Go and Make Disciples

There are various admonitions that Jesus gave to His followers during the three-plus years of His earthly ministry. Chief among them is what we refer to as the Great Commission, 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.”

Such a nice, clean statement. But as we often encounter, true discipleship is messy. It grates. The people don’t get their acts as quickly as we think they should. We butt heads with each other over various issues. It’s frustrating, painful, arduous and sometimes scream-inducing. This fact, I surmise, is why many churches don’t practice true discipleship, at least not in the sense of sticking it out with those God has put in your life through thick and thin. But it is through thick and thin that people come to know the love of God, experience the love of God and enjoy the love of God.

I have a longtime friend whom I have known for the better part of 15 years. When I met him he was the typical teenager: moody, overly emotional, angry at the world, unsure how to properly vent his emotions. He was a devout socialist, evolutionist, anti-God. But God still called me to love him, and to share truth with him in a civil, unthreatening manner. Fourteen months ago, I get a message from him: he’s two hours away (we hadn’t seen each other in years) and he needs help. In one of the biggest storms of his life, I was the one he called. I have to think it was because of the seeds planted over the decade-plus before.

I was able to counsel him through a difficult time, sharing truth uncompromisingly but also gently. He took a Bible from me, and I prayed with and for him. Together we figured out his most immediate need, and I stepped away. Next time I heard from him, he had moved in with (of all things) a youth pastor. A short time later, he delivered this beautiful testimony: “I don’t want to miss the chance to know Jesus — to really know Jesus — as I put my everlasting trust in him.” Twelve years after God brought this person into my life, Jesus was real to him for the first time. It was arduous. I felt like screaming some times, and we surely clashed over matters of faith and other issues. But in the end, God redeemed every minute of it for good, and I’m so glad to have stuck with it instead of giving up because it got hard.

Oftentimes the church gets the order of discipleship wrong. We think that if everyone believes the same as we do, then they can become part of the church and belong there, and then we’ll show them how to behave like Jesus. But really, discipleship begins well before belief. It begins when we behave like Christ to people, and they feel like they belong. In that way, they start to become more like the person discipling them, and belief occurs somewhere therein. This is important, because Paul lays some specific behaviors in interacting with people at the end of 1 Corinthians 10, then begins chapter 11 with this phrase: “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

So go, Christian, and fearlessly make disciples. It will be messy. It will be painful. But in it you will see the beauty of God’s redemption in ways you can’t imagine. If it’s us, it will fail. If Christ is our anchor and our light, though, His love will shine through.

David Bashore

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