As we end the book of Matthew we have a chance to read some of Jesus’ last recorded words to his disciples. What are his final instructions for the eleven? How does he want them to carry on with the work he has been doing?
Matthew ends his letter with what has come to be known as the Great Commission.
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.”
What a powerful last message. Jesus sends the eleven out reassuring them that it is under his authority, in his name that they go. And he instructs them to go and make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey everything he had commanded. And then he comforts them by reminding them he will always be with them.
This passage has been the rally cry of the church, the mission statement if you will. It is a passage familiar to most who have spent any time within the walls of a church. Yet, perhaps we fail to fully understand and follow Jesus instructions.
In our desire to take the news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to the world, I think we have missed part of the message. In my experience, limited as it is, I find we have become a Church that is much better at making converts than disciples. A convert is defined as a person who has been persuaded to change their religious faith or other beliefs. And though conversion is an important part of the process, it isn’t the end. A convert has simply changed what they say they believe.
A disciple, a talmidim, has changed the way they live. They are more than a student who wants to know what the Rabbi knows, they are obsessed with living like the Rabbi lived. Their greatest desire is to be like their Rabbi as he walks with God. And so teaching obedience to a convert is difficult at best. For them,faith is an intellectual event, a change in belief. But for a disciple, obedience is their passion. A disciple wants to follow his rabbi more than anything, and is willing to leave behind family, wealth, everything in order to do so.
As we look at the stuggles of the church to produce growth in it’s members and fruit in the world. As we come across stat after stat we find that the behavior of those in the church looks much like the behaviors of the world. I can’t help but wonder if it all comes from missing the point of Jesus final instructions. I wonder if the issue is that we have been so focused on getting people into the church that we don’t know what to do with them once they are there. That we have been so good at making converts, that we have failed to make disciples.
And then I’m left asking myself, am I a disciple? Is following the rabbi, becoming more like him what I desire the most? It takes a disciple to make disciples.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.