Mission and Disciple-Making

Desiring God 2012 National Conference

Act the Miracle: God's Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification

I hope you hear a lot about Jesus in this conference. Perhaps the most frequently forgotten factor in sanctification is simply Jesus. And what a tragedy it would be if the most significant element in Christian theology and practice anywhere on the planet, among any people, in any individuals, was overlooked — the fountain of Emanuel, God with us. It’s the fountain that is filled with saving blood drawn from Jesus’s veins, a fountain of grace, unmeasured, boundless, and free. Grace that is not a thing, but grace who is a person. So here at the outset, I want to draw explicit reference to Jesus as we start this little track of forgotten factors. I’m going to go to Colossians 1:15–20. You can go there if you want. We’ll be headed to Matthew 28 after that. But I want to celebrate the cosmic Christ who relates to everything, especially our sanctification.

All Things for Him

I’m going to give you some paraphrases that would help lead us all here from Colossians 1. Colossians 1:15 says:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Jesus is the perfect picture of the unseen God, the embodiment of what divine holiness looks like in human form. Jesus is the standard of our sanctification. Colossians 1:16 says that Jesus is the one in whom and through whom and for whom all things were created. All created reality is for the glory of Jesus, how much more is this little slice of reality called sanctification for the glory of Jesus? Romans 8:29 says that in sanctification we are being conformed to the image of God’s son. Why? So that in everything, he might be preeminent; that he, Jesus, might be the firstborn among many brothers. The Father set up the universe in such a way that Jesus gets the glory for our sanctification.

Colossians 1:17 says that Jesus is the one who’s before all things, and in Jesus, all things hold together, including our energetic pursuit of godliness and holiness in sanctification. Colossians 1:18 says that Jesus is the head of the church. He’s the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. Why? That in everything he might be preeminent. It’s for his glory. Colossians 1:19 says that in Jesus all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell in. In Colossians 1:20, it says that only in Jesus has God reconciled all things to himself, making peace by the blood of Jesus’s cross.

So may Jesus never be a forgotten factor in our sanctification. Indeed, may he never be a forgotten factor in everything, like Colossians 3:17 says: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all things in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Our Mission and Our Sanctification

My topic is Forgotten Factors in Sanctification: Mission and Disciple-Making, and they’re both profoundly about Jesus. Here’s the two main things I want to do in this little short breakout. There are going to be two parts. The first part is on mission and the second part is on disciple-making as advertised.

First, we want to stress the point that not only does Christian sanctification lead to Christian mission, but also that Christian mission leads to sanctification. That’s the point we’re going to stress — getting on board with God’s global mission may be the very thing to get you over the hurdles in your stalled sanctification. That’s the first part. The second part is disciple-making in particular. And there, we’re going to talk about how disciple-making not only benefits the disciple but significantly benefits the discipler. That’s where we’re headed in the second part.

So go now, if you would, to Matthew 28:16–20. The connection here between Colossians 1 when we started and Matthew 28 is the absolute authority and centrality of Jesus. The Jesus of Colossians 1 and the Jesus of Matthew 28 is big, strong, near, and never to be forgotten. What I’d like to do in this first section on mission is give you four biblical texts that I think demand that we not forget the essential place of mission, outreach, and evangelism in our sanctification.

I’m using the language of mission, evangelism, and outreach very broadly, synonymously. I don’t have a technical, narrow meaning in mind with mission or the adjective missional. I mean a kind of outward posture, not getting all caught up behind the walls of church, stuck in the huddle, sequestered from the world. I mean an outward posture of wanting to see the gospel advance into places of unbelief, into people of unbelief, in our offices, in our homes, on our streets, and among people that share our different affinities.

Mission and Nurture

Let’s look at Matthew 28:16–20:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”

So let me give you, starting with Matthew 28, four biblical texts that would remind us not to have mission be a forgotten factor in our sanctification. The first one is Matthew 28:16-20. And then I’m going to give you a little principle that I’m extrapolating with each of these texts that would focus it on our particular topic.

