Go and Make Disciples

Are we called to be disciple-makers? That is a question someone posted here yesterday. Do I believe I am called to be a disciple-maker? I answer this question with my thoughts today, in an attempt to clarify my thinking.

First of all, understand that “To be a disciple-maker” is a UBFism. It is a phrase that means “live as a UBF loyalist every week and reproduce that obedience in someone else, preferably a college student.” The answer to this question, is no, I do not believe I am called to be a UBF disciple-maker.

However, I don’t believe the person asking this question meant it as a UBFism. No one else on the planet defines “be a disciple-maker” like UBF does. I believe that the person asked sincerely, and honestly based on Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” as in Matthew 28:16-20:

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Here is my answer: No.

I do not believe I am called to be a disciple-maker as my personal task. In fact, I contend that no person ever was given the task of making disciples. What? Someone will say, what about the verse you just quoted? Bear with me and I will explain.

To whom was the command “to go” given? It was given to the Eleven. It was given collectively and publicly; it was given at least once when only the Eleven were gathered; it was given other times when other disciples besides the Eleven would have heard the command. At least one time when Jesus gave this command, it was on the mountain, according to Matthew.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. — Matthew 28:16-17

And “make disciples” is not mentioned by Luke. But even Luke’s words in Luke 24:46-49 were given to “the Eleven and those with them, assembled together.” (Luke 24:33-34).

Therefore, I contend that Jesus’ command to make disciples is primarily a community command, not to be understood as a personal mission, but as a community mission. I believe God will give various gifts to individuals and then wants to use those individual believers for a collective purpose, in addition to their personal purpose from God:

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.  29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret?  31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. — 1 Corinthians 12:27-31

What is our witness to the world as a community of believers? I believe that one person is not called to the task of making disciples. That is something we are directed to do together. The old saying fits well then: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I contend that “It takes the body of Christ to raise a disciple.”

Clearly, God gave the “go and make disciples” command corporately, so that the whole body of Christ would be a witness. God uses the community of believers to make disciples, as we see all throughout the book of Acts.

No amount of human effort or ambition will ever make even one disciple of Jesus. Only by the Holy Spirit will anyone believe (1 Corinthians 12:3). I believe this community witness to the gospel is something sorely lacking in Western Christianity. And it is something wonderful that I believe Korean Christianity can contribute to the body of Christ.

Is there, then, any personal calling related to making disciples? Yes! The best example of the personal direction Jesus gave is found in John 21: “Feed my sheep.” This command was indeed given personally to Peter, and in a private session.  Only some of the Eleven were present when Jesus said “Feed my sheep”. John records that in fact only seven were on that boat fishing that day (John 21:1-3). And it is likely, by observing the sequence of events in John 21, that only Peter heard all of Jesus’ words, though some others must have heard something of what Jesus said.

“Feed my sheep” was in direct relation to Jesus’ words earlier to Peter in regard to denying Jesus three times. This breakfast on the beach after a night of failure was an intensely personal moment between Jesus and Peter.

The command “Feed my sheep” is not equivalent to “go and make disciples”. The commands are different, they were given in different contexts, and they were given to different audiences for different reasons. Personally, Jesus’ direction is to take care of His lambs. Each believer does have a task of showing love to fellow human beings. When I understand “feed my sheep” without the UBFism “feed my sheep”, I see things quite clearly.

The command “go and make disciples” then refers to the work of the Holy Spirit among the body of indwelt believers who are feeding Jesus’ sheep.

The command “feed my sheep” then refers to the personal direction each believer has, that is to obey Jesus’ new command to “love one another”.

We learn to love; God makes disciples among us. There is but one Overseer and Shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).

I have gotten to know four ordained pastors lately, all of whom show evidence of being indwelt with the Holy Spirit, and all of whom have demonstrated a vibrant faith and love for God’s word and for people. All of them approach “making disciples” as the Lord’s work, something our Lord does. By watching them, I have learned that we are mere facilitators of our Lord’s work. We are important partners with Christ in this evangelistic work, but we are not called to individually “make disciples”.

What happens if we do enforce an individual disciple-making effort? The logical conclusion is that we then make disciples of ourselves, disciples of our program, disciples of our church or disciples of our philosophy. No matter how noble our starting intentions are, an individual view of disciple-making inevitably leads to propagating an ideology that we desperately want others to conform to. And we end up like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time: we necessarily redefine our neighbor as “God’s people” or only as “those nearby”. We end up loving ourselves.

Thoughts, concerns, questions?

8 thoughts on “Go and Make Disciples

  1. Don’t you think Peter was told those words b/c he was to be one of church leaders – fellow elder or co-shepherd? I think it is quite legal to interprete those words directly for those who are called to be in biblical church leadership.

    • Hi David, I would agree that there are specific callings within the body of Christ, such as some are apostles, some are teachers, etc. And I know there are multiple levels to “feed my sheep”, so perhaps it is correct to say “feed my sheep” is for church leaders.

      I’m not convinced this holds up however. Is there something you see that leads you to believe Jesus gave Peter the command “feed my sheep” because he would become a church leader? Perhaps, but I’m not persuaded of this as of now.

  2. I see what you are talking about. And I’m wrestling with this question too. If I will find some valid thought I’ll let you know

  3. Good points. I agree that it’s important to make a distinction between “feed sheep” and “make disciples”. UBF even goes a step further, they don’t just “make disciples” but “raise” or “train” disciples, and they understand and accomplish it very similar to how parents raise children. In German they use the word “Jüngererziehung” where “Jünger” means “disciple” and “erziehung” is the very same word Germans use for parenting and training young children.

    As you say, there is a huge difference between “feeding sheep” and “training disciples”. Did you ever see a shepherd who tried to “train” his sheep to do things sheep normally don’t do? No, a shepherd just gives them to eat, cares for them, protects them.

    I believe the task “feed my sheep” is for all shepherds in the church, which are actually the elders. If you read the book of acts and epistles, “shepherds” and “elders” are used synonymously. And you’re right, there were no 1:1 shepherd-sheep relations, but the community of elders cared together for the whole flock, and they all together were witnesses and cared for the people in the world. It was a community effort. No single person should get any special honor or special authority.

    1 Peter 5 is a key passage. Peter writes: “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder … Be shepherds of God’s flock, … not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

    Note how Peter particularly writes to the elders, how he appeals to them as fellows, not how he demands from them as their superior. Note how both shepherds and flock are mentioned as communities, no mention of any 1:1 relationship. And last but not least, note how he admonishes them to nor “lord over” the flock. To me UBF is like a group that tries to behave in a way that is as opposed to these verses as possible.

    • Well-said, Chris. You captured and enhanced my thinking about this important subject. So if we consider the eldership, a plurality of leaders, then yes, I’m convinced “feed my sheep” has a leadership application to it.

      Your point about “lording over” is significant. Someone blogged recently about this type of “leadership”. He wrote that if the people you are trying to lead feel fearful or are hesitant to come to you with problems or questions, or if they feel controlled, you are lording your authority over them, no matter what you think or what your intentions are.

      This whole topic is very helpful to me to unbind my mind from UBFisms.

    • Hi Kang, I would agree with your statement that Jesus’ command “applies to every Christian”. Indeed, I would say that every Christian is called to participate in the Master’s business of making disciples. What point are you attempting to make? Could you clarify? Thanks!