And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)
This passage is “The Great Commission.” Jesus spoke these words to his followers before ascending back to heaven to be with the Father. His followers were left to discover the Holy Spirit and to change the world through one simple process—making and multiplying disciples [learners] of Jesus. Many people teach on this passage, most of us don’t regularly obey it. Below are five of the more common myths about the Great Commission that lead us to miss out on disciple making.
Myth 1: It will just happen.
Many Christians think, consciously or unconsciously, that we can make disciples without changing anything in our daily lives; that as we go about doing our own thing, disciples will be almost accidentally made. This comes across in phrases like, “I will just live my daily life and if someone wants to ask about the Gospel, I will share it,” or, “I just ‘do life’ with others and pray that they will start becoming interested in Jesus.” Many Christians are willing to talk about or declare the Gospel, but only if opportunities pleasantly come their way. They are waiting for the perfect moment to drop from the sky upon them to actually verbalize the Gospel or start demonstrating the Gospel. The myth here is that merely “doing life” with others is a straight path to making disciples.
Like all pervasive myths, this contains a nugget of truth, but it is incomplete. Living your life with others is a part of making disciples, but without intentional proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel, just doing life with others will not alone lead to making and multiplying disciples. The ministry of Jesus is a great example. Jesus did life with others, but every step of the way he prayed, planned, and pursued intentionally the growth and transformation of his followers. Jesus lived a very intentional life. For example, he did not just happen upon 12 disciples accidentally. He spent all night in prayer before selecting his disciples. He carefully, strategically and prayerfully developed his followers. Thus, he modeled a distinct process of how to make disciples (for more on this process, see the classic outline in Dr. Robert Coleman’s book, The Master Plan of Evangelism).
In fact, the Greek text of the Great Commission conveys intentionality. There is a participle in the Greek used in the Great Commission that implies “going” is the intentional action that has to take place in order to achieve “making disciples.” The nations will never become disciples if people do not go to them. In other words, “going” is the prerequisite of “making disciples.” Intentionality is built into the very words of the Great Commission!
The bottom line here is that the Great Commission will be completed only by intentional action and resoluteness. Jesus commands us today to set our eyes on the goal of disciple making and pursue that goal with stubborn focus. This means that unless you pray and plan to make disciples, you won’t do it!
Myth 2: Crossing cultures is a step beyond the general mandate.
This myth holds that only select missionaries are called to cross cultures in order to make disciples. The rest of us should only focus on people like us, in our culture. The problem with this myth is that the actual Great Commission commands otherwise. Incredibly, Jesus gave a commandment to his mostly Jewish audience to go to a mostly Gentile people and make disciples! Jesus commanded his Jewish followers to go to all people groups (all ethnos, the Greek word for “nations”). In other words, the Great Commission itself is a mandate to cross cultures!
Furthermore, the model of Jesus mandates crossing cultures. Jesus left his home (with the Father), his culture, his language, his people (the trinity) to come to our home (earth), to our people, to speak our language, to grow up in a Jewish culture, and so on. Jesus was a cross-cultural missionary and he commands us to follow in his steps, cross any boundary, live incarnationally and make disciples.
Myth 3: Jesus wants converts.
The most interesting thing about the Great Commission is that it does not command us to make converts of Christianity. Instead, we are to make disciples of Jesus. The difference between convert making and disciple making is crucial. Converts change religions. Disciples change masters. Converts follow a system. Disciples follow a Person. Converts build Christendom. Disciples build the Kingdom of God. Converts embrace rituals. Disciples embrace a way of life. Converts love the command to “baptize them” in the Great Commission, but that is all. Disciples baptize others but only in context of “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” Converts love conversion. Disciples love transformation.
Are you making converts or are you making disciples? One way to answer this question is to evaluate your relationships with unbelievers. What do you feel when you share the Gospel with others and they blatantly reject it? If you are offended by them and their rejection, perhaps you are too interested in “being right” and in making a convert rather than a disciple. Jesus grew frustrated with the disbelief of others but his frustration grew out of his love and compassion for others rather than his desire to merely be “right” and “win a convert.” Another way of discovering if you making converts or disciples is to evaluate whether those you lead to faith in Jesus Christ endure to the end. A disciple maker has their eyes fixed on the goal of helping others finish well (either in death, or in the return of Christ). A convert maker has their eyes on the goal of converting others well. Do you lose focus on your disciples after their conversion? If so, perhaps you are mostly interested in building your resume of converts.
Myth 4: When I am ready and able, I will start making disciples.
This is the ultimate delay tactic. Have you ever told yourself that you aren’t capable for some reason—lack of training, lack of experience, lack of skill, etc.—of making and multiplying disciples like Jesus? Have you ever thought of someone who is making and multiplying disciples as a super Christian? Have you ever said or prayed something like this, “We just ask you God to send out to the nations the best among us, yes, Lord, send out our marines!” If so, then you are believing the myth that making and multiplying disciples is for “elite” Christians.
I think Jesus knew the gravity of the command that he was giving in Matthew 28:19-20. He was asking his followers, most of them unlearned and lower/middle class, to go to every conceivable people group on earth by multiplying disciples of a Person who is physically unseen (after giving the Great Commission, Jesus ascended to heaven). This is a heavy-duty command! The reason I think that Jesus knew the gravity of this command is that he buffers his commandment here with two powerful promises of his authority and presence. Matthew 28:18, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” Matthew 28:20b, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In the Great Commission, Jesus gives a command along with a promise of His power and presence.
To completely put off practicing the process of making disciples now in your life because you claim that you need more equipping or growth, therefore, is actually unbelief in God’s promises! Is having the promise of Jesus’ power and presence not good enough for you to get started in the process of making disciples?
Myth 5: Making disciples is great advice.
Cultural Christianity loves this myth. Cultural Christians love to sing the praises of disciple makers while simultaneously avoiding, through the most crafty cop-outs, personal obedience to the Great Commission. In other words, when it comes down to it, many view the Great Commission as merely great advice.
The fact is, though, that the Great Commission is a commandment coupled with the commissioning of Jesus. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Jesus expressed the same truth inversely, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36, emphasis added) In other words, the measure of one’s love for Jesus is one’s obedience to Jesus!
You cannot love Jesus and not obey him. Stated inversely, you cannot disregard the Great Commission and claim to love Jesus. The command is simple—go and make disciples. Ask yourself, “Am I currently making disciples of others?” If not, why not ask yourself, “Will I today commit myself to beginning the process of making disciples of Jesus?”