"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” Matthew 28:19a
The call for us to make disciples (ie… students, learners, followers) of all nations “as we are going” or “along the way” is familiar to most of us who know the Bible and have been walking with the Lord for some years. You have probably heard countless sermons and discussions on the topic as I have. However, I have come to see a few things about discipleship with more clarity in recent years.
The Essential Call of Ministry
At some point in your ministry, you will realize that the most long-term and fruitful investment of your time and energy will come from pouring yourself into others in order that they might grow in their faith and in the giftings God has entrusted to them. However, you might also realize it is one of the harder things we are invited to participate in as followers of Jesus because of the sacrifice involved.
Ministry has always been and always will be about loving, serving, and caring for people. God loves people, of all kinds and all sorts, and He wants us to have the same heart that He has for them. In fact, this was one of the ways I initially discerned God was calling me to more of a full-time, vocational ministry. As I began to see how merciful God had been to me, I wanted others to know the same mercy and experience the same grace.
You might be able to relate. Maybe this is where it all began for you. Maybe that desire is the thing that you center yourself on in both your family and public ministry. Yet it’s easy to lose sight of that.
After some 24 years of vocational ministry, I have definitely found myself in seasons where I have become distracted from that commission. At times, I have become more focused on the craft of ministry (which happens to be music ministry for me) than the people themselves around me daily. Learning and introducing the right songs for our church, growing in my musical skills, getting the right gear, making sure that things sound good as a team, focusing on getting the right mix in our gatherings, planning and scheduling, and aiming for excellence in everything we do can often consume my mind, motivations, and actions. Yet the call of a worship leader is just as much about the ministry we do in leading people to Jesus off the platform as it is about how we lead them to Him on the platform.
To be clear, I do think there is a place for that kind of excellence in ministry, and I have a deeply-held conviction that we should always be growing in our gifts and sharpening our skills—remaining teachable in order that we might always be made more effective in our calling. Being good at what we do gives us a platform to connect with others, and, in turn, to disciple them. Yet the danger is when we spend the majority of our time “being good at what we do” and neglect ministering to people on a personal level.
Over the years I have heard some use their natural personality or introvert-tendencies as an excuse to focus more on the craft of ministry rather than the people. Yet I don’t think personality differences can excuse us from the commission that Jesus gave to every believer. Ministry is about loving and serving people, and He constantly reminds us of that simple truth through both His words and example. That is our call.
Spiritual Fathers and Mothers
In 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, 11-12, Paul writes
"But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives because you had become dear to us. … as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory."
He would also say in another letter to the Corinthian believers…
For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15)
Paul was seeking to make disciples, and he saw himself, ultimately, as a spiritual parent. When you read these verses, you can feel the sacrifice and investment he made in these communities (and many others). He was a spiritual father to many, and there was lasting fruit that came from that investment. If you are a parent, I am sure you can relate to that kind of sacrifice.
In this generation, there is a great need for godly “spiritual fathers and mothers” unlike we have ever seen before. So many people come from broken homes and families, and the need for that kind of spiritual care and investment in their lives is massive. To be clear, you do not need to be older or carry the title of pastor, worship leader, or overseer in order to be a spiritual influence in the lives of others. You simply need to have God’s heart for the people around you and a little faith to believe that God will make you fruitful as you invest in them.
Disciples Making Disciples
If you are a follower of Jesus then you are His disciple and, thus, qualify to be a disciple-maker! Remember what Jesus told His disciples early on:
"Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men" (Mark 1:17)
We get to partner with each other in the work of discipleship as we watch God change people’s lives. As Paul says,
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6)
I thank the Lord for my parents and many others over the years who have invested in my life, believing that God had a purpose for my existence and encouraging me to use my gifts for God’s glory. But not all have had that experience. My prayer is that, by the grace of God, we can be the instruments God uses to convey His heart and carry encouragement and hope directly to others who need it. What a privilege, blessing, and opportunity we have right in front of us every day to invest in others and see them grow into the men and women God has ordained them to be!
It has been my experience that the most fruitful aspects of ministry over the years have come from loving, praying for, and doing life with people. I don’t want to miss those opportunities right in front of me to invest in others and make disciples because I am too consumed with the nuts and bolts of ministry or life. And I don’t think you do either. We want to experience the joy of seeing lasting fruit from our investment as we grow older in the Lord. Let’s keep that commission to make disciples “as we are going” at the forefront of our hearts, minds, and prayer lives. In the end, it’s not so much about the songs we sing or the ministries we lead, but, rather, the people we get to know and invest in.