When Jesus gave us the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), He gave us four distinct instructions:
- make disciples
- baptizing them and
- teaching them.
Churches in the Western hemisphere fulfill the fourth instruction (teaching) every week during their sermons and on special occasions they’ll do the third instruction (baptizing). But unfortunately, the first instruction (go) is usually interpreted as a special assignment for a subsect (missionaries) instead of the church as whole. And the second instruction (make disciples) seems all but lost on our generation of conventions, concerts, self-help books, scripture tweets and Instagram vlogs.
Distribution vs. Discipleship
To be clear, I think all the above-mentioned tools are excellent means of sharing the gospel and I applaud my brothers and sisters in Christ for creatively using them to glorify God. But relaying information about God is not the same as walking with someone on their personal journey to saving and mature faith. The former is evangelism, the latter is discipleship. Both are important, but they cannot be seen as interchangeable or replaceable.
It’s very tempting to focus on evangelism or teaching crowds because you can count the people who have been impacted. There’s also biblical precedent for doing that (Acts2:41). It’s easy to get a sense of accomplishment from a concrete number you can measure, especially when that number is big. But we can't mass distribute discipleship. Disciples cannot be made by speaking to crowds - even Jesus didn't do that. Jesus spoke to crowds. But he made sure to teach His disciples privately (and more in-depth concepts) after the crowds went away (Matthew 13:36).
The Sower and The Seed
Many of us are probably familiar with the parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13:3-23. It outlines what happens to seeds when they fall on four different types of soil. For a moment, turn your eyes away from the seed and think about the sower. He’s not a random man; he’s a farmer. Does a farmer ever throw seeds on the ground and simply walk away? Wouldn’t a farmer water his crops regularly? Give them fertilizer? Check the crops’ colour and size from time to time to monitor their growth? Figure out why certain crops weren’t growing and do something about it? Seeds grow because farmers care for them.
A teacher needs individual information about each student to decipher what they learned, what they still don’t understand and what areas still need to be strengthened and reviewed. We would find it ludicrous and unprofessional if, at the end of a semester, a teacher graded a single exam completed jointly by the entire class. Yet we approach the Great Commission in the same way as this teacher. We cannot lump everyone who is listening to a sermon or reading an article under one big nameless, faceless audience, and expect that to be as effective and one-on-one discipleship.
If we want to avoid sounding like a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1), we cannot teach them with generic clichés that don’t witness to their spirit and apply to their lives in a meaningful way. To do that, we need empathy, compassion and love for our disciples to learn about their unique backgrounds, challenges and giftings.
We can't microwave mentorship. Disciples can only be made through sustained, intimate, personal relationship. It takes quality time: doing activities with each other; serving others together; praying; long conversations; probing questions on both sides; observation and exposure of intimate aspects of each other’s lives. And if this took Jesus three years, we can't expect to accomplish this in a three-day retreat, a three-hour church service or a three-minute song.
Discipleship takes openness and transparency on the part of the mentor too. Outside of the preaching and miracles to the multitudes, the disciples saw Jesus during critical milestones and mundane circumstances:
- if He was cranky when He got hungry or tired;
- how He responded to unfair criticism;
- how He looked at and spoke about attractive women;
- how He faced the terror of a brutal death on a cross.
In the same way, we must allow our disciples to see us up close and personal, to witness how we live out our faith instead of simply speak about it. Our lifestyles are the most powerful teachings anyone will ever hear.
Worse than a Slave
In the first six verses of Titus chapter 2, the Apostle Paul implores older men and women to mentor their younger counterparts in core values of respect, self-control, faith, love and endurance. He knew the social context they were living in. Slavery was a very prevalent and commonplace practice, a major industry in the economy of that day. Paul knew that, on any given day, slaves could be separated from their parents by being sold, traded or killed by their masters. That’s why Paul, in his wisdom, did not exclusively advise parents to teach their own children. He instructed all older men to teach all younger men and all older women to teach all younger women, irrespective of any biological relationship. In doing so, Paul created a built-in mechanism in the church to ensure all Christians – no matter their gender or social status - were being discipled.
When we neglect to extend this level of concern and investment in (new and younger) believers around us, we render them spiritually worse than a slave.
Kacy Garvey is a Christian poet, speaker and activist. In 2011, she launched "Rahab", an outreach to prostitutes in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a USAID certified HIV Testing and Counselling Provider and has also successfully completed training in Trafficking in Persons conducted by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM). She performs original pieces of spoken word poetry to various audiences, and in 2014 and 2018, she launched “Undone” and “Water Jar”, the first and only Christian poetry albums published in Jamaica thus far. As a founding member of the Love March Movement (since 2012) and #MarriageMattersJA (since 2018), she is a regular presenter on the science, politics and biblical worldviews on sex and sexuality. In January 2021, Kacy launched Caribbean Christian Response, an online movement that reviews the news from a biblical worldview and gathers millennials across the region to pray together and seek God’s heart on these issues.