God's Word - In Producing Disciples

In Matthew 28:19, the Risen Lord gave His followers a singular imperative -- "make disciples!" Of course, this imperative is fleshed out through three participles that can be translated "going," "baptizing" and "teaching." The context of this command is "all the nations" and "the end of the age." In other words, it knows no geographical or temporal boundaries. Your church has been given the task of making disciples of the nations. But what else does the Bible tell us about the task?

The starting point of making disciples is the evangelization of those who do not presently know Christ. This has become a sticking point for many churches. Baptisms have been declining since the 60s. Fifty-one percent of Southern Baptist churches baptized five or less in a recent church year. I often hear people complain that people are just unresponsive to the Gospel. Here is where we must allow Scripture to shine its light on our analysis. The Lord told His disciples that "the harvest is abundant, but the workers are few" (Matthew 9:37). In other words, the seed is good and the ground is receptive, but few are working the field.

Do we believe and obey God's Word? According to some studies, less than 4 percent of evangelical believers have ever told anyone about their relationship with Christ. Yes, the Word is true; the laborers are few. So what should we do? Let's follow the Lord's prescription: "Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:38). Do you have a designed time of prayer when you pray for God to thrust out laborers? We generally resort to tactics of guilt and coercion rather than following God's prescription. Are we praying for the lost by name? Perhaps we aren't bringing in the harvest simply because we haven't recognized and obeyed what the Bible commands.

Do we believe what the Scripture says when it comes to witnessing? Paul declared: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God's power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). Some people fail to witness because they are too bashful, they believe that evangelism is not their gift or they believe they could never convince anyone to believe. But boldness in witnessing is not a personality trait, but rather a work of the Holy Spirit. Just contrast the timidity of Peter prior to Pentecost with the boldness of Peter after the filling of the Spirit. "Witness" is who we are before it is what we do (Acts 1:8). Further, our job is sowing the seed; only the Spirit can bring conviction and conversion. If we believe the Word, we must appropriate the Spirit's fullness, tell our story in His power and allow the Gospel to reveal its power for salvation.

Disciples are developed in community through the teaching of God's Word. It is important to note that God's Word identifies baptism as the next step in the discipling process. I often paraphrase the word "baptizing" as "congregationalizing." While we believe in and practice believers' baptism by immersion, baptism is more involved than the simple act of immersion. It refers to the incorporation of the believer into the body of Christ by the Spirit. Paul declares to the Corinthians: "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free -- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13). This declaration is followed by the imagery of the human body and the declaration that God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body as He chose (1 Corinthians 12:18). In other words, it is the activity of the Spirit that knits new believers to the body.

But after they have been brought in, what discipling program do we use as we teach them to observe all things? Here again, we must believe that Scripture is sufficient. Listen again to these familiar verses: "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We speak often of the inspiration and inerrancy of God's Word, but do we truly believe that it is "profitable?" Is it sufficient and powerful, adequate to equip us for every good work? Is it enough for our teaching and equipping efforts?