You know, going back to the basics can be a thrilling adventure, but it can also remind us of how forgetful we are. I can remember back in college teaching a class on what it means to be a disciple, and it wasn't until recently that I was reminded of this concept again. Like a freight train barreling down a railway, I was confronted with how axiomatic this idea of making disciples is and should be to Christian communities.
Mathew is the only gospel we find mentioning this phrase for Jesus last words. It hit me this morning as I was reflecting on it that Matthew, as someone who was primarily writing for Jews, framed the great commission in a "learning/mentoring" paradigm because learning Torah was one of the axiomatic pursuits of a covenant keeping Jew.
The only thing is, I don't think Matthew had learning Torah in mind. The Torah had become flesh and lived out it's full meaning in front of them. Making disciples meant making followers of Jesus. This of course involves learning from a cognitive standpoint. academia can be a great blessing or a subtle cursing as well though. If Jesus life and ministry is any clue about what it means to make disciples, then we can be sure the "learning" is embedded in a relational framework of modeling and exercise.....in other words outside the class room.
What if we filtered our ministries, our "church planting" and all that stuff that drives us through this lens of making disciples. I think it would be a healthy corrective to start here for several reasons.
1. It is process oriented. Jesus is not asking us to focus on numbers or levels of acheivement. He is asking us to make disciples. Getting into the numbers game flirts with treating people as projects and trophies. the goal is not just "salvation." It is to be a disciple, a follower. This changes the rules of the game for a lot of us.
2. It keeps Jesus at the center. Jesus is not asking us to "grow" the Kingdom. Not even to plant churches! Wow! Now this of course could all go back to semantics etc. Planting a church is sometimes short hand for creating a community of believers made up of either seekers or believers or both. But if you will allow me to make a distinction, planting a church and making disciples CAN BE two different things, although they do not HAVE TO BE. It is really all a question of where you start. If my goal is to make disciples, then a church will surface out of this process and activity. Too often planting a church is about gathering a crowd and being cool. Franchising if you will. Planting a church should be the by product of making disciples. Making disciples keeps us pointing people to Jesus, not just drawing them into our organization or building.
3. It keeps us focused on what matters, transformation. Conversion is about starting the transformation process. It is not about reaching the climactic point of the journey. Using this language of being a "making disciples" draws us away from a one time event and keeps our eyes on the journey of transformation. It implies an incomplete project, not a final destination.