Here’s my principle for number one: fulfilling the Great Commission requires both mission and nurture. Or you could say, fulfilling the Great Commission requires both evangelism and discipleship; or you could say, both outreach and upbuilding; or you could say, both taking the gospel to unbelievers and investing the gospel more deeply in believers. It requires going out and it requires going deep. Look at Matthew 28:19. Jesus says, “Disciple all nations, baptizing them.” Bring them in. Go out and get them, initiate them into the community, bring them into the fold, bring them into the local church, and bring them into the global church, baptizing them. Bring them in. You have to go out to do it. There’s outreach here, mission here, evangelism here.

In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says, “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Bring them in and take them somewhere, take them deep. Reach out and go deep. They’re both here in the Great Commission. So often in our sin and in our shortsightedness, we divide the two, or we pick our favorite or only emphasize one, but the commission requires that they both happen. There has to be reaching out, and there has to be going deep for the commission to happen. The point here in particular related to forgotten factors in sanctification is that not only does going deep with Jesus (sanctification) lead to me reaching out to others, but also that reaching out helps us go deep with Jesus.

Renewing Our Stalled Sanctification

It’s maybe a new way of thinking for you. Here’s another way to put it: getting on board with Jesus’s mission to the nations may be the very thing that would jumpstart your stalled sanctification. Have you ever felt that way? Maybe you feel that way right now. Maybe that’s one of your hopes at the conference here. You think, “I feel plateaued. I’m spinning my spiritual tires. God, would you help me get over the plateau? Would you help me get over the hurdle here? I feel stalled in my sanctification.”

Have you considered that perhaps your spiritual sluggishness might be because you’re keeping your distance from the missional front lines? Perhaps your sanctification is stalled because your faith is quarantined, and, evangelistically speaking, you need to get out more? Here’s a helpful book called Becoming a Contagious Christian. The author’s name is Bill Hybels, and I know that in Reformed circles sometimes people aren’t too fond of the name.

I’d encourage you to read his book on evangelism and learn from him on evangelism before you throw too many stones. Here’s what Hybels says in his book, Becoming a Contagious Christian. It’s on page 30. He said:

Often I meet Christians who are in a spiritual malaise, holding onto their faith but not advancing it much. Bible study has become a chore. Prayer is a dry routine. The miracle of their conversion, once recounted with great passion, is now a distant, fading memory. And going to church is, well, something they just do. Mechanically and half-heartedly, these people trudge along through the drudgery of quarantined Christianity. But when these lethargic believers break out of spiritual isolation and meet some non-believers, something incredible begins to happen. As they experience the high stakes conversations that tend to happen with unchurched people, they begin to notice a sort of inner renewal taking place. Areas long ignored suddenly come to life with fresh significance.

Maybe the reason your sanctification is stalled is because you spent too much time in the ecclesiological huddle and you’ve sequestered yourself from the kind of daily life on mission and evangelistic intentionality that God means to be part of our daily lives on this side of the new earth. I think Hybels is right when he celebrates, “Isn’t it incredible how elevating our efforts to reach others can be a catalyst for personal growth?” Elevating our efforts to reach others can be a catalyst in our acting the miracle in our sanctification.

I’ve seen it in others and I’ve seen it in my own life. It is amazing how often God is pleased to take our discipleship to the next level as we begin to seriously give our lives to the commission charge of making disciples among the nations. That’s number one (Matthew 28:16–20). Fulfilling the Great Commission requires both mission and nurture.

Living in the Light, Moving Toward Darkness

Number two is Philippians 2:14–16. Holding fast the gospel leads both to living in the light and moving toward the darkness. This is Philippians 2:14–16. Holding fast to the gospel leads both to living in the light and moving toward the darkness. Here it is:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

So first of all, I’ll talk about living in the light. I’m just going to borrow that phrase from 1 John. In Philippians 2:15, Paul wants us to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.” And there’s a movement toward the darkness, or at least not a retreat from it. What’s the context for this blamelessness, this living above reproach, this holiness? Philippians 2:15 says, “In the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” And what holds it all together is Philippians 2:16, which says, “Holding fast the word of life.” That’s the message of the gospel, the message of life that keeps me from death and propels me to want to keep others from death by spreading that message.

