Definitions are extremely important.
There are many relationships and organizations that run into communication problems, not because people aren’t talking, but because they have defined words and terms differently than one another. If you think about it, it’s the words that we are the most familiar with that we have the hardest time defining. The church is really no different. We use words and assume that everyone interprets them and understands them equally.
Here’s an interested exercise I usually do with our new members class in Chapter One: I have everyone in the class write down a definition of church. Sounds simple, right? You’d be amazed though at the varying definitions that we have from just a handful of people in the room. I do this to show that even by saying the word “church” to them, they may have a different definition than their neighbor.
Part of our success as a church is tied to everyone believing in the mission, vision and values of our church together. So when our mission statement says: “Providence church exists to spread God’s fame by multiplying disciples of Jesus and multiplying churches in our churches in our community and around the world“, we need to define what we mean by making disciples and what we mean by church.
This year, we’ve embarked on a theme entitled Disciple: it’s who we are, it’s what we do. It’s our desire that we not only grow in our identity in Christ, but also in our practice of making disciples. Repeatedly, we’ve driven home the idea that Jesus’ final command to his disciples to make disciples of all nations and people (Matthew 28:19-20) is one of the greatest priorities that a follower of Jesus has. But here’s what I want to ask you today: How would you define “making disciples”?
When we use words like discipleship and making disciples, there are pictures and behaviors that come to mind. Most of these have probably come from our previous experiences within our church context. So what do we mean, or better yet, what does Jesus mean when he says to make disciples?
I would define making disciples using 3 words: reach, teach, release.
Reach – Disciple-making has to involve reaching out to those who do not know or follow Jesus. Jesus’ command to go to all the nations, or people groups, explicitly makes that a non-negotiable in discipleship. Most of the time when we hear about discipleship we think of 2 Christians getting together and learning about the Bible, but it is so much more than that. If we are not actively and intentionally reaching out to our friends and neighbors and pointing them to Jesus, then Christianity will eventually die. God expects all of us to live as missionary disciples where we live, work, and play.
Teach – Another main ingredient in making disciples is making sure that the content of Christ’s teachings and the character of Christ’s life is transferred from one follower to another. One of the things that Bobby always teaches is that you don’t have to be an expert to teach. All you have to do is be one day ahead. One of the greatest lies that the enemy wants us to believe is that you don’t know enough about Jesus to share it with others. “Leave it to the professionals” is the mantra that we don’t say, but believe. Think about this: God has placed someone in your life for the reason to help them become a disciple of Jesus.
Also, it’s vital that we not only share content, but our own lives. Paul modeled this is 1 Thessalonians 2:8. I watched a video the other day about revolutionary education (you can watch it here) . As I was processing it, I realized that God created us to learn and to pass on learning in a very unique way. The most effective learning always happens within relationship.
Release – The end result of discipleship is not a really smart Christian, but a disciple of Jesus who is making other disciples. For some reason, we have bought into the misconception that the mark of maturity is knowledge. It’s not. A true mark of Christian maturity is informed mission that is motivated by God’s glory. This means that our knowledge must lead us to action. If it doesn’t, we don’t actually believe the content we know in our minds.
Every parent knows that one day your children will leave your home. This is a good thing. It’s part of God’s created order to multiply families (Genesis 2:24). Likewise, every person that is being discipled should have the vision to disciple. The Christian who chooses to keep the gospel of Jesus to themselves says to God, “This is where mission stops.”
So how do we define “making disciples” at Providence?
It’s as simple as reach, teach, release. Now let’s do it together.