Life on Life Partner Development, Trainer and Coach
Making disciples of all nations is one of the church’s primary responsibilities. This comes from some of the last words Jesus gave his disciples before ascending into Heaven, what has become known as the Great Commission.
Matthew 28:18-20 says, “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.”
In this article, we’ll explore the meaning of the great commission and share practical advice on how churches can play a part in making disciples of all nations. Like with many things, it starts with having the right heart orientation.
Making Disciples of All Nations – The Right Heart Orientation
This Great commission a powerful and important call to believers. When we consider the mission of making disciples of all nations, it can cause a wide range of feelings and attitudes, from arrogance to inadequacy and everything in between.
If we want to fulfill the great commission, then we need to start by having the correct heart orientation.
We need to have the correct heart orientation, so let’s address each of these briefly.
I recently heard a pastor say that pastors are simply overweight aerobics instructors. We communicate the right perspectives and attitudes to identify what actions to take, and yet we struggle to hold those perspectives and do those actions.
We rightly espouse and exhort our people that God has the power to save and mature His Church. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”
Yet we, as pastors and church leaders, often forget these words. Whether unintentionally or rebelliously, we think success depends on our agenda, our vision, our gifts, our eloquence, our effort, and our excellence. We can’t go through half a day without an “our” attitude.
Yes, God desires to use His people to reach people of all nations throughout all time and is pleased to do so, but we cannot do it in our own power.
It is only within God’s power to accomplish this task of human history, and it is arrogant to think otherwise. Hudson Taylor said, “When we work, we work. When we pray, God works.” A humble and prayerful posture is a potent cure for arrogance, and key to making disciples of all nations..
On the flip side, lingering in our inadequacy is just as dangerous and it is really just another form of arrogance. Essentially, our inadequacy says, “God I know that I am not adequate for the task, but neither are You.”
We ought to take a glimpse at our inadequacy just long enough to feel it and name it, but then quickly turn our gaze to Him and His adequacy. Our inadequacy should lead us to confidently fall upon God in radical dependence. He, through His power that is at work within us, is able to do immeasurably more than we could even ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).
Colossians 1:28-29 is a beautiful place to start as we consider the task of fulfilling the Great Commission in our churches. The apostle Paul states, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
Let us assume this posture: God is the one who builds His Church, and He delights to use His people to do it.
Entire books have been and will be written about the following ideas as we consider how to fulfill the Great Commission in our churches. These ideas are simply a place to start and are not nearly an exhaustive list, but we believe them to be of great import. To dive more deeply into other ideas to consider, we suggest reading a book written by Randy Pope called The Intentional Church.
Start With the End in Mind – The Goal of Making Disciples
You’ll consistently hear this question from the Life-on-Life staff. What is our target? What are we shooting for?
Paul states the target of making disciples in the Colossians text above, “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The end goal of making disciples goes beyond helping people become christians, it is Christ-likeness. We describe this Christ-likeness as a mature and equipped follower of Christ. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”.
Mature and Equipped Follower of Christ: A Biblical Description
It will be helpful for us to be able to describe what a mature and equipped follower of Christ looks like in order for everyone to be on the same page as to what the target actually is. Here is our description of a mature and equipped follower of Christ:
- Lives consistently under the control of the Holy Spirit, the direction of the Word of God and the motivation of the love of Christ
- Has discovered, developed and is using his/her spiritual gifts
- Has learned to effectively share his/her faith in both word and deed
- Gives strong evidence of being:
- A faithful member of God’s church
- An effective manager of life, relationships and resources
- A willing minister to others, especially the “least and the lost”
- An available messenger to non-kingdom people
- Demonstrates a life striving to be:
- Gospel driven
- Worship focused
- Morally pure
- Evangelistically bold
- Discipleship grounded
- Family faithful
- Socially responsible
How will we consistently communicate and demonstrate this target to our leadership, staff and people? In war, as an airplane bomber gets closer to the target, enemy fire increases. When internal (fleshly) and external (the world and the evil one) opposition come, how will we stay focused on the target of Christ being formed everyone (Gal. 4:19)?
Aligning Everything Toward the Target
Once your church has identified the target, Is everything you do intentionally aiming at this target? Specifically, how? The key word is intentionally. What changes need to be made to move your church toward this target?
- Subtraction – What do we need to STOP doing because it is NOT intentionally leading people toward being a mature and equipped follower of Christ?
- Addition – What new initiatives do we need to START to intentionally lead people to become mature and equipped followers of Christ?