Here’s a little hat tip to my buddy Tony Reinke, who sent me this quote from a new book by Kelly Kapic called A Little Book for New Theologians, and he gets at this theme. Here’s what he says:

Entering into the world of those who suffer inevitably brings sweat and tears and dirt and sacrifice. The paradox here is that unless we get involved in the messiness and brokenness of others, we risk becoming stained by the world we seek to avoid.

It’s a worldly thing to keep safe and comfortable with your own group. He continues:

We respond to Jesus’s call to purity, not by ignoring or retreating from the sin and suffering of this world, but only by confronting the sin, loving those who suffer, and watching God’s grace bring healing and hope amid the grief, loneliness, and pain. Such compassion is not just an important civic virtue, it is at the heart of our pursuit of God because it cultivates, sustains, and protects us against false worship.

Note here the difference between true compassion and compromise, because probably in your mind you’re thinking, “Boy, this could become compromise really quickly. If I’m hanging out with non-believers, if I’m knowing lost folks, they could drag me down really quickly.” Remember the chair illustration from youth group where the guy on the floor can’t pick up the one on the chair and he pulls the one down on the chair. This could get crazy quickly. Note the difference here between true compassion and compromise. True compassion takes great risk to enter darkness, in order to bring light to others, knowing that any compromise of the light is a muting of the very thing they need to be rescued.

Start Where You Are

Here’s a little practical nugget at this stage. Maybe you’re asking, “What kind of unbelief should I move toward?” If you’re becoming convinced, thinking, “All right. I don’t want to just stay in the huddle. I want to pursue my own sanctification by getting out, pursuing some non-believers.” Which kind of unbelief should I move toward? My first council to you would be to start where you already are. Start with the deck you’ve been dealt: family members, neighbors, coworkers, and maybe folks who share in your interests, share an affinity with you.

By affinity, I just mean anything you got working for you, work it for Jesus. Maybe you like cycling, or maybe you’re a writer and want to join some kind of writer’s guild. Maybe you have a guitar skill, some kind of musical skill, some kind of other skill, some kind of hobby that you enjoy doing. You’re going to do this anyway and you can engage not just with fellow believers but unbelievers because of this affinity. So start where you are, with family, with friends, with neighbors, with coworkers, and with those who share your affinity.

Here’s a little bit about this phrase “moving toward the darkness.” I don’t mean this is all going to happen in a moment, that this is all going to happen on one weekend night when you hang out with a nonbeliever in an uncomfortable place and they come to the faith right away. Let’s pray they do, but it may mean staying with it for a long time, perhaps maybe especially in our families and with our neighbors and with our coworkers.

So here’s some really simple practical advice on taking baby steps in doing this: start where you are and stay with it. Pray for the patience to keep at it. And if you can raise the flag of the gospel as soon as possible in relationships with non-believing coworkers, non-believing neighbors, non-believing people who share interest with you, that’s the course of wisdom, I believe. If that’s going to put up a wall, then spend weeks and months and years tearing down that wall. But put that wall up. Let the gospel be communicated as clearly and as early as possible in these relationships.

Befriending Sinners

Here’s number three. This is Matthew 11:19. The principle here is that befriending sinners (for the right reasons) is a product of true holiness, not an obstacle to it. Befriending sinners, for the right reasons, is a product of true holiness, not an obstacle too. In other words, true holiness befriends sinners, and I’m getting that from the life of Jesus. Here’s Matthew 11:19. There, Jesus calls himself “a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” and if you go two chapters earlier in Matthew 9:11–13, the Pharisees ask the disciples why Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners and Jesus overhears it and he speaks up himself. He wants to answer this one. He says:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick . . . For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

So it’s true, the pursuit of holiness may keep you from bad company, but there may also be a sense in which pursuing your holiness and wanting to influence others for Jesus’s sake may lead you to keep some really bad company. If Jesus is our litmus test of lived out holiness, and he’s the Holy One of Israel in human flesh, his life serves as the best answer key for what divine holiness looks like when it’s in humanity. He was glad to be called a friend of tax collectors and sinners. We have a God-man who associated himself with the most blatant sinners of his day.

