Well, Paul, I have tried to keep it short, and failed.
For those who don't know me, I have been in that part of the institutional church, which is proud to call itself evangelical, for most of my adult life which has now reached its Biblically allotted span. During those many years, more than fifty, apart from John 3:16, Matthew 28:19-20 would be the most quoted Scripture in the sermons I have listened to.
Sadly, most of the sermons, in which that passage was quoted, were designed to press members of the congregation to “evangelize” unbelievers, by inducing in them a sense of guilt for not doing so.
That verse of Scripture was also prominent during my college days.
In both church and college, we were never told explicitly, but implicitly left with the impression, that maybe, we were not even Christians if we didn’t evangelise, or, at the very least, we were bad Christians who were letting our Master down.
How on earth did we get that idea from Matthew 28: 19-20?
Jesus explicitly charged his followers to make disciples of all nations . He also exhorted them to teach those who became disciples under their ministry,and to observe all that I have commanded you”.
The church has managed to twist make disciples , into preaching a message, or using a gospel centered program coupled with some good, persuasive rhetoric (salesmanship) about what “Christians believe” and the horrible consequences for those not believing, hopefully finishing up with the dubious privilege of helping a, now guilt laden, person admitting to being “sinner” who must be penitent and pray a special prayer, which God must take notice of.
Did this Great Commission of Jesus mean that those who were His disciples were to do something He never did?
Disciple-making most certainly includes the precious message of the Gospel, without doubt, but if we look at the disciple making methods of Jesus we can see that it is about more about gaining the trust of the disciple, about demonstration of what it means to be a disciple, in which teaching the Good News of the Gospel, and its practical outworking, or the fruit, in the life of the disciple-maker is a major part; and, over a long period of time.
There can be no doubt that, as Jesus demonstrated, disciple making it is not about filling the disciples head with information, but much more to do with life transformation, beginning on the inside. It was about leaving of the old life governed by a heart of stone, and emerging into new life with a soft, malleable heart open to the shaping power of the Holy Spirit. That is what Paul was talking about in Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.Its a metamorphosis.
The making of a disciple is a long term process which can only come to fruition within a relationship between two people, the disciple and the disciple-maker. The disciple-maker will exhibit to the disciple, a strong commitment of spending one-to-one quality time, however long it takes, maybe three to four years, to bring the disciple to such a level of spiritual maturity in Christ, that the disciple will begin to make disciples.
Being obedient to the command of Christ to make disciples, IS NOT DONE by what we popularly call “evangelism”, which actually, in many cases, militates AGAINST making disciples!
Now you might respond by saying, “What about the Holy Spirit in all of this?”
My response to that is: We have effectively, and methodically programmed the Holy Spirit out of the equation by using schemes and programs to get instant results. Our egos require us to present a record of achievement, which we call “souls won for Christ”, but which are no more than the proud notches on the gun of the gunfighters in popular Western fiction.
What we have achieved through this is only an apparent success, a hollow victory measured by numbers, but history proves the lie of these numbers by the rate of attrition, which, by all accounts, has dramatically increased.
All we have succeeded in doing is compromise and undermine the true God honoring, Holy Spirit motivated ministry of making disciples of ordinary Christian brethren whom we denigrate by calling them "laity".
I will repeat what I wrote earlier, making disciples is about two people walking together, the one demonstrating the love of Christ, by expending their life on the other in word and deed. It’s about one member of God's special family of adoptees, who desires to share the love of that family and their Father, with another human being.
Making disciples is NOT about one of the most sickening concepts I know, when it is applied to the spiritual life, programs which teach that successful evangelism is available to all who will use “replicable,transferable methods”!
To do what? To get a “prospect” to become a "believer" by giving intellectual assent to some potted speil presented by a well trained salesman. What a miserably low view of true disciple making!
James tells us very clearly that the devil is a believer (James 2:9). So, what does that tell us about simply making converts, "believers" who intellectually assent to some information we give them? Are we telling them that they have joined the illustrious company of demons?
Such an intellectually persuaded convert becomes dependent on the person who offered them the Bible flavored bill of goods they accepted, which dependence is then transferred to the leadership (pastor) of the group to whom the persuader belongs. The convert also has a sense of “owing” the person for throwing them, what they have been told is, their lifeline.
On the other hand the true disciple, is powerfully moved in heart and mind, by the Holy Spirit, NOT by the disciple-maker, to follow the One revealed in the life of the disciple-maker, by the love they see demonstrated (John 13:35). The disciple maker, in their every-day contact, gives testimony, to the disciple about the life changing work of Christ who has made him who he is. Taught and moved by the Holy Spirit, the disciple understands the characteristics displayed in the disciple-maker, which are a reflection of his Master, as such characteristics are revealed as genuine in the disciple-makers life. The disciple-maker is living proof of the reality of his/her words.
