What do we do now?
The entire missionary enterprise is based on two well-known passages of scripture, both given at the end of Jesus’ time here on earth. They were his parting instructions for his followers, the preemptive answer to their driving question once Jesus was gone – “What do we do now?” For better or for worse, we have been trying to obey that leading ever since. So, what do those two passages say?
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." Matt 28:18-20 (NIV)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8 (NIV)
Verbs often give us the main push of a passage. In Matthew, we have “go,” “make,” “baptize,” and “teach” and the verb “to be” in Acts. The Great Commission (GC) involves both doing and being. We are supposed to go and do (make disciples, baptize, and teach), and we are to be witnesses about who Jesus is and what he has done in and through our lives. To dive deep into what this means for us could fill a book, so let’s focus on the first thing briefly. “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Go and Do
“Go” is self-explanatory, especially in the context of Acts 1:8. We are to go everywhere in the world, to all people groups. To “make disciples” is a little more complex. As an agency, we ask, “What does a discipled nation look like?”
One possible answer has been that a discipled nation has a Christ-following church within walking distance of every person. But is that what being “discipled” means? It could lead to discipled people or a discipled nation, but there are undoubtedly other steps that need to be taken. Another possible answer is that most of the country’s population follows Jesus as disciples would. Both solutions are challenging to realize, but they remain goals for many agencies.
A disciple in Jesus’ day was someone who left their previous life behind and followed a teacher to learn from them, to pattern their lives after them, at least for a while. This was common. Many rabbis had disciples. Today this looks different. You may be a disciple of an influencer through media or a disciple of the teachings of your church pastor. We no longer leave everything to follow them around, but we may spend a lot of time reading what they write and watching what they do, seeking to let them guide us in our life decisions.
Being a disciple of Jesus means that we read about what he said and did, recorded for us in scripture, and change our lives to act and react like him and follow his instructions. That is the “being” part of the GC. But there is more. Making disciples of Jesus is teaching others about what he said and did and helping them model their lives after him. We lead by example, but ultimately change needs to happen in others.
What’s your part?
“Impossible,” you may say, and you would be right. You can’t force someone to be like Jesus. Actual inner change happens because God is at work through the Holy Spirit, in and through you, and within the people with whom you interact. God does the work and chooses to use us in the process. This mysterious partnership is at the core of missions, and the hoped-for result is discipled nations.
What part is God asking you to play? What does discipleship mean in your life, and how are you living that out as an example for others?