It’s helpful to point out what he’s not doing when he’s associating with wicked people. Jesus is not going with the flow. He’s not trying to get in with the hip crowd. He’s not just looking for a good time. He’s not trying to drown his sorrows. He’s not just tagging along for the social scene, or to grow his reputation, or to hang out because he’s got nothing better to do. There’s no passivity in Jesus’s approach and there’s no sin in Jesus’s approach. He’s there on mission in the unbelieving house at the first-century party, not aiming simply to defy conventions. Please don’t miss that. He’s not aiming simply to divide conventions, but he is actively seeking the salvation of sinners. He sees associating with unbelievers as a strategic place to call for repentance. I guess there’s no surprise when the professional believers of his day were so hardhearted toward him.

Coming Close Without Compromise

A New Testament scholar named Craig Blomberg has done a study through Jesus’s meals with sinners in the Gospels, the book is called Contagious Holiness: Jesus’s Meals with Sinners. It’s in the silver series, the new studies in biblical theology by Don Carson. If you’re not an academic, then you may just want to take these quotes and be thankful that you’ve gleaned some of the best from it. This is from page 167 in Contagious Holiness. This is helpful. Here’s what Blomberg says:

Scandalously, Jesus associates with the notoriously wicked. Jesus’s table fellowship with sinners reflects his willingness to associate with them at an intimate level, but not merely for the sake of defying convention or enjoying a party. In each case (he’s talking about the various episodes in the Gospels where he’s looking at in detail) various textual clues, if not explicit statements, demonstrate that Christ is indeed calling them to repentance and summoning them to become his followers.

So his close proximity to sin doesn’t mean that he’s coddling sin, but it means that he’s getting close enough to confront unbelief with precision and with grace, when he engages sinners as he does in Mark 2, for one example. In Luke 7, he’s honest that he sees them as such, and that it’s precisely for his sake that he has come. In Matthew 11:19, where Jesus is said to be a friend of tax collectors and sinners, the next verse, Matthew 11:20, says, “He denounced the cities that didn’t repent.” This is an amazing association with sinners and clarity about the need for repentance. Blomberg calls this contagious holiness. Here’s another comment he makes. He says:

Jesus discloses not one instance of fearing contamination (maybe you fear that right now in thinking about this), whether moral or ritual, by associating with the wicked or impure. Rather, he believes that his purity can rub off on them, and he hopes that his magnanimity toward them will lead them to heed his calls to discipleship.

How Our Holiness Rubs Off on Others

Let me just give a disclaimer for Blomberg. Having your purity rub off on them doesn’t happen automatically. Don’t assume that. It won’t come from passivity or being nonchalant; it happens through sustained intentionality to connect with non-believers where they are and, with God’s help, to point them to saving belief in Jesus. It’s the power to clearly and explicitly share the gospel, but to gently and firmly call for change.

That’s not going to come from a worldly desire to nestle up to sin, it must come from true holiness. Let me make a little practical suggestion here. Don’t go at this alone. Jesus is the perfect God-man. If anybody could have gone at this alone, Jesus could have. But there it is, again and again: Jesus’s disciples were with him. He doesn’t go at it alone. In Luke 10:1, he sends them out two by two. He sends them out together. Don’t storm the gates of hell alone. Bring a solid, strong brother or sister, even multiple brothers and sisters as you engage in depth with the lost. Have someone to keep you accountable. Go at this together. This is a mission to do as a team.

Maybe the call to holiness for you has meant that you don’t eat with the tax collectors and sinners of your town. And in certain circumstances, that may be well and good. But if we’re taking our cues from the God-man, from the Holy One of Israel made human, maybe it’s eating with tax collectors and sinners that would be the very thing we’re called to do in helping that next step of our discipleship in our pursuit of holiness. Christian holiness is not the avoidance of darkness at all costs; it includes going into the darkness, letting our light shine without compromise, and bringing people back from the darkness by the power of God. Jesus’s followers are not only crucified to the world, but raised to new life and sent back in to rescue others with this message of his gospel.

Sent into the World

Here’s number four. This is John 17:14–19. Christians are not of this world but sent into it. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “in the world, but not of the world.” People say, “We, Christians, should be in the world but not of the world.” And it communicates a truth, perhaps often it’s a helpful thing to hear and say and establish those categories.

