“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore GO and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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 (NIV)
These words of Jesus have become known as ‘The Great Commission’ given to the early leaders of the fledgling Christian movement in order to build and extend it. Significantly Jesus says ‘make disciples’ rather than ‘make Christians’ because this commission does not simply mean to increase numbers but to develop a spiritual maturity within those who respond to the gospel message.
It surprises many to discover that the followers of Jesus are only called ‘Christian’ three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26, 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16) whereas the Greek word for disciple (mathetes) is used over 250 times. This word means ‘learner’ or ‘pupil’, and so the Christian church, in picking up the mantel given by Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel, is to make students who are to grow in maturity ‘until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:13)
This sending of the church to make disciples is rooted in the heart and purpose of God. Following his resurrection Jesus said, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.’ (John 20:21-22), implying the continuity between the Father’s mission and Jesus’ mission and the ongoing mission of the Holy Spirit in the life and witness of the church.
Jesus sent the church in the power of the Spirit according to the Father’s heart so that relationships can be formed; pupil to teacher (Christian and Jesus) and pupil with pupil (the Christian community).
In taking forward this ‘Great Commission’ to develop mature relationships Grace Communion International has provided a number of discipleship resources under the headings of Because, Believe and Belong.
Because – emphasises our desire to reach out and embrace all people. The gospel of Jesus Christ declares that all people are loved, forgiven and accepted by God – all belong (Ephesians 1:4-6). The church will convey this truth clearly, accurately and attractively.
Believe – as people respond to the gospel message and understand that God has included them in his love and life the church will support, encourage and nurture believers in this belief.
Belong – as believers journey with Jesus and mature in the faith the church will equip disciples to disciple others enabling them to be not just receivers of God’s love and life but to share it with others.