Make Disciples


By Pastor Michael Cofer
Holy Trinity Sunday
Matthew 28


I have to tell you that it is an absolute privilege that I get to be a pastor.  The honor and respect that you show me is truly humbling.  I know that most of you have a high regard for my seminary training, and the office that I as shepherd of this congregation.

I really value the education I received in seminary.  In some ways it was a very fruitful time, and I wouldn’t be the theologian I am today without it.  But, curiously, most of the education I got had little to do with the day-to-day work of a pastor.

I learned a lot about translating and interpreting the Scriptures. I learned biblical history and church history.  I learned a bit about preaching (but, honestly not that much).  I had one class on how to lead worship, one class on counseling, one class on the practical operations of the church.  I had zero classes on prayer.  Zero classes on evangelism.  Zero classes on how to teach.  Zero classes on identifying spiritual gifts or raising up leaders in the congregation.

And how many classes do you think I had on “making disciples?”

In fact, the idea of being or making a disciple was never really defined for me.  I have always known that the Great Commission is, well, super important.  But I always kind of understood it as Jesus’ command to share the gospel to the ends of the earth.  You know, a command to evangelize.

I still think that evangelism is an important part of the Great Commission – but I’ve come to learn that it isn’t even the main idea.  The Great Commission isn’t a bullet point for the church to add to its agenda.  It is His description of what the church is and does.  Everything that falls under this dictate is the function of the church.  Anything that is not is extraneous.

This may not be obvious right away, but probably because we haven’t done a very good job defining discipleship.  So, let’s start with simple definitions: A disciple is a follower… but not like a Twitter or Facebook follower.  It’s a student, an apprentice.  And when we’re talking about Disciples of Jesus, there is a pretty clear method for making them: Baptize them in the name of the Holy Trinity, and teach them to obey Jesus’ commands.

Before we explore the method, let’s clarify something.  Jesus doesn’t tell us to make believers.  The Great Commission doesn’t really talk directly about giving people principles or philosophies to believe in.  He says to make disciples.

Consider for a moment: can you be a Christian and not be a disciple of Jesus?  Because we talk so little about being disciples, you might have an impulse to think these are separate things.  But I don’t think you can find any examples of it in the whole New Testament.  In fact, before they were first called Christians, the people of Christ called themselves Followers of the Way.  Followers – not “believers” – Followers.

See, following Jesus – that is living in obedience to His commands – always follows belief.  If you believe Jesus is who He claims to be and that the word He speaks is true, you will obey Him.  But obedience to Christ has to be taught.  It just doesn’t come naturally, no matter how much faith you have.

Jesus spent three years in intentional discipleship of others.  In the Gospels we have an inside view of what it looked like. He spent personal time.  He shared meals with them.  He helped them learn to pray.  He shared insights from God’s Word.  He was honest about things he saw in their life and in their heart – sometimes rebuking and offering forgiveness when it was needed.  He was a consistent presence in their life, and without that consistency the discipleship would not have had the same impact.

Now, why did Jesus take on those disciples?  Because He needed their help with His ministry?  Not really.  It was because He took an interest in building them up and helping them mature.  The goal, of course, was to get them to the point where they could make disciples as well.  They were the cornerstone of His church growth strategy.  If they weren’t fit to make disciples, then there wouldn’t be a church after He left.  The church is nothing more and nothing less than disciples of Jesus making disciples of Jesus.

A few years ago, I received a new call to Hope, and along with it a new title: “Associate Pastor of Outreach and Discipleship.”  I gladly accepted that call, but the title struck me as a little silly.  If you take “outreach and discipleship” away from the church, what’s left?  And what is the expectation of that call?  Am I to do the outreach and discipleship of this church… or am I charged with ensuring that this church is outreaching and discipling?

See, Jesus taught thousands.  He healed and served countless multitudes. He exemplified godliness to everyone He met.  But He had twelve Disciples.  Not thousands, or hundreds, or dozens.  He had twelve.

I cannot outperform Jesus.  I cannot disciple 300 people.  I can disciple less than a dozen.  I cannot reach out to all of the lost.  I can reach out to the people in my corner of the world.  The Great Commission is for everyone here, and if we aren’t all grabbing taking responsibility for our part, we are missing out on what Jesus is calling us to be.

I know that this stuff may sound daunting to some of us… but it really doesn’t need to be.  And I know some of us feel unqualified – but that’s fear talking.  Please, please, do not miss what I’m about to tell you…

You do not need a seminary degree to make disciples.  You do not need to be theologically sophisticated.  You do not need to be the most spiritual person you know.  You do not need to be perfect.  You just need to have a serious love for Jesus, and take an interest in people who are younger in their faith.

I think there is a weird thing in our culture that devalues experience and age.  And then on the flipside, there is a huge reluctance to self-identify as being spiritually mature – as if maturity is an unattainable goal that only comes about when we get to heaven.  That is not at all how the apostles talk about maturity.

Maturity means that you have a strong foundation in the faith and a solid grasp of the essentials: things like grace, salvation, repentance, prayer, and worship.  Unless every pastor you’ve had has utterly failed you, most of this congregation should be mature – not finished or perfect, but mature.  This isn’t a matter of pride, it’s a matter of responsibility.  If we’re all immature, then no one can accept the responsibilities of maturity.  No one can make disciples, and the Great Commission is lost on us.

But that isn’t us.  God has blessed this church with so many wise, godly, loving people.  And this Great Commission is for you.  This is the step He is calling us to take – a personal investment of time and love in each other’s lives.  A holy and intentional friendship with people who can benefit from what we’ve received in Christ.  Some of those people are here today.  Some of them haven’t been in a church in a long time – if ever.

These people need you.  They need your wisdom.  They need your experience.  They need your prayer and your encouragement.  They need you to follow Christ and they need your help to do the same.  You have the commission and Christ will be with you every step of the way.

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