Dr. Phil. As you know, Matt. 28:19-20, is one of the favorite missionary scriptures, ”Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
It is indeed our mandate, but what you may not be aware of, is what it really emphasizes. Normally, the emphasis is put on the “go.” You, as I , have likely heard many mission sermons on “going to the ends of the earth.” While this is part of it (see Acts 1:8), this is not really what this passage is saying.
You see, in the original language, the imperative or action verb is not the “go,” but rather the “make disciples.” An accurate paraphrase would read, “. . .as you are going, wherever you go. . .make disciples.” It is not about geography, but rather about the imperative of all believers to make disciples regardless of where we live, what our profession, or status in life. Nothing to do with geography.
The next obvious question from this passage is, What does it mean to make a disciple. Notice that Jesus never said, “go and make converts.” There is a big difference between a “convert” and a “disciple.” Converts may believe he is who he said he is, but disciples go a step further and make him Lord of every area of their life. It is more than having him meet our needs or a free ticket to heaven.
I have often wondered how it can be that the same nations that claim a high percentage of bible believing Christians (some over 50%), can also be in the top ten list of the most corrupt nations on earth. How can these two realities exist at the same time?
As I have travelled, listened to leaders, and observed many different types of cultures and societies, it seems to me that we (us missionary types) have wrongly thought the mission was to make converts. Somehow we have communicated a Gospel of believing in Jesus to meet our needs. Yet this only creates a cultural Christianity. It is possible to like the Christian message and culture, clean up good, and not be a disciple of Jesus.
After Jesus fed the 5000 he turned to the masses and proceeded to tell them that they should be following him for more than just a free lunch. Instead, they were to do his will — eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. Ouch. That is discipleship. The danger is to read Matt. 28:19 as a mission to just get people “saved” and think our work is done. But, without making disciples, we are at best just inoculating people against the real thing. The Scripture says that it is possible to have a form of godliness, but still remain powerless in our lives. The good news is that each one of us who are already disciples of Jesus can walk alongside of someone and help them also be a disciple of his (we don’t have to go to bible school or even have to get on a plane!). Our recent contribution to this goal, is our new Discipleship Guides highlighted in this Update. Our prayer is that many from every nation will join the movement to make disciples of all peoples.