Here’s a concern I have with the phrase: is it communicating a drift that is different from John 17? Maybe it’s not. Maybe to you it’s not, and maybe to others it is. Is it communicating, “Oh, alas, we’re stuck in this old world. But let’s muster all of our best strengths to not be of it. Let’s give our lives to not being of this world. It’s a shame that we’re in it, but let’s give our lives to not being of it.” That’s not the direction Jesus is going with the same language in John 17.

So what I want to do here is look at John 17, pick up these categories of “not of the world,” and see how Jesus used the categories, and maybe there’s a way we can revise the popular saying. Here’s John 17:14–19. Jesus is praying to the Father in John 17, the high priestly prayer, and he says:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Note first Jesus’s clear reference to his disciples being not of the world. In John 17:14, he says, “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Then, in John 17:16, he says, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” So let’s all agree, Jesus’s followers should not be of the world. I am in no way advocating, by trying to push on this mission thing and engaging the lost, engaging unbelievers, that you be of the world. But I am trying to advocate something else that Jesus notes here.

On Mission

Look at John 17:18. He says, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Perhaps John 17:15 is the most surprising. He says, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world . . .” Is that surprising to hear Jesus pray that? “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

The starting place, in the way Jesus is figuring things in John 17, is that his disciples are not of the world. They have embraced him. They have been given a new heart by the Holy Spirit. They are believing in him. They have been set apart, sanctified in that kind of definitive sense, and they are not of the world. And Jesus then prays for them as they are sent into the world. He’s sending them on mission. He has some work for them to accomplish.

It is not enough for them to sit around thinking, “Alas, we’re in the world. Let’s give our lives not being of it.” He starts with, “You’re not of the world, and may God keep you from the evil one because I am sending you in to rescue others.” So maybe the better way to configure the phrase in light of John 17 would be that we are not of this world, but sent into this world.

Sloppy Evangelism

In doing that, we’ve come back around to the Great Commission, which is that all of us in the church are given this task of making disciples of the nations. We’re all being sent, and we’re all wanting, hopefully, to cultivate a kind of missionary intentionality in whatever location we’re at. It is amazing the kind of intentionality and care that you will find among missionaries these days. I mean, some of the discussions about translating “Son of God” and insider movements and all that have come about because there are people exercising amazing intentionality and care about being on mission, about reaching out in different cultures, about what it takes to do evangelism, and in particular, to do that among an unreached and unengaged people. There is amazing intentionality in missions today. The sad thing is how sloppy we can be in our local evangelism.

I want to plead that we would have the same kind of intentionality even when we’re not called to cross a culture for the sake of gospel advance. We should have that same kind of missionary intentionality where we’re at. You don’t have to call that person a missionary. If you want to keep the category of missionary for cross-cultural, that’s just fine. But I want to see that kind of intentionality. I think that’s what the commission is calling us to, and what I want to call us to here in this section on mission. So that’s it for the section on mission.We’ll finish with the part on disciple-making.

Our Disciple-Making and Our Sanctification

Maybe at this point you’re thinking, “All right.” Perhaps you’re persuaded. Maybe you have already long been on board with God’s global cause and bringing the glory of God to the nations, or maybe you want to engage your neighborhood or coworkers in a new way. What’s next? What’s the next step from here? That’s where I want to bring in a helpful observation from a guy named David Platt in a book called Radical. Here’s what he says. He’s addressing our exact situation here:

I’m concerned about a general vagueness that has existed in contemporary Christianity regarding the next step. We have seen that God blesses us so that his glory might be made known in the nations, but an all important question remains, how do we make God’s glory known in all the nations? If God has given us his grace so that we might take his gospel to the ends of the earth, then how do we do that? Do we walk out in the streets and start proclaiming the glory of God somehow? Should we all go to other nations? If we go, what do we do when we get there? What does this all look like in our day-to-day lives?

And this is what he says:

Jesus has much to teach us here. If we were left to ourselves with the task of taking the gospel to the world, we would immediately begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes. We would organize conventions, develop programs and create foundations. We would get the biggest names to draw the biggest crowd at the biggest events. We would start megachurches and host mega conferences. We would do, well, what we’re already doing today.

