Chances are you are familiar with what is known as the Great Commission.
“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” (Matthew 28:19).
Prior to Jesus leaving this earth, he left this massive and weighty instruction to go and make disciples. Somehow along the way it seems we have forgotten that the commission is not just to make converts, but to make disciples. We often spend much of our time, energy and resources on massive evangelism efforts, but forget that salvation is not the end, it is just the beginning. While I love to see people come to Christ, we must recognize these are newborn babes and they need support, training, and help to grow in their new walk of faith.
What would you think of a mom who gave birth to her baby and then said “my job is done, you are on your own?” You would probably think that mother is irresponsible and possibly unfit to be a mother. Yet, this is what we often do to new converts. We help them through the birthing process and then leave them on their own to figure it all out themselves.
The reason this happens is because, if we are honest, making converts is the easier part; making disciples can get messy. However, it is to the messy that Jesus calls us, because this is the Great Commission. So what does this look like and how do you know if your church is doing this, and doing it well? Let me share with you four indications that a church is doing a good job of making disciples.
What Is a Disciple?
Before we can know whether a church is doing discipleship right, we must know what a disciple is. The word disciple means to be a student, learner, or follower. For a person to be a true disciple, they must have something to study, someone to learn from, and someone to follow. As a Christian this someone happens to be Jesus Christ himself. It is within this definition that we can identify four things which are the indicators that your church is making disciples.
1. Are People Being Taught?
If one of the definitions of a disciple is to be a student, then it behooves us to ask the question are the people being taught? If a church is going to make disciples, then they must create opportunities for people to be taught. Most churches get the aspect of instruction right. There is usually a Sunday service where preaching and instruction happen. Also, many churches still have Sunday School or Bible studies available during the week where people will have opportunities to be taught.
As important as this is to making disciples, it is simply the first step. If all you do is create these opportunities for people to be taught, then you are on your way, but you have not arrived yet. Where this begins to get more challenging, and where admittedly churches often drop the ball, is with the next step in discipleship.
2. Are People Learning?
While churches tend to be good at creating opportunities to be taught, churches tend to not be so good at finding out if people are learning. There typically is no mechanism in place to evaluate whether the people are learning or not. Simply seeing a person show up in church does not mean they are growing in discipleship.
Consider it from this perspective: What good is teaching if you don’t know if the people are learning and understanding? For way too many people in church, they spend their time coming, sitting, and receiving. What’s missing from this is the opportunity to ask questions and get clarity for things they may not understand. I have come across far too many people who have so many questions but no outlet for them to be answered. This simply is not good discipleship.
Granted, this is not appropriate for a Sunday morning worship service. But every other form of instruction needs to allow the opportunity for people to ask questions to ensure they are learning. I would even suggest you take it a step further and in your teaching sessions, give people little quizzes and homework to reinforce what is being taught in these classes. I know some of you are probably ready to throw your shoe at the screen at the suggestion of a quiz or homework, but how else can we measure if people are learning? Remember to make a disciple it is not just about teaching the students; there must also be learning, or discipleship is not taking place.
3. Are They Following?
The third critical component of discipleship is are they putting what they have learned into practice? I was going to say this is the most important aspect, but you can’t get to this step if you don’t do the first two, so they are all equally important. However, if there is one step that demonstrates discipleship more than others it is this step. Let me highlight two verses of Scripture.
“And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).
When a person is growing and becoming a true follower of Jesus, it will be seen in their actions. That’s why any discipleship instruction must stress putting what you are learning into practice, and not just focus on teaching and learning. If all we do is teach people and we confirm they are learning, but never encourage and help them to put into practice what they are learning, then we are not making disciples. For there to be discipleship, there must be a correlation with your obedience.
Remember the second part of the Great Commission is to teach them to obey. Teaching them to obey places a greater emphasis on what happens outside of church than what happens inside of church. It is wonderful to come together for worship and instruction, but what happens when the people leave the building? Are they putting into practice what they are learning?
That’s why, as important as it is to get the doctrine right – and let me stress this is crucial – right doctrine must be accompanied by right actions. Without that, then all people have done is acquired knowledge. If that is all you do, then discipleship is not taking place.
4. Is There Mentoring Available?
Typically, no one becomes a disciple on their own; there is usually someone to help them along the way. Remember from our definition, a disciple needs something to study, someone to learn from, and someone to follow. It is in this phase of discipleship where the messy can happen. This is the part that requires someone to ask the hard questions and to deal with some of the issues people bring when they come to Christ.
We may think everything gets solved at the altar when a person gives their life to Christ, but often it doesn’t. There are things that God is going to have to deal with in a person’s life, and this is where mentor ship can be a wonderful tool in the discipleship arsenal. True mentor ship – which is part of discipleship – does take time and it takes a great deal of commitment. That’s why the command to make disciples is not just given to the pastor but to every believer.
If a church is making disciples, there must be a mechanism in place that can connect young believers with more mature believers who can pour into their lives and help them through the challenges of the faith. Again, this can get a little messy because you are dealing with people’s stuff, but if your church is doing this, then they can really help position someone to grow and become a genuine follower of Christ.
What about You?
While the church plays an important role in the discipleship process, so do you. If you are new or young in the faith, see if there is a more mature believer you can connect with who will mentor you. If you are mature in the faith, then look for those younger ones who you can mentor, because this is our responsibility. If we work together, then we can take the Great Commission from a command to a reality as we help people go from converts to true disciples, which is what Jesus wanted all along.