“… go and make disciples of all the nations.”
It is helpful to remember that only after the Lord’s resurrection did He first speak to His Apostles about making disciples. Notably, as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, when this occurred, not one of the eleven inquired about what He meant. They immediately understood. We feel this was made possible by – the quality time which the Bible describes His having spent with them. “Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach.” (Mark 3:14)
The Apostles were each privileged to personally experience and observe the Lord’s disciple-making process. Then, as He prepared them for His ascension, He let them know that the time had finally arrived for them to – follow His example. Earlier, He had said, “…Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
Consider the significance of what the Lord explained just prior to His departure, “I tell you for certain that if you have faith in Me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.” (John 14:12) Unquestionably, they were being taught to adopt His disciple-making lifestyle.
Church history clearly reveals that personal evangelism and disciple-making were the “greater works” about which He was speaking. The multiplying number of growing new believers following the day of Pentecost immediately – demonstrated the beginning of the fulfillment of His prophesy! He had already given them the multiplication principle, “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:8)
The apostle Paul was referring to the Lord’s equipping ministry when he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 11:1) The key word for us is – example! The Lord taught the twelve in a group and He also trained them by consistently giving them opportunities to watch Him minister.
The Lord intentionally modeled His disciple-making skills because He knew His apostles would soon be needing them. Every new character quality, ministry ability, and kingdom related insight which they gained – would intentionally be passed on to their trainees. This would become normal during time spent with the growing new believers who would potentially become the next generation of Christian leaders. By following the Lord’s example, they would most effectively insure the completion of His Great Commission!
For the New Testament’s disciple-making process to again produce its dynamic multiplying results, the world’s vast number of Christian churches must first recognize the major difference between teaching and training. Notice Paul’s highly understandable explanation to the Philippian church, “All that you heard me say, and all that you saw me do, put that into practice…” (v.4:9) He was led to focus on both seeing and hearing. These two educational methods are highly complementary, yet they function quite differently. Teaching requires the use of our – ears while training requires the use of our – eyes. Both of these methods are critical for effective Biblical disciple-making, but training has been globally neglected in church life.
Historically, the early church’s life-to-life training ministry proved to be highly successful. This was true even without printed textbooks, seminaries, or church buildings. Originally, Christian education had to be very simple. It was therefore – unstructured, relational, and primarily verbal. The Apostle Paul reminded the early believers to focus on the importance of building their faith. To encourage this, he wrote explaining – “faith comes from … hearing the Good News about Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
Today, as in the first century, we have a shortage of trained workers who know how to share their faith and equip disciples. The Lord gave us clear instructions to follow to help meet that need.
“…The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
For many decades, growing disciples in the early church were equipped individually through personal time spent with one or more seasoned spiritual role models. Sadly, this natural and easily transferable disciple-making lifestyle – was eventually forgotten!
Jesus’ relational training methodology was essentially lost as Christianity experienced the impact of institutionalization. While teaching continued to take place in different size groups, the Lord’s skill related training slowly disappeared. This primarily happened because His methodology was no longer valued or apparently even understood.
Paul’s early encouragement to the church in Galatia now needs to be followed in every church’s ministry of disciple-making. In that spirit he wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
After many centuries, the Reformation finally restored Biblical preaching. Then, overtime the Wesleyan movement helped to reignite small group teaching. However, the Lord’s personal method of life-to-life training is only now being rediscovered and applied in a growing number of the world’s Great Commission-minded congregations. These ministries strongly believe – that the Lord wants His relational disciple-making methodology to be restored in the 21st century’s Christian churches!
This strategic Great Commission initiative is designed to help today’s churches consistently produce spiritual multiplication! Therefore, we need to earnestly pray that this will happen globally through the personal examples of our generation’s highly dedicated – pastors, teachers, evangelists, missionaries, and equipped church members.
“Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop,
some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
By Billie Hanks Jr.