by Emmanuel Reinbold
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
While the mission of the Church of the Nazarene is to make Christlike disciples in the nations, have we been able to clarify exactly what that looks like? We have placed great emphases on evangelism and church growth, but at times we have done so without the proper infrastructure in place to maintain and develop converts into disciples.
After college, I spent some time selling roofs. I usually didn’t sell roofs for new homes, but I remember being sent to one house under construction three different times to measure the roof, only to find the roof incomplete. The third time, I asked the framers when the roof would be ready to measure, and the frustrated response indicated that they didn’t know. Why? Because the architect designed the house without thinking of the roof. The framers couldn’t figure out how to finish framing a section so that it would not trap water.
In Acts 2 we find that after Peter’s first sermon, 3,000 people were saved. I can imagine the conversations that night in the upper room. After all the high-fives and thumbs-up were handed out for a successful day, the disciples realized they had a serious problem on their hands. How were they going to make these new converts into disciples? Jesus had told them not only to get people saved and rejoice, but also to make disciples.
In the church, we look to the structure that developed in Acts 2:42-46 to determine the key ingredients in current church structure. Prayer, fellowship, worship, teaching, and the Lord’s Supper are common themes that emerge when we look at this passage. But the disciples couldn’t look to this section of scripture. It hadn’t even been written. So where did they turn?
I would speculate that a part of their brainstorming conversations turned to the last words that Matthew recorded from Jesus—the Great Commission. This leads me to ask the question: What does the Great Commission teach us about making disciples? What “infrastructure” did Jesus instruct the disciples to put into place to ensure that they could handle the masses who would soon convert to this fledgling faith?
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Key 1: Being a Christlike disciple requires a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus expected His disciples to maintain personal relationships with Him. Can you imagine how confusing this would have been? Jesus had developed a relationship with each of the disciples while traveling around Israel with them for three years.
They were to maintain personal relationships with a dead guy who came back to life and is now leaving. His last phrase: “And be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” makes clear this intention.
A personal relationship is of utmost importance. None of the other discipleship concepts work without this one. However, it is not all-inclusive. Christianity is not a “get out of hell free card.”
Key 2: Being a Christlike disciple requires living and growing in biblical community.
Although the disciples had been a community while following Jesus, much of their time was spent arguing about which of them was the greatest. They didn’t understand what it meant to need and depend on each other to fulfill their unique roles.
In the Great Commission, Jesus commands them to do something that couldn’t be done by any one of them. The command to make disciples of all nations would involve all of them actually working together. The concept of biblical community required that each do what she or he did best.
Key 3: Being a Christlike disciple requires knowing who He is as revealed through His Word.
Jesus commanded the disciples to teach the new believers to obey all the commands that He had given them. They couldn’t teach what they didn’t study. They couldn’t study what at that time wasn’t even recorded. Therefore, the disciples had the task of recording, teaching, and studying the existing Scriptures (the Old Testament) in order to fulfill this command.
Key 4: Being a Christlike disciple requires serving others—especially those who are different from us.
When Jesus told His disciples to make disciples in all nations, He told them to go against what they had been taught their entire lives. They had been taught, as Jews in that era, to be suspect of other ethnicities, not to serve them.
Although a thorough reading of the Old Testament reveals that God’s original plan for calling Abraham and his descendants involved the “blessing of all nations through you” the Jews had developed a sense of superiority.
Jesus commanded the disciples to make disciples of those whom they had been taught to regard as spiritually inferior. A difficult assignment for sure, and it is one that required them to rely heavily on each other for accountability. Also, it required a thorough study of the Old Testament.
How different could our churches be if we built upon these four discipleship keys? Just as the house framers were frustrated because the architect designed the house without thinking about the roof, churches are full of people who are frustrated because we keep saying to make disciples but they don’t know what that means. Can we begin by using the 4 Discipleship Keys?
1. Helping people establish personal relationships with Jesus Christ.
2. Living and growing together in biblical community.
3. Learning and applying God’s Word through biblical engagement.
4. Getting our hands dirty as we learn to serve others—especially those who are different than us.
The themes we draw from the Great Commission may not tell the whole story of discipleship. Yet, these key expectations that Jesus had for His disciples can lay a foundation upon which we can build. At least they should be sufficient to start a conversation.
Emmanuel Reinbold is senior pastor of Davenport, Iowa, First Church of the Nazarene.