But Jesus is so different from us. With the task of taking the gospel to the world, he wandered through the streets and byways of Israel looking for a few men. Don’t misunderstand me. Jesus was anything but casual about his mission. He was initiating a revolution, but his revolution would not revolve around the masses or the multitudes, instead, it would revolve around a few men. It would not revolve around garnering a certain position, instead, it would revolve around choosing a few people. He would intentionally shun titles, labels, plaudits, and popularity in his plan to turn the course of history upside down.

All he wanted was a few men who would think as he did, love as he did, see as he did, teach as he did, and serve as he did. All we needed was to revolutionize the hearts of a few and they would impact the world.

So this Christ-like investment at depth in a few is what I’m calling disciple-making here.

Go and Do Likewise

I want to finish with this in the last few minutes. Look again at the Great Commission. It is an important connection here. The reason I included verse 16 earlier is because it draws in something important here for disciple-making. Matthew 28:16–18 says:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples . . .

Here’s my question: to whom does Jesus first issue this charge to make disciples? Answer: the 11 disciples (Matthew 28:16). Jesus tells these 11 men whom he has discipled for three years to make disciples. In Matthew 4:19, he said, “Follow me and I’ll make fishers of men,” and now in Matthew 28, he says, “Guys, the way I’ve discipled you, what I’ve done, the kind of investment at depth I’ve made in your life these three years, turn and do likewise. Disciple the nations.”

When the disciples hear Jesus tell them to disciple, they’re not going to immediately think of billboards, television commercials — anachronistic as that may be — or putting on a big conference; they’re going to think mainly about investing themselves at depth in a few and teaching them to do likewise like they saw in Jesus life, and like we see the markings of in the remainder of the New Testament.

Discipleship as a Means of Sanctification

So let me give you briefly here four practical ways in which every day disciple-making contributes to the discipler’s own growth in holiness. Four ways practically that this contributes to the discipler’s own growth. And let me give you a working definition of disciple-making. This could be said a lot of different ways. This is not a perfect definition, it’s just a working definition: disciple-making is the process in which a maturing believer — that’s what I have in mind here — invests himself for a particular period of time in one or just a few younger believers in order to help their growth in the faith, and to teach them to invest themselves in others who will invest in others.

That’s a very one way definition that’s going from discipler to disciples who become disciplers to disciples. It’s very one way. But the banner thing to say here over these four points about disciple-making is that disciple-making is a two-way street. The discipler is a person in the midst of his own sanctification. And when disciple-making is done by humans who are not Jesus, it is actually a very helpful thing in disciple-making that that person is on the path themself of sanctification, on the path themself of Christ-likeness as they invest in disciples.

Our Smallness, God’s Bigness

Here’s number one: disciple-making helps us see our smallness and God’s bigness. You could say, it helps us see our lives in better proportion. We are so prone to see ourselves at the center, see what we’re doing as big time and essential, and disciple-making puts in balance God’s bigness in our smallness. I’ve been significantly influenced by Campus Outreach. This is where most of this is coming from. A key phrase that we’ve used in campus outreach is, “Think big. Start small. Go deep.”

I mean, the Great Commission is amazingly big. He says, “Disciple all the nations.” This is a God-sized, global vision — all the nations. Think big, but start small, start with a few. Go deep and invest deeply in them, so deeply in them that they’re ready and equipped and mature to then turn and invest in a few who would invest in a few, who would invest in more, and so on. Thinking in this way — thinking big, starting small, and going deep, having this mindset of a disciple maker — means that we think multiplication. Second Timothy 2:2 gets at this. Maybe the main thing in view there is the raising up of elders, though the principle holds where Paul (generation one) says, “Timothy (generation 2) what you’ve heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust of faithful men (generation 3), who will be able to teach others also (generation 4).” There are four generations there that keep building into people at such depth that they’re ready to then turn and do the same in discipling others at such depth that they’re ready to turn and do the same.

Here’s one little practical thing here. If you’re thinking, “How do I even get this thing going? I’d love to invest in a few younger believers. Where would I go next? How’d I go next?” One piece of advice would be to grow this out of prayer. Begin with some finite short list of people you have a relationship with. Pray through that. See if God would lead you during that time of regular personal prayer for these specific names as to one or a couple, or maybe three, that you could approach and meet together with regularly to help lead them, disciple them, counsel them, grow them in the faith, and challenge them.

