I’m preparing to preach on the great commission from Matthew 28:19 in which Jesus says to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” This commission too is the basis of the mission statement for the United Methodist Church which is “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Often, I hear the verb “go” as the operative word in this passage. I have preached many sermons and attended my share of mission conferences based on the word “go.” And it makes sense. We need to get outside the church and go into the world to tell people the good news!
What about the verb “make”? I haven’t preached a sermon on ‘make.’ What does it mean to make? I think about the common ways to make something. My daughters and I bake cakes on occasions. There are steps to making a cake. You have to make choices about what kind of cake you’d like, purchase the ingredients, mix and bake. To make something requires intentionality and thought.
Like baking a cake there are steps to making a disciple. To make disciples means to help people follow a method, a set of steps, that will form them into becoming more like Jesus. In our local churches, this means we must help people take these steps. It requires us to offer classes that help inquirers to the faith understand some of the basic teachings of Jesus. I have found “Alpha Courses” to be a helpful entry point. It means helping people learn the full story of God revealed in the Old and New Testament. I have found offering “Disciple Bible Studies” as an important means helping people take this important step in learning about Jesus’ way of life. It means nudging people to join a life group to help them have friends to fight back against the loneliness that besets so many people today. To make means helping people engage in spiritual practices like prayer, worship and service to the poor.
To be a disciple doesn’t come natural. (It’s not natural to love your enemies like Jesus taught us. That takes formation!) We need people like pastors and lay members to guide people in this way of life. I’m passionate in my own setting about making young disciples of Jesus Christ. In the baptismal liturgy of the United Methodist Church, we make a promise to surround children and youth with steadfast love so that they may be established in the faith. It’s a vow I’m taking more and more seriously as I see a generation moving further away from the faith.
Adults play a crucial role in forming the lives of children and youth. I remember the many people in my home church who led a “Disciple Bible Study,” took me on my first mission trip and taught me how to pray. In fact, I remember the acronym my youth leaders taught me for prayer:
R-repent of your sins.
A-All others. Pray for all the people in your life who need it.
Y-Yourself. Pray for what you need.
These people volunteered their time to cook suppers and braved riding in a van with 12 high schoolers all the way to Miami. They were not just volunteers. They were makers.
The church now needs not only people who will go. The church need people who will make. Be makers!