The goal of the course is to provide a specific method to fulfill both the Great Commission and ¶126 of the 2012 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: “Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional.” The course is designed so that lay servants can take the material back to their churches and teach it to others with the help of their pastor.
In the 8 years I spent as a student in the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary, 2000-2008, I read over 12,000 assigned pages of material on evangelism, effective ministry, spiritual formation and disciple making and many thousands more as I researched my project, the “dissertation” each student prepares.
What was conspicuously absent from all this material on discipleship was the concept that a Christian person should make disciples. Normally the responsibility of evangelism or making disciples was simply ignored while other parts of being a disciple were emphasized. When it was mentioned, it was often assumed that the Great Commission was a command given to the church as a whole to obey and fulfill, rather than individual Christians. Obedience to the commands of Jesus had been delegated to the institutional church, which let the believer off the hook. At other times the task of evangelism was something to be done by those who were “spiritually gifted” – they were the ones who would obey the Great Commission for all of us. I knew this was wrong.
Outside of obscure references, only one widely known book insisted that making disciples was a task for every Christian: The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. All the others, in some way or other, suggested that the task be given to the machinery of the institutional church to fulfill.
After finishing the dissertation in the late fall of 2007, I was sincerely blessed to open the new 2008 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church to read these words in ¶126: “Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional.” Few people understand the significance of these words – this is only the second work in widespread circulation to make this statement. I have yet to hear them quoted by pastors and denominational leaders, outside of conversations I stimulate. I am hearing the concept more often in books and articles about evangelism; we are starting to realize the truth. It is time, past time, for us to take literally the words of Jesus in the Great Commission and obey them:
Mat 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
It is disciples that are to make disciples; it is not the task of the institutional church, just as it is not the task of the institutional church to obey Christ so that laity are free to be disobedient. It is not the institution that is called to follow and be faithful – we are.
It is obedience to verse 20 that teaches us how to make new disciples and how to teach them to be disciple makers. The most effective method of disciple making is no more and absolutely no less than obeying all of the commands that Jesus gave them as he taught his disciples how to fish for people.
*Reflection Question 1.05: What methods of “fishing for people” do you see taking place in your own church? In other churches? As you observe them in use, are they effective or ineffective in your opinion?
*Reflection Question 1.06: If you are a layperson, who in your church is personally teaching you how to observe all the commands of Jesus, as is required by the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20?
*Reflection Question 1.07: How well do you understand all of these commands of Jesus? What else seems to be of a higher priority in your church than teaching these commands of Jesus?
*Reflection Question 1.08: If you are a United Methodist Layperson, how is this passage being implemented or ignored within your local church? Is it known and quoted in your congregation? What else seems to be of a higher priority in your church than teaching these commands of Jesus?
*Reflection Question 1.09: If teaching you to know and obey all the commands of Jesus was the highest priority in your church, consider all the other activities that now seem to have a higher priority – which ones would be ignored? Which ones would still be fulfilled?
The photo “Disciple Making 101” is by David Kueker.
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.