I had the privilege of writing the foreword for an important new book by Curt Erskine, “Recreated to be Like God: Making Disciples in the Image of Jesus”. It is clarifying in our theology of making disciples that will bless your ministry.
Why should the local church focus on disciple making? I am a big advocate of this exact focus and I have sought to encourage every church leader I can to embrace it through my leadership roles at Discipleship.org, Renew.org, and in the books that I have written.
But why discipling making?
Why advocate for this primary focus?
There are two principal reasons typically given to church leaders, but both are inadequate in themselves.
The first reason given is pragmatic. What we are doing is not working and we need discipleship or disciple making. It is often stated this way: “the world is out discipling the church, turning people away from the ways of scripture and we have to go back to disciple making to counteract the world.” Church services are not enough, people realize. This will sometimes be stated in alarming terms: “there is no way that one or two hours on a Sunday can counteract the discipling influence of 5-7 hours a day of social media influence to the contrary.”
It is easy to find statistics to support this pragmatic argument. Disciple-making advocates can point to the latest Barna studies or Gallup studies which show the rapid decline in the influence of the teachings of Jesus, both in the local church and through Christians in the world. They note the rapid decline in those who hold to a Christian worldview, a decline in those who consider themselves practicing Christians and in those who even attend church.
Will Mancini and Cory Hartman make a strong case for the pragmatic argument in their book Future Church: 7 Laws of Real Church Growth. They make it clear that the best future of the church is going to be a focus on disciple making. I recommend their book for that reason.
But it is not enough.
The second reason given is the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus teaches us to make disciples.
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.”
“These are the words of Jesus himself,” we say. “Making disciples is a commandment. We must obey his command.”
Sometimes we rally people to obedience to this command by pointing to Jesus’ heart for the world. “Let’s make his last words our first priority,” we say. “If Jesus loved the world and taught us to love the world by making disciples of everyone, then we must make it a priority.”
I agree with this second reason too.
But it is not enough.
One commandment in isolation, even if it is the great commission, is not enough in itself, to develop a theology of mission for the local church. To be holistic and show the multifaceted teaching of the New Testament, we need a deeper, more profound theology.
Theosis is the teaching that God wants everyone re-conformed to the image of Jesus.
It is the underlying theology that should make disciple making the core focus of the local church.
A focus on theosis is to make a case that the local church will be transforming people into the image of Jesus Christ. Properly understood it makes disciple making a more authentic and more deeply rooted and all-pervasive mission. It calls every church leader, all the time, to be conscious that our goal for everyone in the church is to be like Jesus. It calls us to structure everything and emphasize in everything that this is God’s goal for us in the church.
We can describe it simply – God wants everyone to come to salvation in Jesus Christ and to form their entire lives around Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis put it succinctly:
“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
Curt Erskine’s book is vitally important for us because it makes the Biblical and historic case for this focus. Again, a focus on theosis, is a focus that God’s ultimate goal is that everyone in the local church be “re-created in Jesus’ image.”
Read it thoughtfully and carefully.
May this teaching form your focus on being a disciple and making disciples.