The greatest tragedy in the modern church today is the vast amount of undiscipled disciples who occupy the pews around the world. But it shouldn't be this way.
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he left us with a mission. In Matthew 28:18, he announced that "all authority over heaven and earth has been given to Him." Then, he directed his closest followers to "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" (Matthew 28:19).
If you walk into any Christian church in the world and ask believers what the Great Commission is, this is the verse they would recite. However, there is a big difference between knowing and doing.
One reason the church has been in a discipleship coma for 400 years may be the translation of one word. The original translators of the King James version of the Bible rendered the Greek word for "make disciples" as "teach." Matthew 28:19 in the King James version reads, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..."
Many diligent believers through the centuries have read this word and merely taught people about salvation -- sharing the Gospel and leading them to a decision for Christ. This is important and admirable and certainly a start, but it is not the end. More is required to make a disciple of Jesus Christ. After a person moves from death to life, the real work begins. Making disciples requires equipping, training and investing in believers.
So what is discipleship? We could say that it's "intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ." In other words, a disciple learns what Jesus said and lives out what Jesus did (Matthew 28:19).
Do you know how many times the word "Christian" appears in the Bible? Only three times (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). In its two occurrences in Acts, which present the history of the term, it is used as a derogatory slur. In fact, "Christian" was likely coined as a term of derision. Those who despised Christ displayed their disgust for his followers by calling them "Little Christs." It wasn't until years after Christ's ascension that the term was used in a positive light.
On the other hand, the term "disciple" appears 269 times in the New Testament, with 238 of those occurring in the four Gospels (the root word is used 281 times in the New Testament and 250 times in the Gospels alone). Why is this so important? Because Christ did not come to make Christians; he came to make disciples. Immediately before leaving this world to return to heaven, he commanded us -- his disciples -- to carry on that work in his absence.
But before a person can make disciples, he or she must first be a disciple. So what does it mean to be a disciple? At the very core, a disciple is a learner, one whose focus is set on growing and developing. In nearly every sphere of life, people learn specific skills from someone else who has developed those skills. An electrical certification is attained only after an extensive apprenticeship with a more experienced electrician. When a prospective doctor finishes medical school, he or she invests several years in a residency, a time of shadowing an experienced physician.
This concept of learning directly through the expertise and experience of another is the foundation of what Jesus envisioned when He used the term "disciple."
So let me leave you with 2 questions: "Who are you discipling?" And "Who is discipling you?"
Robby Gallaty is the senior pastor of Brained Baptist Church. He and his wife Kandi have 2 boys: Rig and Ryder.