Spending much quality time with the disciple-maker, the disciple sees that the disciple-maker’s life is not ruled by legal requirements, but that some inner power has caused him/her, whilst remaining completely, feet firmly planted on earth, human, to be honest about their inadequacies and faults and struggles, yet without fear of reprisal from the One in whom they have implicit trust. The disciple clearly sees that the disciple-maker has complete confidence in his/her adoptive Father who will never leave or forsake His child. In the very likely event of the disciple-maker failing, the disciple will see that the disciple-maker has such confidence in the Father that he/she will get up, deal with the failure and run back home to the Father.
The Holy Spirit applies that evidence in the life of the disciple.
To cut a long story short, I became an elder (pastor) in a denomination well known for its emphasis on evangelising. As a young man I believed the spiels and pep talks which came from the denominational leaders and pulpits, and was willingly, and enthusiastically trained in program after program, each one supposedly better than the other. I became proficient in using these programmes, as I had when a successful secular salesman for a brief period.
I was so pleased, and even proud, that many I spoke with became convinced converts, and took part in classes about baptism and membership, just like the many who sat, like silent zombies, in the pews, closing their eyes when appropriate, standing and opening their mouths likewise, and dutifully and patiently doing what they had been taught that good Christians do, injecting their money into the church offering and quietly allowing the preacher to assuage his conscience by doing what he is paid to do.
Which brings me to who is commanded to “Make disciples”.
Does Jesus command only apply to those in leadership positions, and, so-called special “office”? If so: How can that command be obeyed according to the description I have given of spending much quality time with a disciple over, what can amount to several years?
The answer is quite simple! It cannot, and is not done!
Church leaders, pastors, if you like, are able to easily disciple one or two disciples.
What about the huge numbers of people who have not heard the Gospel?
Most genuine followers of Christ would be very comfortable being labeled as a disciple of Christ, one who sits at the feet of their Master, an apprentice, if you like.
Jesus’ command to “make disciples” was given to such disciples.
According to Paul, when speaking to the church at Ephesus, the elders’ (pastors’) proper task is to, “…equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,…”.
In other words, the elders’ task is to teach disciples of Christ, followers of Christ, to be disciple-makers, NOT to be faithful followers of an elder, a pastor, a pope, a bishop, any other title holder, nor the of denominational propaganda, or even the systematic theology they favor.
I think Paul understood one of the more important principles which is missing from almost all of the institutional church scene, and that is the understanding that IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO TEACH A DISCIPLE-MAKER THAN TO MAKE A DISCIPLE.
That’s why he told the Ephesians that those He appointed as leaders were to equip the saints for the work of ministry NOT jealously protect, what they regard, as THEIR ministry, as is commonly done.
Indeed, they were to multiply themselves, releasing as many as possible into ministry.
Before you jump up and down and yell, “Heresy!”, think about it.
Making disciple-makers is about multiplying ones own ministry. Every disciple of Christ, after two or three years spent with a mature disciple-maker, ought to now be as mature as their teacher, they ought to be a disciple-maker.
Now do the math and see what would happen if, led by the Holy Spirit, that was repeated by these two, and the next four, the next eight, the next sixteen, etc.
There may be individuals who have the gifting and ability to expend their lives on more than two or three. Jesus expended His life with the twelve, and He never preached guilt inducing messages, nor did He stand on a box in the street preaching fire and brimstone, nor did He stand in a pulpit reminding His congregation of His authority over them, but He did spend quality time with the twelve, demonstrating what it means to glorify God with ones life and even ones death. When He did speak about the law it was not to assert its authority but to show that there can be no perfect keeping of the law this side of the grave, no matter how religious a person may be, and that true right standing before God can only be found in Him and His finished work, and to ensure that His followers understood that love is the fulfillment of the law.
Conversion is about accepting some information given over a short period of time. It’s about good salesmen bagging their prospect.
Making disciples is about commitment to Jesus’ command to “make disciples” by long term commitment to individuals, who, in turn obey the command,” make disciples”, who, also, in turn obey the command, “make disciples.
No! As a maker of disciples you’ll never be recognized as one who climbed the ladder of, so-called, “success”, or as a well known evangelist, or as an erudite speaker, or proudly wear the title of “Pastor” of a large church or denomination, but, you will receive the commendation of the only One entitled to say,”Well done good and faithful servant,. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”