In Matthew’s version of the Great Commission, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19, NIV). For most of my life, I interpreted the phrase “make disciples of all nations” as “create individual disciples within every nation.” With a mindset shaped by modern western individualism, it is natural for me to think of discipleship in terms of individual persons. But a more literal translation of this phrase from the original Greek is “disciple all the nations.” Is it possible that the intended targets of Christian discipleship are not individuals but nations? Does Jesus intend to transform whole communities, people groups, and social networks?
Yes, I believe that this is what Jesus meant. In the Old Testament period, God worked out his special purposes within the nation of Israel. But the change from B.C. to A.D. was accompanied by a huge paradigm shift in the way God would continue his salvation plan. The good news of Jesus was to be proclaimed to the nations and take on a new life within each of those nations. A nation is not a collection of isolated individuals. It is an organism, a living system, with a unique God-given character and identity. When the gospel is implanted into a complex living system, it can be transformed into something new and beautiful without sacrificing its special identity and vitality. Implanting a gospel into a complex living system is tricky business. God knows exactly how to do it, but usually we do not.
In the first installment of this series, I challenged the popular notion that the church expands primarily through multiplication. Multiplication is the exponential growth that would be generated by highly committed, self-replicating followers of Christ. If every disciple were rigorously trained to make two or more disciples every few years, then the whole world could be evangelized in a few decades. Multiplication is a nice theory, but it doesn’t seem to work in practice. After a few years, the zeal for disciplemaking wanes; the enterprise sputters and runs out of gas. It is very difficult to find historical examples of intentional, self-replicating Christian discipleship successfully converting a city, generation, or culture.
If multiplication through discipleship training is not the primary engine of church growth, then what is?
Perhaps because it is so hot here in the midwest, or perhaps because these words struck a cord with me today, I decided to publish a poem submitted by Brian Annear. I think we authors on ubfriends and our readers too, need to stop. Stop and take a moment to reflect on God and His creation. A snowflake seems so helpless. Yet entire cities bow to the power of snow!
In an earlier post, I explained the spiritual health and vibrancy of Philippines UBF as an indigenous ministry with humble godly servantship. When I last visited them in February 2011, God moved my heart to decide to move there in the future, initially by myself. I discussed this with my wife, with Dr. William and Sarah Altobar, the leaders of Philippines UBF, and I received their blessing to stay at the center in Manila. So I will be there for three months, from July 28 till Oct 25, 2011. This post is to ask for your prayer, and to suggest to you the possibility of prayerfully going out as a missionary according to God’s leading in your life.
I recently ran across a presentation by Gary Hamel, an author and management consultant who has been called “the world’s most influential business thinker” by The Wall Street Journal. Hamel advises Fortune 500 companies and writes for Harvard Business Review. He is also a deeply committed Christian. In 2009, he was invited to speak at the Global Leadership Summit, an annual gathering of pastors and church leaders organized by Willow Creek Community Church. Hamel spoke with thoughtfulness and passion about the need for churches and ministries to change. Some of his basic arguments are found in this WSJ blog post. But if you can do so, please watch the full 57-minute video presentation; you won’t be disappointed.