The main way that Jesus began the biggest movement in human history (Christianity) was by calling, developing, and sending out a handful of unqualified, untrained, and unlikely disciples.
It was common, in the first century, for a Jewish rabbi to have and lead disciples, who were pupils or students that were so devoted to their leader that they accepted their teaching and adhered to their lifestyle. They not only learned information, but they walked with their teacher in order to become like them.
More than that, true disciples assisted their leaders in spreading their mission. One major sign of maturity in a disciple is a willingness to help others follow.
This commission is so “Great” because of its timeless importance to Christianity and the fact that all the gospel writers included similar versions of it (Mark 16; Luke 24:44-49; John 21; Acts 1:6-8).
What did Jesus mean when he said to “Go and make disciples…”? Jesus was instructing his faithful followers to leave where they were, go find others, and invite them to follow him, too. But the deeper question is on “how” Jesus wanted them to do it.
Thankfully, Jesus answered this question when he explained, throughout each of the Great Commission passages, to teach what he taught, be witnesses of his life, preach repentance and the forgiveness of sin, “feed” the “sheep,” and baptize in his name.
Of course, these are not the only commands that Jesus gave to his followers, but they were the ones closely tied to this commission.
So, what does Jesus’ instruction to make disciples mean for Christian men and women today?
The following are five steps on how we can go make disciples in our normal, everyday lives.
1. We Must Move to Where People Are
Jesus is no longer on earth in person. Therefore, we, the Body of Christ, are his feet to go, hands to do, and mouth to speak. And where should we go? Anywhere and everywhere! According to Mark’s account, Jesus simply says, “Go into all the world…”
We must go wherever people are that need to be discipled. According to research, one in four people in America (85 million people) would consider themselves to be atheist, agnostic, or nothing.
On top of that, just because someone considers themselves religious, Christian, or even Protestant does not mean that they actually have a relationship with Jesus. And even if they are saved, it does not mean that they are growing in their faith.
So, for us to move to where people are could mean anything. In fact, the verb “go” in the Great Commission literally means “to [continue to] pursue the journey on which one has entered.”
For us, we can “go” a couple of ways: We pack everything up and go to a foreign country, or it could also mean that we just recognize the opportunities we already have in the places where we already go — by striking up a conversation with someone at work or at the gym, meeting a friend for lunch, talking to someone at a social event, finding ways to serve a neighbor, or talking with someone in our own home.
We cannot stick to ourselves or stay in our comfort zones — we must find people that need to be discipled and get involved in their lives. Christianity and disciple-making require action and movement, not passivity and immobility.
2. We Must Use What We Have
Sometimes when we talk about “evangelism” and “making disciples” we focus on the “big” tasks like mission trips, church services, or apologetic debates.
But none of these are discipleship (although discipleship might take place at them). Instead, it is simply using who we are and what we can do to make a difference in others’ lives.
Tony Dungy, a former professional football player and coach, wrote that we can be great witnesses to others by trying to serve the Lord in whatever we do, treating others with the same grace that God has given us, demonstrating our love through actions, respecting others’ views, setting the example of Christ, and using our words to share the truth.
3. We Must Teach What Jesus Taught
Many people think that unless they have a seminary degree or a pastoral position then they do not have the authority to teach people about God’s Word.
But beyond Jesus, when anyone teaches God’s Word, it is never the speaker that has the authority anyway, it is God’s Word itself.
So, as soon as we learn what Jesus taught, we can go ahead and teach it to others who can continue to learn it with us. That is discipleship. Jesus never taught that we must be pastors, missionaries, professors, or apologists to make disciples.
Instead, he looked out at a motley group of generally uneducated, ex-fishermen, and ex-taxmen, and said that when he left, he would send the Holy Spirit to empower them to be witnesses of the gospel.
The most loving, compassionate, and kind act that we can do for someone is to share the truth with them. Lying or being silent about the truth that could help them is unloving and hateful.
That is why when Jesus “saw the crowds” and “had compassion on them,” he told his disciples to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:36-38).
We can do much good for someone, but unless we also share the gospel, we have done nothing more than covered their cancer up with a band-aid.
4. We Must Invite Others to Go with Us
It is important to note that when Jesus invited people to follow him, he did not just ask them to join him during fun events and temple services; he also asked them to follow him while he was just traveling from one place to the next as well as during difficult times.
And Jesus used these times that people were with him as opportunities for teaching, correction, and encouragement. As the Greek word “diatribe” in John 3:22 denotes, Jesus “rubbed off” on others because he spent time with them (especially his closest 12 disciples).
In the same way, while we do need to be careful who we allow to influence us if we are going to make a difference in others’ lives, we have to spend time with them and influence them.
The further away we are from lost and broken people, the less we will care about them or impact them. We will not be able to make disciples of others if we stay behind locked gates, closed doors, and drawn windows. It requires our ministry of presence.
5. We Must Trust the Holy Spirit to Work
Practically speaking, there is a huge gap for us between the imperatives to “go” and “make disciples.” And in that gap is where the Holy Spirit does the job of convicting someone of their sin, confirming the message of the gospel, and changing their heart through salvation.
We have a responsibility to move, teach, and lead as the hands and feet of Jesus — but then we have to trust that God will take care of his responsibility to do the saving.
While that may be a relief to us, it can also feel disappointing because there is nothing we can do to save or change someone. It is only the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all (John 6:63).
Making disciples is not about a program, although it does require planned, consistent meetings. It does not always follow a curriculum, although it does involve communicating the truth of God’s Word.
It does not require a pastor (although your pastor will be your biggest coach as you do it). It is, however, about a follower of Jesus moving to where people are, using what they have, inviting others to go with them, teaching what Jesus taught, and trusting the Holy Spirit to work.
Who has God placed in your life to disciple? As you go and do, pray for boldness to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
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Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.