At the tail end of his earthly ministry, the resurrected Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples and commanded them to make disciples:
18Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.20Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
You’ve heard it a thousand times. Perhaps you didn’t even bother to pause long enough to read the passage because you recognized it as “the Great Commission” passage.
Been there. Done that. Right?
But I dare you to stop and ponder it for one more moment. Consider this question:
How would Jesus’ eleven disciples have understood Jesus’ command to “make disciples”?
If you’ll graciously allow me more than a little poetic license here, I’d like to take a shot at answering that question. When Jesus commanded his original eleven disciples to “make disciples,” I suggest that they would have heard something like this:
“Guys, you know what I’ve done with you for the last three-and-a-half years? Repeat that in the exact same way over and over again. Starting right now as you go about your lives, do exactly what I did with you…with others…and help them do it with others without ever stopping. When you tell others about me, some will believe and follow me. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Be sure to pull them close—like I did with you—and show them how to love God, love people, and make disciples… until every ethnic group in the world has disciples who are making more disciples. As you live my disciplemaking way of life, you can have full assurance of my presence, power, and provision—because I am always with you.”
The birth of a Jesus-like disciplemaking movement
So how did the eleven disciples respond to Jesus’ command to make disciples? Did they understand? Better yet, did they obey?
The Bible is clear. Together, as they went, they sought to live and replicate Jesus’ pattern for disciplemaking…in the exact same way as Jesus…over and over. And a Jesus-like disciplemaking movement was born. About twenty-five years later, the Apostle Paul (not one of the original eleven disciples) wrote about his Jesus-like disciplemaking way of life this way:
“Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” 1 Corinthians 4:16-17
Jesus, the Twelve, Paul and every church
It started with Jesus, who showed his closest friends—the original eleven disciples (and many other disciples)—how to make disciplemakers. In the pattern of Jesus, these original disciples made more disciples of Jesus. Later, this Jesus-like disciplemaking way of life transformed Paul. It was precisely because Paul was imitating Jesus’ disciplemaking way of life that he could say to others, “I urge you to imitate me” (see also 1 Cor. 11:1).
Paul passed this Jesus-like disciplemaking way of life on to many others including Timothy, the church at Corinth, and “everywhere in every church” (italics mine). These cadres of Jesus-like disciplemakers were the very first Disciplemaking Learning Communities—the disciplemaking genius of Jesus at work.
And they changed the world.