The word ‘disciple’ is a loaded word; it carries a great deal of weight and meaning.
We have adopted the English word from its Latin counterpart, discipulus, meaning pupil. (dictionary.com)
In the New Testament, the word initially appeared in Greek (as did all other words in the New Testament). The word was mathetes, meaning a learner requiring effort to think something through. (Strong’s Concordance)
In the Latin form of the word, it is easy to draw a similarity to English an word that we use fairly often.
So, what can we really draw from this complex word? A disciple is a learner, but not just that. It is a learner who thinks things through, and if we touch on our English similarities, we can take it one step further:
A disciple is a learner who thinks things through with discipline.
Now that I have exhausted (and probably bored) you with the etymology, what really is the significance of a disciple?
Jesus gave his last command to his own disciples when he left the earth: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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.” (Mat. 28:19-20b)
But what does it actually mean to make disciples?
Coming from the United States where megachurches abound, it is easy to get fixed on numbers. How many people are in the congregation? How many new people did we bring in this Sunday? How many will come back next week? How many more can we attract next year?
We are bringing people in, but are we really making disciples?
In Luke 10 during his Sermon on the Plan, Jesus sends out 72 disciples to the towns where he would soon arrive in order to prepare the way for him. But, in daily life, Jesus had only 12 disciples.
What a small number! Imagine a megachurch trimming their congregation to just 12 members. It wouldn’t receive much publicity and probably wouldn’t be considered a success. I do not presume to say that churches should have such small numbers, but I do believe there needs to be a shift from increasing numbers to making disciples.
Sometimes I get down on myself for the seemingly small number of people with whom I work on a daily basis. There are many that I visit and many with whom I interact, but those who are ‘by my side’ each day are few. By working with these few, my goal is to prepare them to then go and share with others, but they must be well-prepared first. If I were to have many, it would not be possible for me to prepare them well. And even so, I am not the one who is preparing them. God speaks through me to these young people so that they can know Him and His love.
Imagine all of the people in your very close circle of friends. I don’t mean how many friends you have on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I mean those who are on your speed dial who know each little detail about your life. There are not many, I would guess. Even more in this day in age, keeping up to date on each small occurrence in someone’s life is not easy. Now, to have a large circle of close friends in the sense that Jesus was with the disciples would involve sending group updates on a Facebook page numerous times a day, working in the same place, eating most meals together, and then some.
We exhaust ourselves by spreading our friendships so thin to the point that they are almost non-existing. And that spreading-thin seeps into the church, as well.
We are looking for numbers in the pews rather than disciples in our homes. A warm body does not a disciple make.
Discipleship involves time, and so much of it. Jesus spent everyday teaching his disciples all he knew about the Father. What time are we giving to our own disciples? And if we are not giving them any, then what are we making? Who are we teaching?
Jesus sends his own disciples out on the Great Commission in such a simple, straight-forward way. He basically says, “I want each of you to go and find a group of people. Baptize them. Teach these people all of the things I have taught you and teach them to listen to and actually do what I have said.” But the catch is, if we are to make disciples, how can we do that without a relationship? If Jesus the Son of God required hours and hours of personal time with his own disciples each day, how can we think that simply talking to thousands of people one day a week will have the same effect?
Something tells me it will not.
To make disciples is to create learners who are hungry for the Word of God and who yearn to ponder on His majesty. It is to teach. It is to build daily relationships. It is to show through those relationships the friendship that Jesus extends to us.
We are so excited in our new ministry to continue making disciples here in Ciudad Espana who will then share their hunger and knowledge with others. Our numbers are not nearly as important as our relationships, and we know that. But we are so eager to stoke the fires of those relationships so that they burn for the Lord.
It is a domino effect. It begins with you; it begins with me.
This blog post was originally posted by Jennifer Olsen at http://www.jnolsenhonduras.blogspot.com