- Strengthen – What are we currently doing that needs to be changed/tweaked in order to lead people more effectively toward being a mature and equipped follower of Christ?
A Strategy for Making Disciples of All Nations – Targeting the Four Stages of Maturity
We find that people are all along the spiritual journey spectrum. While there is no specific number of stages in the Bible, we have landed on four stages that we have found are helpful. It is helpful to identify where they are in their knowledge, vision, character, and skills at each stage so that you may shepherd them towards taking the next step in each area.
In 1 John 2:12-14 we read,
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men,because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
The apostle, John, is writing to believers. Notice that he identifies three stages of maturity: little children, young men and fathers.
According to the text, what characterizes each of these stages of maturity?
- Little Children: sins are forgiven and know the Father.
- Young Men: overcome the evil one, strong and in whom the word of God abides.
- Fathers: you know him who is from the beginning.
There is one other stage missing in this list that we see in other places in Scripture – those who do not yet believe. With this said, we have identified four stages of maturity that we need to intentionally consider. Biblically, much more could be said to describe people in each stage, certainly, but we can begin here.
Stage 1 – Unbelief
Those who are not saved, are dead spiritually and if they do not turn to Christ in repentance and faith, will endure the wrath of God forever in eternal punishment. (Ephesians 2:1-3, Matthew 25:31-46).
- Some of the MARKS of an unbeliever are:
- Loves the world and the things of the world.
- Oblivious or apathetic to spiritual condition.
- Self is central and one’s final authority.
- We EVANGELIZE an unbeliever by:
- Sharing the gospel with them.
- Identify their spiritual interest.
- Clarify the gospel and remove barriers.
- Bring them to a decision point about Christ.
- Thoroughly follow-up if they indicate belief and repentance.
Stage 2 – Belief (little children)
Those who confess that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9), are born again (John 3:5-16), are God’s adopted children and have an eternal inheritance (Gal. 4-4-7).
Hebrews 5:13 says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.”
- Some MARKS of a new believer are:
- Master is Christ.
- Abides in the Word.
- Repentant and bearing fruit.
- Committed to the body of Christ.
- We ESTABLISH a new believer by:
- Helping them develop a right relationship with God (view of God, Word, prayer).
- Helping them to develop a right relationship with self (Biblical identity, values, priorities).
- Helping them develop a right relationship with others (fellowship and evangelism).
Stage 3 – Maturity (Young Men and Women)
Maturing believers have learned and are learning to overcome the evil one, their flesh and the world.
In Colossians 1:9-12 Paul prays this maturity for the church at Colossae,
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
- Some MARKS of maturity are:
- Faithful – walks in truth and desires to please God.
- Available – God is a priority.
- Initiates – to God and others.
- Teachable – to God and others.
- Hungry – for God, His Word and to be led.
- We EQUIP a maturing disciple by:
- Training them to evangelize and establish others.
- Leading them in personal ministry.
- Helping them to begin to understand and develop vision.
- Identifying their character needs and helping them mature in Christ-likeness.
Stage 4 – Leadership (Fathers and Mothers)
The mature and equipped follower of Christ is a leader who imparts their life, the Word of God, and the Gospel in order to see someone else become a mature and equipped follower of Christ who is committed to doing the same in the lives of others.
2 Timothy 2:2 says, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”
- Some MARKS of a mature and equipped leader are:
- Faithfully bears the marks of a disciple with the Word of God as their source.
- Receiving training in evangelism, establishing and equipping and orders their life around the Great Command and Commission.
- Understands and is developing in Christ-like character and resolved to be like Christ in all aspects.
- Initiates evangelism as a lifestyle and service and is working to establish others.
- Is relating properly to the Church and is teamed up with others who are making disciples.
- We EXPORT a leader by:
- Helping them begin to discern their unique role in the church/Kingdom
- Developing a personalized ministry plan with them
- Connect them with people and opportunities.
Making Disciples of All Nations
If we are faithful to make disciples in our church, to build mature and equipped follower of Christ, then we will start to see the Great Commission fulfilled in our churches. God uses disciple making to grow His church.
This growth can occur in your own neighborhood. He may send people from your church to the nations. In our modern world where travel is so much easier and affordable, He may bring the nations to your church.
Ultimately, we are called to depend on the power of Jesus and to be faithful in making disciples in our sphere of influence. With a right heart orientation, target, alignment and strategy to hit the target, we have a front row seat to experience and to watch what God does in building His Church.
To learn more about Making Disciples of all nations, check out our free video series, How to Make Disciples.