“We've had more decisions for Christ in Africa than there are people." The words of the missionary visiting our church service stuck in my head like the chorus to a pop song.
It reminded me of the quote by Francis Chan, "Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter.”
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to become “successful” at running up the score on decisions for Christ while neglecting the great commission of Jesus to make disciples for Christ.
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” —Matthew 28:20, The Message
Discipleship Takes Time
We've dedicated ourselves to the glorification of a one-time act and abandoned the transformation of the journey.
Not because it's complicated to make disciples, but because it's difficult to make disciples. It takes time, and we're in a hurry for some unknown reason, racing against an imaginary clock to see who can “die with the most things.” We humans are funny that way.
Discipleship is Messy
Have you ever built anything with your hands? Making things is intrinsically messy. Whether it's your favorite meal in the kitchen or something you build in the garage . . . you always end up with a mess on your hands that you have to clean up.
True discipleship is like making things—it’s making people for God—and it’s messy. When Jesus said, "Go and make disciples,” he definitely knew it was going to take time, and be messy. Jesus himself had spent years investing into a small crew of guys—teaching them all he knew, and showing them the way to true life.
Discipleship is Difficult
It's a simple command that Jesus gave us, yet extremely difficult. True gospel-centered discipleship not only produces difficult personal transformation in the people we are discipling; it also produces difficult personal transformation in our own hearts as well.
Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. – James 3:1-2, The Message
It takes an investment of our time, attention, and resources. But what is made through this process stands the test of time like a beautiful piece of antique furniture.
Our Purpose is Clear
The primary purpose in life for every disciple of Jesus couldn't be any clearer in the Bible—to disciple others.
We should all have people in our lives who are discipling us, and we should all embrace our chief purpose by eventually looking for other people we can disciple. This isn’t just a job for pastors.
Good friend, don’t forget all I’ve taught you; take to heart my commands. They’ll help you live a long, long time, a long life lived full and well. —Proverbs 3:1, The Message
Disciple Three People for Life
You may never fill large stadiums through the simple, yet difficult process of discipleship . . . well, at least not at first.
If you discipled just three people over your lifetime, with the purpose of them each finding three people to disciple over their lifetime and continue to pass on this process . . . you are traveling a very slow road, which does not lead to earthly fame.
In fact, after five years of this grueling, messy and time consuming life, you’ll find that because of your dedication to obey Jesus’ command, you will have become the catalyst for a whopping 363 disciples.
I don't think any statues will be built in your honor or roads named after you for this crowning achievement. But, you might begin to see something amazing as those 363 grow deeper and mature in their faith, being transformed into the image of Christ.
Don’t give this vision up. If you keep going, you'll find yourself five years down the road and those original three who you are still making into disciples for a lifetime have become the catalyst for 88,572 maturing disciples.
Now, you might start turning heads, but I doubt it, because if you're doing it right, you're still humbly devoted to the insignificant beauty of leading just three disciples you've been entrusted with for a lifetime.
Just as we entrust the earth with an insignificant seed, so are we who are entrusted to disciple. And the last time I checked, no one was throwing any celebrations for dirt. Unless you count earth day I guess.
This dedication to discipleship is simple, not rocket science. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it's easy.
By now it gets even more exciting, because as you are still discipling just three other people into disciples over your lifetime, you’ll find yourself twenty-one years down the road from when you started making your three disciples for a lifetime. And while you are still only directly connected to the one who is making you into a disciple, the others that person is making into disciples with you and the three you are making into disciples; your little seed has grown into a mighty giant redwood.
In fact, in those twenty-one years your little discipleship group has grown to cover the entire planet with maturing disciples of Jesus. "How many?" you ask. It's 15,681,672,913 disciples. There are not even that many people on the planet yet.
So you see, true discipleship isn't easy, but it is simple, and it's the command we've been given. Will you accept the challenge? We hope you will, and we look forward to meeting you and the three people you are making into disciples for a lifetime on the journey of discipleship.
Joe Jestus is the Vice President of Development at Targeted Content Marketing, husband of 13 years, and happy dad of four amazing kids.