“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you, to the very end of the age” Mt.28.18-20 NIV.
Throughout much of the church today, there is a lack of biblically-based discipleship. It is the responsibility of God-given leadership to ensure that proper discipleship is taking place in the church body. Without a shepherd, the sheep are scattered and there is an overwhelming sense of scatteredness within the church today.
Preaching a message from the pulpit once a week can never suffice to encapsulate what true discipleship was meant to be and should be. I once heard the analogy that preaching from the pulpit is likened unto spraying the congregation with a hose; each person will get a few drops of water but no more. In the case of discipleship, which was modeled by Jesus and the early church, it is likened unto putting the hose right up to the head and showering them with rivers of living water! It is only by the latter that a disciple can grow effectively into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Jesus is called the Good Shepherd, leadership in the church are to be shepherds to the body. A shepherd never stands afar to direct the sheep, rather, he is in the midst of the sheep and is intimately acquainted with them. The shepherd knows the sheep and the sheep know the shepherd. As stated above, pulpit preaching alone is not biblical discipleship, nor is it biblical pastoring. Yet, so many of the sheep (children) of Jesus Christ get little more than a Sunday morning sermon. What is the result? We have multitudes of disciples who are parched, impotent and ineffective in their Christian lives; they are looking for the fountain of biblically based discipleship so that they can be filled, trained and equipped to serve the body of Christ and the world with the Living Water, Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel of Matthew there is a sharp distinction between disciples, who are always shown close to Jesus, and the crowds who stood at the periphery to hear his teaching but were not ready to submit to the authority and discipleship of Christ. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records that “when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them” (Matthew 5.1). The entirety of the Sermon centers on the core aspects of true discipleship and demonstrates a contrast between those who live within the Kingdom of God and those who live in accordance to the principles of the world. At the conclusion of the Sermon, Matthew states that “when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7.28-29.) Though his intended audience was his disciples, the crowd managed to stay within hearing distance. Wherever you find disciples, you will always find crowds who are willing to make commentary on the teaching of Christ but have not surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. In so many churches today, we treat disciples more like the crowds, giving them a pulpit sermon, in which they hear the Word of God, and leave the sanctuary commenting on how good the sermon was or how impressed they were with the authority and power of the minister as the Word was delivered.
This is a serious problem as the blessings for the believer (disciple) are grounded in the biblical understanding of remaining in Christ, which can only happen through intimate discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this in The Cost of Discipleship: “Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and, because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship. An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole The Essence of the Great Commission July 26, 2004 7PL2/04 conception of following Christ (p.59). In many ways, Bonhoeffer is making the distinction between what has already been described, that is, the essential difference between the crowds who hear the Word but do not surrender to it, and those who adhere and submit to Jesus Christ and are called the children of God.
The Bible has much to say in explanation of what it means to remain in or adhere to Jesus Christ. One thing is for sure, to remain in Christ, is to remain in the body of Christ, under the guidance and discipleship of spiritual leadership. The responsibility of leadership is to never confuse a member of the crowd with a true disciple. Jesus never made this mistake, for when he spoke to the crowds, he spoke to them evangelistically, and did not assume them as being disciples just because they were near enough to hear him. Without true discipleship in our churches, we can never make the distinction between disciples and crowds. The Bible commands us to “know those who labor among you” (1 Thess.5.12) Unfortunately, there is not enough “knowing” in the church today and without a structure that ensures and facilitates a biblical concept of “knowing,” those in our midst are never discipled and seldom ever produce fruit for the Kingdom of God.
It is important that we realize what the Great Commission of Matthew 28 does not say. It does not say that we are to go out and make crowds, audiences, social clubs or giving units of all nations. It commands (not suggests) us to make disciples of all nations. The church in America is failing! It has not had any growth in over a quarter of a century because it is failing to heed and fulfill the biblical concept of the Great Commission.
Let us turn our attention to the birthing of the church in the book of Acts, for in it we find much in regard to the essential elements of discipleship and the fulfilling of the Great Commission. After the Pentecost event and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and preached one of the most powerful and memorable sermons in all of Scripture. His message speaks of the person and work of Jesus Christ; his death, resurrection and ascension, and the promise of the Holy Spirit, which was wonderfully manifested on that day. His message was delivered with such power and anointing that many of the hearers (the crowd) were “cut to the heart” and received Christ. The Bible tells us in Acts 2.41 that about 3,000 people were added to the church that day. The “crowd” had become disciples of Jesus Christ and the responsibility of treating them accordingly rested on the leaders of the church. Please note carefully the very next verse: “They [the disciples] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2.42). It is not by coincidence that these descriptions of the new believers are listed directly after their conversion experience, for these are some of the foundational pillars of true biblical discipleship.
By remembering that sheep always need shepherds (leaders) to help guide and nurture them, Acts 2.42 implicitly shows us the organizational leadership structure that was placed by the early church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This verse depicts an atmosphere which allowed for not only hearing the Word of God, but also a devotion to the Apostles’ teaching of the Word. Furthermore, we see that fellowship was implemented and kept in high regard, as was the breaking of bread, which symbolizes both eating of meals together and taking Holy Communion. Finally, the apostles also facilitated and discipled regarding a regular prayer life, which is the spiritual backbone to the Christian life and service.
