“And Jesus came up and spoke to them saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the 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 28:18-20
One of Jesus’ final instructions before His ascension was to give the Great Commission. Jesus clarified that His disciples were to be sharing the Gospel and in turn, making other disciples. This multiplication process was the means by which people would place their faith in Jesus, learn and grow in their faith and obedience, and share the great hope of faith in Jesus with others.
Disciple-making is much different than crowd gathering. Discipleship involves a complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is not just a set of beliefs to check off on a form, but a lifestyle of leaving everything we hold near and dear in order to live for Jesus.
In Luke 14, verses 25-34, Jesus is followed by “large crowds”. Most of the time, the crowds that followed Jesus were only interested in what they could get from Him. If it was healing or food or any other sort of thing Jesus could provide, people wanted to be around Him. But what Jesus did in response was something many would be unfamiliar with today. Jesus turned to the crowds and described in veiled spiritual terms, the cost of what it meant to be His disciple. In other words, Jesus didn’t cater to the crowds by giving them something easy to embrace, but something in which would give them pause to really consider the implications of discipleship.
When you look around today, we tend to evaluate effective ministries and churches based upon the numbers of people that attend. We think that if there are a lot of people taking part, they “must be doing something right”. But as we see throughout Scripture, Jesus didn’t seek after large audiences, but rather challenged the crowds; that if they were to “follow” Him, they must surrender themselves, their livelihood, families and friends, and anything else that would hinder their complete devotion to Him. The result for most was turning away from following Jesus.
In John 6, we see another instance of Jesus rebuking the crowds for seeking Him simply for food. In John 6:26-27 it says, “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perished, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.’” And as Jesus continues in John 6, He describes more of what it means to believe in Him. In John 6:66 it says, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” When His followers counted the cost of what it really meant to believe in Jesus and be His disciple, it says “many of His disciples withdrew” and no longer followed Jesus. Those that were following Jesus for a time realized that the implications of surrendering their lives to Jesus was too much and made the decision that it was easier to go their own way rather than to submit themselves in faith to Jesus.
What we can learn from all of this is that ministry, church growth, or any other so-called outreach isn’t a practice in crowd gathering, but disciple-making. Crowds expect to be served and accommodated. Disciples seek to submit their lives to glorifying and serving the Lord. One seeks to be affirmed in their current condition, the other seeks to be transformed to be more like Jesus.
Making disciples requires personal investment and engagement. Discipleship requires that we, ourselves, are grounded and growing in our faith and obedience through reading and studying the Bible, prayer, and meeting with other believers. Discipleship requires that we also make intentional time with others to pour into their lives and walk with them as they grow in the Lord.
But what most people want is a quick fix of reading “Christian” books, watching “Christian” shows or movies, sharing insights and quotes on social media, attend church events, and having others in “full-time ministry” do the work of growing churches. This looks more like the crowds following Jesus than making true disciples.
As individuals and churches, our focus must be on going and making disciples. We need to look no further to come up with business models to try to grow churches, transform culture, give people self-help tools to bandage their problems, or any other world changing endeavor. Jesus has given us the clear mandate of what we should be pouring our lives into; now it is just a question of if we are willing??
Being a disciple of Jesus will ultimately cost us everything. This isn’t something that we or anyone should take lightly. We cannot think that just because we “prayed-a-prayer”, profess to know Jesus, got baptized, took communion, or attend church that that makes us a disciple. True disciples count the cost and know there is nothing greater than to live by faith because of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross by paying the penalty for our sins, rising again on the third day, and ascending to the Father that we might have eternal life in Him.
So as we go from here, let us make sure we are not following man-made methods or models in order to simply have an audience. These might grow ministries and churches, but will never amount to making disciples. If Jesus was more concerned about making disciples, we should be as well.