Written by R.A. Goodnight
Before His ascension into Heaven Jesus spoke these words to the small group of followers that had gathered with Him, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19,20). In these final words he gave three directives: Make disciples, baptize them and teach them to obey his commandments. Especially in today’s times, we should not downplay the importance of the responsibilities Christ put upon as – not as individual Christians nor as the collective Church. This concept especially holds true for the Christians’ commission to make disciples. Let’s unpack these statements further.
Pew Research statistics indicate that the overall Church is in decline. The number of the Baby Boomer generation in the church is decreasing due to age. So much that the population of Gen X has now caught up (and surpassed in some polls) the number of Boomers. This isn’t due to large growth in the Gen X age range. It’s simply that some of the Boomer population have graduated on to Heaven. While growth in the Gen X range is slowing, we are simultaneously seeing a decline in numbers from the newest generation – the Millennials.
Here is a direct quote from the study:
“One of the most important factors in the declining share of Christians and the growth of the “nones” is generational replacement. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations. Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Just 16% of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11% identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants.”
The study attempted to dig a little deeper to identify why we see decreasing numbers in Millennials. The highest sighted reason (49%) for a new one to stop pursuing their relationship with Christ was that they no longer believed. When asked why, many stated it was due to “doubts and questions about The Bible that are going unanswered.” I pray that the previous statement resonates inside each of us. How are their questions going unanswered if each of us have a commission to answer their questions in the disciple making process? Yes, this data helps demonstrate the importance of Christ’s commission to make new disciples. There is an implication that the body of Christ is potentially not as focused on living out the Great Commission.
|Atheist||Agnostic||Nothing In Particular|
|I question a lot of religious |
|I don’t believe in God||89%||37%||21%|
|Religion is irrelevant to me||63%||40%||28%|
|I don’t like the position|
churches take on social/
|I don’t like religious|
|I don’t like religious leaders||37%||42%||31%|
This trend has not gone unnoticed by the main stream media either. On September 9th, Fox News did an article sighting the same research study I have above. Recognizing the potential gap, what can each of us do to help bring others to Christ? For this article let’s focus on two ways. The first is to simply get involved. Secondly, we need to be effective teachers. How can we do this though?
Let’s look at a less-studied disciple maker from the New Testament, Philip. Philip was so effective he has been known as ‘Philip the Evangelizer.’ In Acts 8:30 we see Philip beginning a conversation with a new believer. The scriptures tell us, “Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet.” As a first step Philip simply takes a personal interest and proactively approaches the man. This simple approach can be effective for us as well. Do you remember when you first came to Christ? It can be hard to ask questions or identify ourselves as new disciples. It can be more difficult for a new Christian to know what questions they even need to ask. If we take the initiative and approach them not only could it help the new follower overcome any feelings of anxiety, but it also reinforces that we are invested in their success as a Christian. It’s important for a new believer to know we care about them personally and are there to help them. If you care first, it many times opens doors to people’s hearts and minds. This also emulates God’s attitude toward all of us. (Rom. 5:8)
What does Philip do next? He asks of the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?” This individual responds, “How can I…unless someone explains it to me?” (vs. 31). By using an effective question Philip now knows the direction he needs to move the conversation in. Questions can help us determine what this person might be thinking or how well they are understanding what they are being taught. It can help us identify concerns or doubts they might have. Questions are so powerful that Jesus would ask his disciples questions over lecturing as a form of teaching. Notice some of the questions Jesus used to draw his followers out:
• Who do the crowds say that I am? (Luke 9:18)
• Who do you say that I am? (Luke 9:20)
• Why are you anxious? (Matt. 6:27,28)
• Do you believe? (Matt.9:28)
• Why did you doubt? (Matt. 14:31)
• What do you want me to do for you? (Matt. 20:32)
• And many, many more
By asking questions Christ could determine their internal motives, level of comprehension, as well as what was on their minds. Questions are a powerful tool to draw people out and get them involved in the conversation. Questions and genuine personal interest go hand in hand with being effective in sharing Christ with someone else.
