A message from the Rev. Dr. Tom Herrick:
In my busy world, trying to balance many competing demands, I often struggle with “keeping the main thing the main thing.” Again and again, I ask myself, “What is really important?” and “How can I stay focused on that?” As I’ve reflected on those questions, I keep coming back to Jesus’ biblical mandate, expressed so succinctly in the Great Commission:
“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.” (Matt 28:18-20, ESV)
As far as Jesus is concerned, the main thing is disciple-making. The health, growth, and reproduction of the Church rises or falls on this one charge. When we are doing this well, everything else falls into place. But, what exactly does it mean to be a disciple?
Jim Putman addresses this question in his book, Real-life Discipleship by examining Jesus’ invitation to Simon Peter and Andrew in Matthew 4:19: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (NRSV). Discipleship, he says, is composed of three elements and begins with following Jesus. We make a conscious decision to walk with him, that is, to live our lives with him, allowing him to lead us. This involves the recognition of who Jesus is, not only as our Savior but also as our Lord. Discipleship then evolves into a daily conversation with him (through his Word, his Spirit, and his people) that becomes life-changing. Who we are is being redefined and shaped by Jesus as we follow him. St. Paul talks in vivid terms about the struggle this can be as we “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:5, ESV). This transformation process from the inside out culminates in our taking on a new purpose in life - to carry out Jesus’ mission in the world. Putman puts it this way, “Jesus was going to address their beliefs (head), their attitudes (heart or character), and actions (hands) as he shaped them into messengers who would deliver the good news to the world” (p. 30).
Understanding discipleship in the context of head, heart, and hands can be somewhat sobering. For many of us, our discipleship has been focused in a lopsided fashion on the head. We have learned all about being a disciple by absorbing the material presented to us in classes, Bible studies, and sermons. But, how much of that has truly impacted our heart and our hands? Some would say that Jesus took a huge risk entrusting his mission to a small group of uneducated people that he only discipled for three short years. Yet, in his expert care, that group experienced a life transformation so powerful that it equipped them to become disciple-makers of the first order and truly carry out the Great Commission.
There is a challenge in this for us. Understanding discipleship in the way that Jesus modeled it will cause us to re-examine much of what we are doing. It sets the bar in a completely different place, forcing us to recalibrate. More than just doing good programs (which are helpful, but not sufficient), we begin investing in the lives of others like a parent does with a child. We become accountable to each other to do more than simply learn about Jesus. Instead, our learning is a life process that changes not only us but is then multiplied in the lives of others.
As the Great Commission Committee has pondered the true meaning of discipleship, we felt it would be worthwhile for all of us to look more intentionally at the way Jesus modeled it. We are sponsoring a workshop called “Disciple-making Disciples” on the Friday afternoon before Synod (November 17, 2017) to explore this in more depth. We’ll hear from a number of our churches who are making disciples and experiencing the joy of sending their new laborers into the harvest field. Plan to join us (even if you are not a Synod delegate) by signing up here. We believe that by focusing on this vitally important aspect of our ministry, we can become better disciples ourselves and reach more people with the Gospel, moving from an occasional conversion to consistent growth.
St. Paul challenged his disciple, Timothy, “what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2, NRSV). If we are to reach those in the Mid-Atlantic region with the Good News, we’ll need to become disciple-makers who are settling for nothing less than life transformation, reproduction, and multiplication of the Gospel. This is a tall order, but one that is much more in sync with what Jesus intends. Together we can learn how to move from making Christians (GOOD) to making disciple-making disciples (GREAT).
The Rev. Dr. Tom Herrick is Canon for Church Planting for the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.