“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19
Naturally we are people of habits and routines. I think drawing up a formulated method to reap a specific result is not just instinct but expected. We generate formulas to explain not only science but parenting, social skills, achieving wealth, sports and so much more. We take on the, “Do this, plus this, and you get this,” approach to life. And while it may work in some areas, like math or baking, it does not apply everywhere. In fact, it will cause the exact opposite of growth if applied in certain areas like discipleship.
Christianity is the only religion that deals with the condition of the heart. Other religions focus on the fruit, the behavior. Meaning, in order to achieve a certain level of deity or sainthood one must act in a certain manner. Arguably, for this reason other religions can actually function well under a formula. Christianity, however, cannot because it is concerning the complexities of a being, which are made up of body, spirit and soul (heart). In order to create a functioning formula for disciple making one must include all three parts of a being, and somehow generate a level of consistency in result. There’s just no human method that can do so.
Having a conference or training on, “How to Make Disciples” can be a waste of time. Sure, there are psychological human behaviors we can obtain and learn to draw out conclusions, but ultimately every setting is different and every person is unique to their story. While formulas sound great they strip away the heart aspect from both the disciple and the maker. When operating out of a formula we are removing the warm heartfelt approach to community and acting on a cold generated method. Hence the saying:
“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
In fact, if Jesus created a formula for disciple making it wouldn’t even make sense for us to use it. We would be missing a key ingredient. Let’s look at the surrounding text of Matthew 28:19, verses 18-20.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
He starts with “all authority”. Before He gives the command to make disciples, He points at Himself. He wants those who He is commissioning to know that it is not in their power nor authority that disciple making will happen, but in His alone. The fact that He says “all”, means ALL authorities, no exception and this assurance should remove doubt, fear, and human method when reaching all nations. The authority has already been given to Him and nothing will surpass His name. We need not to generate and add more to it. Then what should we do? Well hold on to that thought and we will address it in a bit.
The next word I want to point out is “Therefore.” To us logic mean’s 2+2=4, to God logic means, “I am God therefore go!” He does not give us a “how to” approach or a to do list with due dates. He tells us to go. With the conviction that all authority has been given to God; we are expected to proclaim his name boldly in all settings because He sits on the throne.
The only two requirements He actually gives are “baptizing them in the name….” and “teaching them to obey my commands.” I guess if you were to draw up a formula these would be the actions you’d focus on. Perhaps it would look something like this: All nations + Baptizing + Teaching = Disciple making. This formula while it looks biblical and sound it is actually taking scripture out of context and misleading those who believe it. This formula moves the focus from God on to us and our efforts. Now, the burden of a person who does not follow through as a disciple of God after we followed the formula falls on us. A burden, quite frankly, too great to bear. See, the commission was directed to us but the purpose is for God.
The last phrase I want to focus on is “surely I am with you.” Interesting enough Jesus’ concluding statement is “I am with you” not “then you will reap all the disciples of all nations.” Again, His logic does not parallel to ours. We would think that if we baptize and teach people then we are creating disciples. God’s logic is saying baptize and teach, and I am with you. Why does Christ draw such irrational conclusions? If He is giving a command should He not give us the step-by-step procedure to achieve it?
This is where Paul’s statement in Romans, “be transformed by the renewing of the mind,” takes place. We need not to think of a better and stronger approach to disciple making. We need to change our thinking. This great commission is sandwiched between two statements that both point to God, “All authority…has been given to me” and “I am with you.” Making disciples starts and ends with God. If we generate our own formula to baptize and teach, then we are removing the power of God (which carries all authority) from the equation.
Let's say God does give us a formula, it would look something like this:
All authority is mine = Go make disciples (Baptize + Teach) = I am with you
It makes no sense to us, because a formula cannot have two equal signs. But God’s ways are above our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. God understands that disciple making is not a behavioral approach, disciple making is a condition of the heart. If we are so far invested in Him, walking in His authority and clinging on to His presence, disciple making is a response of that lifestyle, not a task. Jesus taught many things to His disciples, but the main thing He did was be present. He was with them, He walked with them and He created union through experiencing life with them on a daily basis.
So what are we to do then? The answer is first to be consumed by God’s presence. Let his character overflow through your life into the lives of others. If you are seeking God wholeheartedly those around you will naturally reap those benefits. Second, be present in the lives of those you care about. We cannot invest 100% in everyone we meet, Jesus only had 12. Invest and be available to those close to you at all times. Walk it out with them through thick or thin. You do not need to know the answer to every problem but you can be a listening ear, someone who cares. The value of having someone who understands your struggles is far greater than the value of someone simply saying, “don’t worry, it will work out.” Third, Remember it starts and ends with God; like the great commission sandwiched between two powerful statements pointing to God. We begin by fully indulging ourselves in God and His authority and we end by trusting Him with every disciple. We find peace regardless of the result knowing He is with us till the end of the age.