Six years ago, in Christianity Today magazine, John Stott was asked for his assessment of the growth of the evangelical church. This was his reply:
The answer is “growth without depth.” None of us wants to dispute the extraordinary growth of the church. But it has been largely numerical and statistical growth. And there has not been sufficient growth in discipleship that is comparable to the growth in numbers.
Although our growth is wide, wide as the ocean, it’s about as deep as a puddle. Why is that? What is going wrong? Over the next five weeks, I’m going to suggest five reasons we don’t disciple – or at least disciple well.
But first, why disciple at all? The key passage, I think, is Matthew 28:18-20:
Then Jesus came to [the eleven disciples] and said, ‘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…’
Now the question is, does this command apply only to the eleven disciples Jesus was speaking to, or does it also apply to every Christian disciple?
Sometimes translations give the impression that “go” is the emphasis of the command – which is why this verse kicked off the modern missionary movement. But actually, the main verb of the sentence is “make disciples”.
Notice too that the verb “go” is better translated as “when you go” or “as you go”. As one commentator has put it, “Jesus’ commission here is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.”
The theologian Don Carson concludes:
…the injunction is given at least to the Eleven, but to the Eleven in their own role as disciples. Therefore they are paradigms for all disciples… It is binding on all Jesus disciples to make others what they themselves are – disciples of Jesus Christ.
Seems clear enough. So why isn’t everyone doing it? Starting next week, I’ll suggest five reasons – several of which may surprise you…