Oswald Chambers wrote, “Jesus Christ did not say, “Go and save souls” (the salvation of souls is the supernatural work of God), but He said, “Go … make disciples of all the nations … ” Yet you cannot make disciples unless you are a disciple yourself. The missionary’s great essential is remaining true to the call of God, and realizing that his one and only purpose is to disciple men and women to Jesus. If I follow any other method, I depart altogether from the methods prescribed by our Lord— “All authority has been given to Me … Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-19).
Everywhere I go there appears to be a lack of consensus regarding the Biblical definition, understanding, and application of discipleship as it appears in the Gospels and the Epistles. The Great Commission has three participles: “go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” and one imperative verb, a command: “make disciples.” The main idea is to make disciples. The participles tell us how to do that: we make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. So the goal of discipleship is to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded.
Making disciples according to Jesus is accomplished by going out right where I am today (first participle), initiating people into the life of discipleship by ‘baptizing’ (second participle), and achieved by ‘teaching’ (third participle). Teaching is the continuous obligation of the church in the life of a new convert as they develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Teaching is the process of getting the person to know Jesus in a life-long, deeper, and more intimate way – teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded. Scripture is an absolute essential element in the process of Holy Spirit-inspired transformation of knowledge, conduct and character. Discipleship is the corporate responsibility of the church and the personal privilege of every believer as they are gifted. Discipleship is a life-long process, beginning at the point of salvation, and participated in and contributions made by a variety of believers throughout the life of the disciple.
Discipleship is a commitment to Jesus Christ – a call to be with, know and enjoy Him as Savior AND Lord. It is lived out in the context of our everyday, getting up, eating, and going-to-work life. It is a relationship with God (vertical) and others (horizontal).
A “disciple of Christ” is someone who has been called first to know Christ, then to follow him, and then who makes disciples. Discipleship involves being with, being like and following Jesus (formed, conformed, and transformed). Mark best summarizes a disciple in his gospel: “And He went up to the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed the twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:13-15).
Being a disciple and making disciples is a direct command from our Lord Jesus and the primary responsibility of the church and every born-again believer. Everything we do in church or ministry should have discipleship as the ultimate core goal. Our going, baptizing, and teaching needs to be discipleship-centered. What we do each time we gather, whether church services, Sunday School, children’s ministry, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, VBS, outreach, etc., all need to focus on making disciples.