Maybe you’re already engaged in some disciple-making relationships right now, then also grow your ongoing counsel to them out of your prayer time. This is regular, specific prayer for those whom you’re investing in. And in that prayer time, be thinking, “God, show me what the next step is. Where do I need to rebuke or counsel or encourage or challenge this person in whom I’m investing?” Personal prayer, regular for deciding who to disciple and deciding how to carry them forward, is very important.

Holistic Christianity

Number two: disciple-making challenges us to holistic Christianity. Here’s one way in which that happens. Disciple-making requires intentionality. We’ve used that word several times, so let’s make up a new word called relationality. Disciple-making is irreducibly intentional and it’s irreducibly relational. And all of us tip toward one of these if we don’t lean big time. We’re much more in the relational sign and we’re really cool hanging out, watching the game together, but we don’t really want to do the intentional thing, getting intentional about our sin or ways in which the disciple can grow, or honesty about our own situation. We don’t like to think of people as a means to reaching others. So we’re more.

The intentional side loves the multiplication part of disciple-making, loves the intentional face-to-face, intense one-on-ones, but really doesn’t want to just hang out and spend-on-life time together. Because good disciple-making is irreducibly intentional and relational, it’s going to balance us out, it’s going to force us to be more holistic in our Christianity. It will force us to not just be intentional Christians and not just be relational Christians, but to grow in the two. This is one important way in which disciple-making helps us.

Sharing Our Own Selves

Let me go to number three: disciple-making requires not just speaking truth, but sharing our own selves, and in doing so, we see more of our sin and more need for Jesus’s ongoing work. First Thessalonians 2:8 is where the phrase “sharing our own selves” comes from. Paul says:

Being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

This is a good reflection of the depth of relationship that happens in good disciple-making. There is a sharing of our own selves, a sharing of our lives, a dying to our selfishness in many practical ways — our space, our time, a dying to our privacy in bringing people into our lives and the details of our lives, and the way in which we need to repent because we are people in the midst of own sanctification too as disciplers. Disciple-making requires sharing our own selves and seeing our sin as we get close. As a sinful discipler gets closer to a sinful disciple, that sin aggravates each other and the sin comes out. Disciple-making will help you see your sin and see the places where you need to trust Jesus for ongoing work and sanctification in your life.

Trained to Lean Upon Christ

Let me close here with the last one. Disciple-making will make you feel like a failure and it will teach you to lean more on Jesus and his grace. To be a good discipler, you have to learn how to deal well with failure. The Christian way to deal well with failure is to take it to the cross. This is why a Jesus’s person and work is not only essential as the content of disciple-making, but also as the great comfort for the failing discipler. Jesus’s person and work is the deposit, it is the baton to hand off, it is the main thing to make sure that we build into disciples. But just as much as it’s the content, it is also the great comfort of the failing discipler. As easy as it may sound, do this kind of disciple-making long and you’ll encounter great failures on your behalf.

There will be failures in your love, failures in initiating, failures in sharing the gospel with clarity and boldness, failures to share your own life because of selfishness. In all this, God is hemming us in as disciplers and teaching us that our great comfort is not in our discipling, but in the Perfect Discipler, namely Jesus. All your failures as the discipler are covered. And this is an amazing truth. I found this to be true experientially and biblically. Jesus, the sovereign one of Colossians 1 and of Matthew 28, who promises that he will build his church, loves to fulfill his Great Commission with half-baked, sub-standard disciple-making, because it makes him look good as the power for the Great Commission, not us feeble, failing disciplers.

Take Jesus up on this. Don’t be afraid to make disciples because you know you’re going to fail so greatly. You will. You’ll fail more than you think you will, and it will teach you to lean into Jesus — to lean into his grace more and more.

We end where we started, with Jesus’s person and his work. He’s the one who spoke perfectly and commanded all that we would teach in the Great Commission. He’s the one who lived, discipled a few to carry on his mission when he was done, and, more importantly, he’s the one who lived and died and rose inimitably for us. It’s not only our model of disciple-making, but even more significantly it is the very essence of our disciple-making, the subject of discipling, the focus of discipling, the power for discipling, the very reason for our discipling, and our greatest comfort in our many shortcomings. So it really is all about Jesus.