Whole Planet Disciples

Whole Planet Disciples

Merritt Nielson

Walk into any Whole Foods Market, one of a growing number of natural, organic grocery stores, and you cannot help but be impressed with the whole planet philosophy. Stewardship of the earth’s resources walks hand in hand with right eating and healthy living.

That whole planet orientation is worked out in a myriad of ways with countless products. It is the commitment to the company mission and the real-world implementation of that mission that continues to undergird its success as a leader in this rapidly expanding segment of the economy.

If we happened to walk into any Church of the Nazarene, would there be a similar understandable integration of mission—“Making Christlike disciples in the nations”—with a clearly understood application of that mission in congregational ministry on Sunday as well as in the workplaces of the laity on Monday?

It is one thing to talk about a spiritualized discipleship in the abstract and quite another to see it worked out in the warp and woof of daily life, whether inside or outside the four walls of the church. Yet that is precisely what discipleship needs to be—the seamless interface of one’s maturing faith within the Body of Christ, tethered with one’s witnessing presence in the working world.

The discipleship coin has two sides: telling the Jesus story and living the Jesus story.

In the Great Commission, Jesus drafts a whole planet discipling template for His followers. They are to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Interestingly, the original language allows for the “go” of Matthew 28:19 to be understood as “in your going.” Another way—“As you go, make disciples.” In other words, as you go into the world, wherever you go and whatever you do, make discipling relationships with seeking men and women. We err when we let that verse morph into something legalistic.

Consider Christ’s words in a much more natural, organic way. Find a Timothy to mentor. Take up a job making tents, like Paul, and in your daily work find opportunities to share Gospel talk in friendly, non-intimidating ways. Instead of wagging our fingers at the world, pull up a chair with someone who is trying to quench his or her soul’s thirst at Starbucks.

In the workplace, believers don’t need to turn their cubicles into shrines but can be ready to have informal conversations that make it easy for people to seek out spiritual truth.

One can learn to talk about living life in a very human, Christian way and open a door to discipleship for a colleague.

Whole planet Christians who love Jesus can learn to tell His story and live like Him anywhere as they go about their 24/7 routines. You can be sure that the Holy Spirit has already preceded you—wherever you happen to be going—and has prepared hearts to be receptive to the intervention of divine love. Disciple-making isn’t about turning out Christian robots. It’s about a readiness to come along side anybody in any place to lead them on a little farther in their “pilgrim’s progress” toward the Celestial City.

Discipling does include sacramental portals into faith, like baptism and instruction. Yet the instruction is not to be merely content focused; it is rather to be relationship centered. Jesus does not say “Teach everything I’ve commanded.” Notice He says, “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded.”

The first statement is often quoted without the infinitive “to obey,” as if we were commanded to make people sit so we can lecture them on the Bible. Or we may think we are to get them to read the latest and greatest Christian book, memorize a creedal statement, or agree to a statement of faith before they can belong to the fellowship.

If we were using contemporary terminology, we would, in that first instance, talk about something the computer world calls content dump. Teach the facts; learn the Bible story verbatim. Get the information off the page and into a folder on the hard-drive of the mind. Of course, there is nothing wrong with knowing Bible facts or memorizing scripture. Yet Bible knowledge alone does not guarantee spiritual life.

Now look at Jesus as His life weaves in and out of two worlds, the sacred world of Judaism and the profane world of the Herods and Roman procurators of the day. Notice how in His engagement with those worlds, He found natural and abundant opportunities to demonstrate to His disciples how they could live more deeply, more passionately, more perfectly, more redemptively.

Teaching to obey strongly implies becoming a living demonstration of what one is attempting to teach. It is paying heed to a variation on an old theme: “Don’t just do as I say; do as I do.” If one is going to teach a child to practice seat belt safety, the parent has to do it and not just nag about it. Teaching someone to obey the law of love—love for God and love for others—suggests something profoundly transformative, something beyond mere instruction.

Paul said it this way: “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

The beautiful thing is this: as we go into the world, we can depend on the Holy Spirit to prompt us on how to demonstrate our own obedience to divine love and thus be an authentic witness to and disciple of Jesus who said, “The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31).

Whole planet followers of Jesus disciple as they go into the world—telling the story and living life the way Jesus would if He were walking in their shoes. And of course, He is. It’s not complicated.

Merritt Nielson has been serving as director of curriculum and now is on special assignment in the office of the general editor at the Global Ministry Center.