With all the emphasis we’ve placed on disciple making and the Great Commission, some common and understandable misconceptions persist. Disciple makers must understand their “target,” but some of us remain farsighted while others remain nearsighted.
First, let’s consider the farsighted disciple maker. Like the person with farsighted vision, the farsighted disciple maker considers disciple making and the Great Commission to be primarily focused on those who are far from Christ. When they hear “disciple making” or “Great Commission,” they automatically think about folks who aren’t believers. To the farsighted, the important metric of the disciple making process is the number of people who have been baptized recently. The farsighted don’t clearly see those who are already in the faith as objects of disciple making.
In addition to the farsighted disciple maker is the nearsighted disciple maker. Opposite the farsighted, the nearsighted disciple maker — who may prefer the traditional term “discipleship” — thinks of disciple making as an inside job. In their minds, someone must have significant, ongoing relationships with other believers and seek to build these believers up in their faith in order to make disciples.
To correct these errors of vision, let’s revisit the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19,20:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
The main verb of the sentence beginning in verse 19 is a single Greek word that means “make disciples.” The verbs for “go,” “baptize,” and “teach” are all participles, meaning that they are dependent on the main verb. Think of it like a computer file directory. The main file folder is called “make disciples,” and its three subfolders are called, “go,” “baptize,” and “teach.” We could reword the sentence as follows: “As you go, I want you to make disciples, which will involve baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” “Baptizing,” it turns out, is representative of someone coming to faith in Christ (because baptism is the outward sign of their conversion), and “teaching them to observe” is representative of the growth process once someone has come to Christ.
Is disciple making about people coming to faith or is it about people being built up in the faith they already have? Actually, it is about both. Understanding this is like wearing a pair of spiritual glasses that help us see 20/20 at all distances. To think being “missional” engages only the non-believer is farsighted. To think discipleship is separate from evangelism is nearsighted. Only when we engage both unbelievers and believers in relationships imbued with the truth of Scripture will we fulfill the Great Commission.
In the end, no matter whom we are dealing with, if we help them move closer to Christ, we’ll be doing the right thing. The hard work of caring, sharing, and challenging applies to all with whom God has put us in relationship. It applies to those near and far, inside and outside the Church.
How about you? When you hear the words “disciple making,” what comes into your mind? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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Beau Stanley and his wife, Stacey, both grew up in the Columbus area and have been part of Grace Polaris Church for most of their lives. Beau joined the Grace staff in 2007 after theology studies in the Chicago area and in Phoenix (Phoenix Seminary). Prior to that, he studied commerce (University of Virginia) and worked in the financial industry, including a role as an investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs in New York City. Beau is a fitness enthusiast and also enjoys music and learning about diverse topics. Beau and Stacey have two young boys.