Verse 46-47 of the same chapter gives further evidence and description of the activities and structure of the early church. It states, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” In most of the churches today we spend little time in the temple (church building) and seldom spend any time in fellowship and devotion from house to house. How about our devotion to the teaching of our leaders as described in verse 46? The majority of church-goers hears a 30-45 minute sermon a week and spends very little time in after-study and meditation. Within our week, consisting of just over 10,000 minutes, we hear so very little of the Word of God ministered by leadership. Because the structure is not placed by leadership to ensure that the people of God get good substantial teaching from the Word, the sheep of God’s pasture are not able to devote themselves to it. Why is the church not growing in maturity and number in America? Growth is prevented because the masses do not know the Word of God, which is the very catalyst that makes faith possible to respond to the Gospel. It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that sparked 3,000 hearts to surrender to Jesus through Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Faith overcomes fear, and without faith, imparted through the known Word of God, one will never freely share his/her faith so that others in the “crowds” of our influence can become disciples.
Can you see the results of the failure to institute biblical discipleship? Charles Finney once said that “true revival always involves the conversion of sinners.” Yet, the conversion of sinners is almost exclusively dependent on hearing and responding to the Word of God, preached with wisdom, anointing and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us in Romans 12.2 to “not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” How shall the mind be renewed? Our minds are to be transformed (changed into the image of Christ) by the Spirit-empowered Word of God. This is why we, at World Ministries International, have instituted our Bible college, World Theological Centre for Evangelism and Missions, which is a satellite campus of Christian Life School of Theology (CLST). We desire to train our people so that they are entrenched in the Word of God, being biblically grounded, so that they have the spiritual stability to go forth into all nations and build the Kingdom of God. This is also one of the main reasons we send newsletters and articles out every month. We want you to be built up in the most holy faith. We do not want you to be led astray or to be moved with every false wind of doctrine.
In Acts 19.1-7, Paul encountered 12 Christians who had accepted Jesus (as they are referred to as disciples) but were not knowledgeable concerning some Christian fundamentals. They were evidently not grounded in an atmosphere of good teaching concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit, for they commented to Paul that “we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” They got saved, which is the genesis of the Christian life, but there is so much more. It is at conversion that the process of sanctification begins. The more we allow the old carnal nature of pride, selfishness and the like to be transformed by the inner working of the Holy Spirit, the more we allow the life of Christ (the glory of God) to be expressed through us. In the American church today, there are throngs of people who have had the genesis experience of being born again but never are trained and influenced to continue on. I have found that within the church today, there are so many people just like the disciples that Paul encountered. They had a salvation experience but have little understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit both in the life of the believer and concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the building of the Body of Christ.
At the command of Jesus, Lazarus rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb. However, the story continues by describing Lazarus as he walked out: “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (John 11.44a). Jesus was not satisfied to simply have Lazarus rise from the dead, for he gave the command to those around to “take off the grave clothes and let him go” (verse 44b). There is a spiritual principle in this story that must be understood and applied to the church today.
When a person accepts Christ he/ she enters into new life and is “born again” (John 3.3); being literally raised from the dead in the spiritual sense. However, just like Lazarus, who was still bound with his grave clothes, a new believer (disciple) is still bound by the ways of the old carnal nature and these areas desperately need to be addressed so that the believer can experience the fullness of his/her relationship with Jesus Christ. How will this happen? Just as Jesus commanded others to take off Lazarus’ grave clothes and let him go, we (as the church of Jesus Christ) are to assist others to identify and remove the garments of the carnal man through a biblical discipleship approach.
This removing of the “grave clothes” will seldom ever happen by hearing a sermon once a week. There needs to be intimacy for discipleship to occur because true accountability can only occur in the realm of intimate relationships. Dr. Yonggi Cho, who pastors the world’s largest church in Seoul Korea, understands this principle. As he began developing his church, he quickly realized that to pastor effectively, he needed to follow a more biblical approach. After reading the Acts 2 passages that were mentioned previously, and seeing that the early church met from home to home, he realized that this was done not just for the sake of practicality but because it provides intimacy, accountability and true discipleship. With this new revelation, he refocused the structure of the church, making home groups the backbone for discipleship and evangelism. E.S. Williams, who was a leader of the Assemblies of God from 1929-1949, once stated; “In pastoral visitation the pastor comes nearer his people than any other way, learning of their struggles, needs, disappointments, and learning to appreciate them with a compassionate love that he otherwise could not know” (as quoted in Karen Hurston’s, Growing the World’s Largest Church, p.208).
It is clear that change must take place in the church of America and many places throughout the world. If you study the current growth of the church in countries such as China, where home churches are the norm, you will find that Christians are well equipped and discipled and they share their faith freely even with the threat of persecution.
A revival of true Christianity is needed in the American church. Where once we were a hub of Christian missionaries being sent out to the ends of the earth, we are now in more need of missionaries coming to us to show us the biblical foundation by which we can carry out the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations.
I pray the Lord richly bless you as you remain in Him.
Pastor Ty C. Gulstrom
Assistant Pastor - Administration
PLEASE REMEMBER THE FOLLOWING URGENT INTERNATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES:
- Liberia National Stadium—Three days of repentance and reconciliation by invitation of the Liberian Government and National Council of Churches. One hundred thousand people will attend daily. We need to raise 120,000 USD to see this come to pass.
- Jamaica National Stadium—Three days of repentance in the Jamaica National Stadium by invitation of the Prime Minister and Governor General of Jamaica. We need to raise 250,000 USD to see this happen!
- Japan Articles—Japan: A House Divided, Unity of the Church in Japan, and Warning: Divine Messages to Japan need to be sent to 8,000 Japanese Churches and 1400 missionaries in Japan at a cost of approximately 10,000 USD.
- Cuba—We need to go back to Cuba and faithfully get the prophecy for the pastors of Cuba into their hands. We also need to deliver a word from the Lord to Fidel Castro. Cost unknown at this time.
- 116 Acres for a Northwest Revival Centre—Cost 2 million USD
PLEASE PRAY WITH US OVER THESE CRITICAL NEEDS
© 2004 World Ministries International