The First Task of Discipleship

The Great Commission mandate is clear. In our going, baptizing and teaching, we are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This has not changed for 2000 years, nor will it change until the Lord returns. The chief business of the church is to make disciples who will make disciples, and on and on it goes. In this process, disciples of Jesus Christ are continually multiplying and being reproduced.

Recently, I watched a conference video of Francis Chan. Chan is a popular speaker and writer calling the church to reconsider this critical task of discipleship. In the video and while speaking to thousands, Chan challenged the crowd (allow me to paraphrase). “Discipleship is all about multiplication, but I’m not so sure we would want to multiply this group of people here today. Many of you are angry, prideful, unforgiving, and slanderous, etc., etc.” Chan then proceeded to explain that before we make plans to multiply disciples, we must first be disciples of Jesus Christ.

Incidentally, Chan’s new book is called Multiply. If this has wet your appetite for more, you might just want to purchase a copy of the book. Whatever the case, Chan is right. The first task of discipleship is being a disciple. This means being committed to following Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. It means being committed sanctification in your life and having at least some resemblance to your Master, Jesus Christ. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:24-25).

Ask yourself, is there evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in my life? If you are going to help others follow Jesus, it stands to reason that you must first take up your cross and follow Him. You can’t give others what you don’t already have. But as you commit yourself to discipleship, the strength of your witness will increase, and in turn, you will be more effective in helping others follow Jesus. You will be able to say, like Paul, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I am not suggesting that you need to be perfect before you can help others follow Jesus, but I am suggesting that there should be evidence of growth and transformation in your life.

Later on in the same video, Chan noted, “Some of you are going to be welcomed into Heaven and the King will say to you, (again, a paraphrase) “Well done good and faithful servant. You made 8 disciples and you had a church of 9.” Sure, we can find some humor in that, but it’s true. Helping other people follow Jesus is a lifelong task that does not happen overnight. Many of us are accustomed to a paradigm where disciples are made through programs and classes. It is designed to be almost instantaneous. This model has helped us fill our churches, but we’ve filled them with angry, prideful, unforgiving, and slanderous people, who look more like the world than the redeemed of the Lord. In other words, we’ve filled our church with pseudo-disciples and not true followers of Christ. We have multiplied, but not in the way Jesus intends us to.

My intention is not to point the finger at the modern church. It is what it is and we can’t change the church as a whole overnight. However, we can individually commit ourselves to the first task of discipleship – being disciples. We can commit ourselves to sanctification and a holiness of life that will speak volumes to those around us. And as we do that, we can more effectively come alongside other disciples and strengthen them as they pursue Christ.

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10)

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