Missiologists often say, “God’s church doesn’t have a mission. Rather, God’s mission has a church.” The aim of the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:16-20). This Great Commission aim is the reason every church exists. Discipleship is third in the missionary task (entry, evangelism, discipleship, healthy church formation, leadership development, and exit). While entry and evangelism are essential components of the missionary mandate, the goal is not simply to be present or even to share Jesus only. The objective is to help believers mature in the faith.
“A disciple is more than a person who has mastered a set of information, or practices a set of spiritual disciplines and shares the gospel. Discipleship involves the intentional transformation of heart, mind, affections, will, relationships, and purpose. . . . The essential tools for discipleship are the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God” (IMB Foundations).
Churches who make long-term commitments to partner with missionaries in the missionary task can play a vital role in the process of disciple-making through these essential tools. But like anything in life, a goal without a plan to achieve it results in an unrealized goal. IMB mobilizer D. Ray Davis shares the importance of a healthy plan for these essential tools of discipleship (“The Missionary Task: Making Disciples Who Make Disciples”).
When it comes to the Word of God, IMB has found that new believers need to grasp three aspects of the Bible—the big picture of the Bible (creation, fall, redemption, consummation); effective Bible study (method); and major themes (e.g., nature of God, sin, holiness, judgment, salvation, etc.).
As for the Spirit of God, new believers need to know that God’s Spirit alone brings transformation in the believer’s life through the Word of God. Walking in the Spirit is a life-long endeavor for all believers. “Discipleship must be done in conscious dependence on the power and work of the Holy Spirit” (IMB Foundations).
Lastly, God uses the people of God collectively through the church to help mature believers. “Scripture makes it clear that discipleship ordinarily happens in the context of the local church” (IMB Foundations).
As Davis explains,
“All missionary teams—and church partners—should have a robust, healthy discipleship plan for new believers that includes elements such as baptism, local church membership, and basic spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, worship, fasting, and sharing the gospel. Furthermore, new believers need ongoing training in areas like biblical marriage, parenting, family life, a biblical understanding of work, the church, suffering and persecution, integrity, and a new identity in Christ that supersedes any earthly identity” (Davis, “Making Disciples”).
Every church and every church member is to be engaged in this global disciple-making plan. While not every member will carry out this plan in the same way, every member has a part to play through means such as praying, going, encouraging, giving, and sending. Churches working intentionally with long-term missionaries by following their strategy for disciple-making provide great encouragement and movement in fulfilling the Great Commission. In doing so, the church will be marked not simply by mission activity, but mission identity—disciples who make disciples.
How is your church making disciples both locally and globally so that missions is not an activity of your church but its identity? I am more than happy to help you in this cause. You can reach me at [email protected].