And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen Matthew 28:18-20 NKJ
This was Jesus's last command before he left Earth. I'm thinking that it must be pretty important.
But what is a disciple?
Disciples in Jesus’s day would follow their rabbi (which means teacher)
wherever he went, learning from the rabbi’s teaching and being trained
to do as the rabbi did. It was a very personal relationship in which they shared their lives intimately. The disciple would ask questions, listen, learn, and mimic what the rabbi did. The rabbi, in turn, would teach, instruct, encourage, rebuke, and provide a Godly example.
What does a disciple-rabbi relationship look like today? Obviously we can't follow someone around and live and eat with them. However I think this type of mentoring relationship could exist in a close friendship between a new Christian and a mature Chrisitian wherein the mature Christian would take the new believer under his wing and teach, instruct, rebuke, encourage, and provide a Godly example. This mature Christian or Christians would be a person (or maybe a group of people) the new believer could come to with questions, struggles, problems. Someone who would pray for and with him or her, someone who would guide them in understanding the Scriptures and point them to Jesus.
Is that what happened to you when you became a Christian? It didn't happen to me. Nor has it happened to anyone else I know. If you came to Christ as a young person, you may have been fortunate enough to have had family to instruct and help you....or perhaps a great youth pastor or Sunday School teacher who was there for you. But let's face it, when most people head up to the altar to give their lives to Christ, we make them repeat a prayer, hand them a Bible, and tell them to come back next Sunday. We give them no further instruction except for weekly sermons and prehaps a new believers class if they want to attend. They receive no personal encouragement unless they have Christian friends, no help unless they want to make an appointment with their busy pastor. No wonder so many new Christians quickly fall away.
I don't believe this is what Jesus was talking about. He didn't say "Go and make converts" He said "Go and make disciples." Think of how much easier your Christian walk would have been and how much farther along you'd be now if you'd had a strong mature Christian who took you under his or her wing and was there for you 24-7. When you had doubts, fears, when you were tempted, struggled. When tragedy struck, all you had to do was pick up the phone and this person was there to encourage and pray and show you what the Scripture said about your situation! I would have loved that!
When the early church began, Christians met in homes and conducted church in homes. Everyone knew each other and shared life together. The more mature followers helped the new ones... and whenever someone had a problem or question, there was always a friend to go to for help. These early Christians grew so fast and so strong in their faith that many of them were willing to be tortured and die for what they believed. I wonder how many people filling our modern churches would do that?
So, are we making disciples in our churches today? I would say for the most part No.
Why do I tell you this? Because I'm hoping we can start to make small changes in the right direction. One of these promising changes I see in today's churches are the addition of small groups. At least in a small home group setting people can get personal attention and have their questions answered. Of course that depends on who is leading these groups and how committed they are into getting involved in people's lives. Then of course, we have to get people to join these groups. But at least this is a step in the right direction.
I'm sure we all know people who are not as strong in their faith as we are. And I'm also sure we know people who are stronger. Perhaps we should pray and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into befriending a Christian who may need help and prayer now and then and likewise befriending someone else who can help us when we need it. God is a relational God. He loves close relationships, and He wants His children to be close and to lean and depend on each other. When that happens, the church operates like a well-oiled machine, or, to use the Apostle Paul's description, like a body where each part operates to its fullest. When people are growing in their walk and helping others grow, the church explodes in power, in love, and in the glory of God!
"By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NKJ