple statement: “the mission of the church—your church, my church, the church in Appalachia, the church in Azerbaijan, the church anywhere—is to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God the Father.”

New Testament scholar Michael Wilkins puts it this way: “Since all true Christians are disciples, the ministry of the church may be seen in its broadest sense as ‘discipleship.’ Various ministries within the church should be seen as specialization, aspects, or stages of discipleship training.”

Let’s focus on a key text that can help us with this point, the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). Too many churches refer to this passage in the sense of making converts only. But that line of thinking ignores both the meaning of the word disciple and the phrases in the text that define what is involved in making disciples. Let’s look carefully at what it says: “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (ESV, emphasis added).

All authority was given to Jesus. He commanded his disciples to go and make disciples. Disciples are not merely converts but also doers, learners, students, Christ followers, or better yet, “apprentices of Jesus.” We make disciples, the text tells us, by baptizing people who respond to the gospel message and by teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. So notice Jesus tells us that He has all authority and then He tells us to teach what He commanded. So it is right to say that following Christ is a nonnegotiable part of the Great Commission.

To be clear, the call isn’t to perfection. A disciple of Jesus will be imperfect, even as Peter denied Christ, Thomas doubted Christ, and many other disciples misunderstood Christ. Yet the call of a true disciple is a call to a change in allegiance, from self to Jesus’ leadership in our lives. In a disciple’s life, the Great Commission must be taken at face value. If anyone serves Jesus, he must follow Jesus. There is no wiggle room in a genuine Christian’s life for a faith characterized by compromise.

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1 Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton, Ill.: Good News/Crossway, 2011), Kindle location 265.
2 Michael Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992), 42.
3 Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship (New York: HarperOne, 2006), p xi.
4 The participles in vv. 19–20 are subordinate to “make disciples” and explain how disciples are made: by “baptizing” them and “teaching” them obedience to all of Jesus’ commandments. The first of these involves the decisive initiation into discipleship, and the second proves a perennially incomplete, lifelong task. See Craig Bloomberg, Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 431.

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