The very first recorded words of Jesus’ public ministry define his teaching: The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God draws nigh; repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15 my own translation). Jesus began his public ministry with an evangelical call to receive the kingdom of God. It’s more than an invitation; it’s a charge. “Since the kingdom of God is right here, right now, turn from your own way and trust in the good news of the kingdom of God.” There is power in what Jesus says as he proclaims and is the kingdom of God come near. Jesus speaks with unique authority (Mark 1:22).
The very last words of Jesus also carry great significance: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20 TNIV). Jesus makes his authority explicit in his final words to his disciples. Christ’s words are given to us today also. Jesus roots his call for us to make disciples in the authority that has been given him by his Father, and Jesus promises his power and presence with us as we represent Christ and his kingdom proclamation to those around us and to the nations.
So, what does “disciple making” look like? Well, we need look no further than to Jesus’ own ministry. In Matthew chapter 16, Jesus engages one of his disciples, Peter, in two ways that define effective discipling. In verses 13-20, Christ generously affirms Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah and divine Son of God. In the very next passage, Jesus harshly rebukes Peter for not holding to the concerns of God but rather to those of humans (Mt 16:21-23). Within this chapter, we find the two essential dynamics of effective disciple making: high support and high challenge. Peter must have felt at the top of his game after the first exchange, and after the second encounter, might have been questioning the integrity of his own faith. The key to Jesus’ effective discipling, however, was that he could offer such high challenge because of the already existing relationship of high support.
Is there someone in your life who could offer you meaningful praise yet also deliver to you difficult challenge? Are you in a relationship with someone with whom you could effectively disciple them through high support yet also high challenge?
Our churches typically thrive in one or the other. We are very affirming of one another, even welcoming to newcomers (well, we greet them at least on their first visit), yet we rarely challenge or are challenged by one another in our attitudes and actions. Or our churches (especially our ministries/programs) require great numbers of staff and time, but those who serve receive very little support once they’ve signed-on to the ministry rooster. Neither dynamic alone nurtures a discipling culture. But when together—high support and high challenge—there you will find a church environment ripe for making disciples. We all need support. We all need challenge. That kind of disciple making culture energizes spiritual living when experienced together.
[part two coming next…]