In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said that we are to “therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” He did not say to go and make church members. He did not say to go and make believers. He was very specific in telling His disciples then, and us today, that we are to make disciples of Him! A disciple is someone who adheres to the teachings of another and spreads His teachings to others as well. The Christian church was created to make disciples of everyone, and everything it does should help achieve this goal.
Discipleship, however, entails two distinct aspects. First, we must share the good news of Jesus and what He has done for all mankind. This is the essence of Acts 1:8 where we are called to “be His witnesses, in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In other words, to go to all nations or people groups and be a witness for Christ, and encourage them to put their faith in Christ as well. But that is only one aspect of this calling. Second, we are also called to make disciples, or followers, of Jesus Christ. We are to do this by “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” as Jesus says in Matthew 28:20. Our job is not complete if we only make believers in Christ and not followers of Christ. And we have failed miserably if all we do is make church members.
So the goal or mission of every Christian church, and indeed every Christian ministry, is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and every activity of the church or ministry should involve discipleship. If it does not, it should be eliminated and replaced with one that does. Too often churches have activities that do not include discipleship as an element so that they become nothing more than service providers or a gathering place for sinners to commiserate. I do not believe that this is what God intended the church to be. God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) He wants the church to not only proclaim the gospel, but train and equip all believers to also be followers of Christ. We need to begin to see the church as a training center, to equip Believers with the truth and send them out to spread the gospel and equip others. This is what the first disciples of Jesus did and what we are called to do today for Christ!
This is a big challenge for the church, because so many Christians have become comfortable in simply attending church and not being the church. We are seeing the erosion of Christianity in our American culture today, and I believe it is because many churches have not been focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ, but rather have focused on attracting church attenders and marketing to their consumer choices. This is evident from surveys that show that around 75% of Americans say they are Christian but only 20% attend church regularly and even fewer are involved in church outreach. The Bible says in Romans 10:17 that “consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” In other words, we should not be trying to attract people to church through our own ploys or a slick marketing strategy, but rather to invite people to church to hear the Word and the Truth! All we need to do is proclaim and teach the Word and let God draw the hearers unto Himself!
The purpose of the church is… Discipleship! It is time for churches and ministries to get back to the basics and return to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ through all of their activities and functions!