I was having a conversation about Matthew 28:19–20 and the mission of the church with two men who had Bible College degrees and a decade’s worth of ministry behind them.
And like so many pastors today, they had misunderstood that well-known text.
They thought the Great Commission was all about evangelism. The mission of the church, they believed, was to “reach people far from God.”
“If we’re doing that,” they explained, “we are surely carrying out Jesus’ mission.”
“What about discipleship?” I asked.
“That comes afterward evangelism. It’s important, but the mission of the church is reaching the lost.”
But is that what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19–20?
I read this passage with them and pointed out what Jesus actually said:
It’s not some add-on that you do later. It isn’t even evangelism plus discipleship. It’s discipleship, which includes evangelism.
In other words, disciple making is the core mission of the church.
When we make the mission of the church simply reaching the lost or growing church attendance or teaching biblical information—or anything other than making full-fledged disciples of Jesus—we form shallow churches, leave people stuck in immature, un-Christlike patterns of living, and fail to be a city set on a hill.
Our mission is disciple making. And making disciples includes two components: evangelism (implied by the reference to baptism in Matthew 28:19) and teaching people to doeverything Jesus commanded.
It’s all aimed at helping people become disciples and live as disciples, which means they have to rearrange their life to become like Jesus.
So, here’s a subtle shift in thinking that makes a massive impact on our ministries:
Disciple making isn’t something we do; it’s everything we do.
The purpose of every meeting, every program, and every activity of the church is to either help people become disciples or to help them live as disciples.
If we’re making lots of converts who aren’t learning how to do everything Jesus commanded (i.e., live as disciples of Jesus), we’re failing to carry out the mission Jesus gave us.
If we have lots of active, involved church members who are attending, serving, and giving but not becoming like Jesus in character and life mission, then we’re making church members not disciples. And that means we’re failing in the mission Jesus gave us.
We have one mission: make disciples.
Every pastor is a disciple making pastor.
Every volunteer leader needs to see their role as a disciple maker and understand how they can help the people in their charge live as disciples of Jesus.
For every activity we should ask: How does this help people either become disciples or live as disciples?
As Curtis Erskine demonstrated in his substantive blog entitled “Conversion, Theology, and Discipleship,” discipleship is the key criterion by which everything is evaluated.
And this isn’t just true for the church corporately. This is true for each individual disciple as well—we are to live as disciples and seek to make disciples.
Raising kids? One of the greatest discipleship opportunities for our own discipleship and for helping our kids become—and live as—disciples. Martin Luther called family life the “school for character.”
Career? An incredible training ground for becoming like Jesus, and one of the best places to display and impart the way of Jesus to others.
Friends? They are key relationships for spurring one another on to love and good deeds.
Discipleship to Jesus should shape every facet of our life as individuals and every activity in our churches.
It’s everything we do, and it’s the greatest opportunity any human being could ever have because Jesus is the true source of life.
To learn more about John Whittaker, visit his website https://www.johnwhittaker.net.