I’ve basically been in church every time the doors were open for as long as I can remember. One of the consistent themes I’ve seen emphasized is the Great Commission. It’s found at the end of Matthew’s gospel.
“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.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)
The mandate is that we go and “make disciples”.
“Disciple” is a very Jewish concept. A rabbi would select a group of students who who follow him, sharing life with him over a period of time. The goal of discipleship was for the student to become like the teacher in every respect. Jesus, in commissioning us to make disciples, has given us the task of facilitating this process. I am to make disciples of Jesus. I am to facilitate a way of interacting with Jesus over time that results in followers being transformed into His image.
I’ve been exposed to two primary discipleship models during my years in church.
Model One: The Educational Model
This model seeks to fulfill the Great Commission by teaching doctrine from the Bible. The underlying assumption of this model is that our basic spiritual problem is ignorance. This can be corrected by proper instruction. If our problem is a lack of good knowledge, then more Knowledge of Good must be the solution.
Model Two: The Legal Model
This model seeks to fulfill the Great Commission by behavior modification. There are two forms of the Legal Model: Prohibitive and Prescriptive. One form emphasizes the behaviors a follower of Jesus should avoid. The second form emphasizes the behaviors a follower of Jesus should adopt. The underlying assumption of this model is that our basic spiritual problem is wrong behavior. This can be corrected by changing behavior through instruction and accountability.
Please understand – I’m not against any of the above. I prefer right doctrine to heresy. I prefer right behavior to wrong behavior. But teaching people the Bible and getting them to behave correctly, even if successful (and it’s usually not), will only serve to produce really good Pharisees. Do you remember them? They were the men in Jesus day who knew the most scripture, had the best doctrine, and who were the most diligent in avoiding bad behavior and doing good things. This is the category of people who, for the most part, resist Jesus.
Disciples are made through interacting with their rabbi over time. Any approach to discipleship that doesn’t teach people to interact with Jesus will fail to produce disciples of Jesus. We must teach people to experience His presence and hear His voice. Only revelation can produce transformation. Only beholding His glory can change us into His image.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17–18, ESV)
Want to make disciples? Teach people to hear God’s voice and experience His presence.