There has been a renewed emphasis on discipleship in recent years, and I see this trend exploding in the years ahead. Francis Chan has teamed up with David Platt, and the heartbeat that they share is discipleship. I was able to partner with Francis in creating Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples (available for free at multiplymovement.com), and David Platt will continue this emphasis with his forthcoming book Follow Me (due out in February). They also wrote the forewords to each other’s books. You’ll be hearing much more on discipleship from these two leaders, plus many others.
This discipleship emphasis is a big deal. It’s not a gimmick or marketing campaign. This is the identity of the church. In fact, this has always been our identity, but we keep losing sight of who we are.
I see an analogy here with the Old Testament. God chose Israel to be a light to the nations, to show the world who he is and to embody his ideal for what redeemed human life looks like. A crucial moment in the history of Israel was God gathering his people at the base of Mount Sinai and making a covenant with them. God said that if they would obey his law, he would bless them. If they disobeyed, they would be cursed. Many have rightly repeated that the rest of the Old Testament (after Sinai) can be viewed as a commentary on how faithful (or faithless) Israel was to this covenant.
Enter Jesus. He forms a new covenant with his people, established in his own blood. It was clear that Jesus’ mission was nothing less than God’s mission of redeeming this fallen world and restoring God’s reign as king. He himself embodied God’s intention for mankind, and he died to enable us to embody this reality as well.
When Jesus rose from the grave, he gave the mission to us. His words cannot be overemphasized:
“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.” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Jesus was setting the agenda for the church. Make disciples of all nations. This is our mission. And we can look at church history as commentary on how faithful (or faithless) the church has been to Jesus’ command.
Whatever goals we may have for our churches, this has got to be the big one. I would go so far as to say that any goal we have for our churches that does not move us closer to discipleship needs to be reconsidered. And any goal we have for our churches that leads us away from discipleship needs to be abandoned.
Discipleship is not easy. It requires us to get involved in the lives of the people around us. It means that we have to teach and confront and challenge and encourage. It means that we’ll definitely run into icky situations that we’re not prepared to handle.
I’m not at all surprised that the church repeatedly deviates from the discipleship agenda. Any other focus we can dream up would be easier than discipleship. But then again, if discipleship is commanded by Jesus, then we don’t have a choice.
So I am excited that the church has been recovering its emphasis on discipleship. And I am encouraged that this focus is picking up steam. Let’s pray that this chapter in church history is recorded as a high point in terms of faithfulness to the mission. And let’s not stop at praying. Let’s also get out there and make disciples of all nations.