The Mission of a Disciple
The Mission of a Disciple
Joining God in His Work
In those quiet moments of life that seem so few and far between, we may find ourselves asking God what in the world He is doing. Where is all this messiness that we call life going? If we are honest, the back and forth and the ups and downs are seemingly incoherent, disconnected, and random. However, scripture is abundantly clear that God is sovereignly working all things together for His glory and our good as believers (Rom. 8). Still, we struggle, and if these misgivings are real in our personal lives, then they are often compounded when we come together in our local churches. What is the plan? What is God doing in and through our churches? Again, the scriptures are not silent. The Apostle Paul gives us a wonderful glimpse into what he himself calls “the mystery” in Ephesians 3, stating:
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart…
Here we find ourselves plunged into the middle of a story that has been unfolding since before there were any such things as governments, nations, and churches. It begins with God’s plan to create all things by and for His Son, and it culminates in a new earth, populated by a newly resurrected people of God who are united to Jesus Christ. God is carving out for himself one particular and peculiar people, drawn from every nation. The apostle Peter also spoke of this glorious mystery, noting that even the prophets of old “searched and inquired carefully,” desiring to understand this salvation and God’s plan to take those who “were not a people” and make them “a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” This is God’s agenda, his priority, his focus: gathering a new people who are His very own and are being conformed into the image of His beloved Son.
Jesus himself revealed this glorious mystery clearly and succinctly to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:21-23:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
However, one very important question remains: what should we as churches and individuals be doing? The danger of missing or misunderstanding God’s glorious plan is that we will fail to rightly see our place and part in His design. Perhaps that is why so many of our churches are busier than ever, yet so spiritually unproductive. Today if you were to ask 10 different church goers what churches and the people that fill them should be doing, you may receive 10 different answers. Yet the Bible does not leave us to our own devices, aimlessly wandering our way through this world. We see the pattern established in Jesus’s commissioning in the opening of Acts, and borne out in the lives of the apostles and disciples throughout the book.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
“…many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.”
“…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem…”
“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
“Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans”
The implications for us should be plain; the foundational ministry of the church and her people is the ministry of the word. Therefore, the only model for church growth the Bible knows is the clear and simple teaching of the scriptures and the Gospel it proclaims. In short, it is gospel centered, biblical discipleship. In one sense then, we can boil down our task as followers of Jesus to loving people by giving them the truth of God’s word. Like giddy, excited school children, we have been given the greatest “show and tell” opportunity the world has ever known. In their book on ministry philosophy, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne outline 3 implications that are of ultimate significance for disciples of Jesus Christ who are called to make disciples:
1. The first and most obvious is that if this is really what God is doing in our world then it is time to say goodbye to our small and self-oriented ambitions, and to abandon ourselves to the cause of Christ and His Gospel. God has a plan that will determine the destiny of every person and nation in the world, and it is unfolding here and now as the gospel of Christ is preached and the Holy Spirit is poured out. Is there anything more vital to be doing in our world? We need to recapture the radicalism of what Jesus said to the young man who wanted to return and bury his father: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:60)
2. The second implication is that the growth God is looking for in our world is growth in people. He is working through His word and Spirit to draw people into His kingdom, to see them born again as new creations, and to see them mature and bear fruit as servants of Christ. Whatever other signs of life and growth we might look for in our congregations—involvement, activities, newcomers, finances, number of staff, buildings, and so on—the only growth that has any significance in God’s plans is the growth of believers.
3. The third momentous implication is that this people-growth happens only through the power of God’s Spirit as he applies His word to people’s hearts. That’s the way people are converted, and that’s the way people grow in maturity in Christ. We plant and water, but God gives the growth. We speak God’s word to someone, and the Spirit enables a response. This can happen individually, in small groups, and in large groups. It can happen over the back fence, over dinner, or over morning coffee at church. However, despite the almost limitless number of contexts in which it might happen, what happens is the same: a Christian brings a truth from God’s word to someone else, praying that God would make that word bear fruit through the inward working of his Spirit.
The New Testament envisages that all Christian disciples will be prayerful speakers of God’s word, in a multitude of different ways and contexts. This happens in our church gatherings, but it also happens day by day as Christians speak the truth to each other and exhort one another to stay strong (Eph. 4:25; Heb. 3:13). It happens in the home as fathers bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). It happens in the world as we proclaim the excellencies of Christ before the nations (I Pet. 2:9), or engage in gracious, salty conversations with outsiders (Col.4:5-6), or give gentle, respectful answers about the Christian hope (I Pet. 3:15-16).
Regardless of where one may stand on the continuation of miraculous gifts, we should all desire and pray that our churches have the same practices and experiences as the Jerusalem Church recorded by Luke in the book of Acts: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”