In the story, the Ethiopian basically explains he knows the prophesy, but he didn’t understand it. Now that Philip understands his audience, he continues to share. “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35). As his third tactic, Philip took it upon himself to help teach this individual the good news about Jesus. Yes, he personally got involved. He did not leave it up to the local congregation of believers or the next Christian that the man might encounter. He started sharing the good news himself.
In today’s culture the importance of teaching about Christ and handing down the information we have been taught has slowly been overlooked. Part of your being a disciple is your personal participation in the making of new disciples. Disciple making is an effort that each of us should be playing a part in. The responsibility of individuals in the disciple making process is further highlighted in the scriptures. The writer of the letters to the Corinthians states, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it…For we are co-workers in God’s service.” (1 Cor. 3:6, 9). The scriptures effectively point out that individuals are employed by God to go and make disciples. And in this case two of them working together made an effective disciple making team. Because of their attention to this important assignment the scripture tells us that their efforts were blessed as God made the seeds they planted in others grow.
Once these spiritual seeds have grown and the new follower accepts Christ our work needs to continue. New followers need help to develop into mature Christians. They need someone to explain The Bible, as the Ethiopian stated to Philip. Many of us grew up in the church and the lessons make sense because we’ve been taught them from an early age. For a new believer, it’s not as easy to wrap your mind around many truths contained in scripture. For example, why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? What is a ransom and why did Christ have to die for our sins? A critical part in the spiritual maturing process is to understand why we believe what we believe and how to (eventually) teach this to others.
Let’s reflect on Christ’s example again and see how he developed his new followers. We know he made disciples as he chose the Twelve. The scriptures specifically mention 72 others he developed into followers as well (Luke 10:1, 2). Beyond this it is reasonable to believe that more became His disciples than only the 84 just mentioned. But what did Jesus do with these once they became his disciples? He furthered their training and then sent them forth to make more disciples themselves (Mark 6:7). In order for them to go and make disciples, they had to be well taught. They had to be capable of defending their faith and sharing it with others. Yes, Christ did not just make disciples. He made well trained disciple makers. Had He not trained them on how to go, to share, to teach – the first century Christian church might not have seen the rapid expansion that it experienced. What if Peter had been unable to speak to the crowd at Pentecost? Because of the training he received as a disciple the scriptures tell us “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts. 2:14-40).
Each of us likely enjoy that moment in Church when we see the hands go up of people accepting Christ. But what happens to them after that moment is over, after they walk out the door that Sunday and back into their lives? Are we helping them, developing them into the fullness of Christ? The success of a new follower of Christ depends upon a teaching regimen focused on the new believer. It helps them become firm in the foundations of Christ. We must take an active interest in these individuals we celebrate so happily the day they raise their hands. As Philip and Christ did, we must welcome them and get them paired with a mature Christian or into a small study group of believers. This method is the best way to help ensure that their questions and concerns are being answered. Additionally, by pairing them with established disciples they can be shown how to do personal study as well as the importance of prayer. All of this will help encourage and strengthen them as they progress toward the next step of baptism. Some of us have been Christians so long we have long forgotten the complexity of this seemingly simple path.
We are at a point in history where we established believers need to take personal responsibility in explaining to new followers what it means to be a Christian. We need to show them from scripture why we believe and why it’s true. Faith may be the confidence in realties unseen, but this does not mean that faith is blind (Heb. 11:1). How did Christ help build people’s faith? He pointed people to The Bible, showing them from scripture why they should believe. In many of his answers he would say “for it is written” or “have you not read”. By effectively using scripture we can provide new believers with forensic reasons to have faith in what they are being taught (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Each of us can play a part in providing them with satisfying answers to relive any doubt. Remember this, if we do not answer new believers questions the world will try to fill them with their ‘answers’.
All of us, individuals and as Churches, have a place in the disciple making process. Christ told his followers that the harvest was plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt.9:37). How true this is. Today more than ever we need workers in God’s harvest field helping bring disciples to Christ. What a privilege to be living at this time when there are so many to still come to Christ! Get involved! Come be a fellow disciple maker alongside Christ. It is an important part of your personal growth as well as the growth of those we teach.
References: Pew Research Center Poll