Goal 5: Discipleship and Church Planting

Discipleship and Church planting 

The goal of evangelism, to make God known, is not only to see people being saved, but to make disciples of Jesus Christ, of those who get converted. Jesus made it clear in the Great Commission to his disciples before he went to heaven 2,000 years ago:

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

God wanted His disciples to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) “unto the uttermost ends of the earth”, not just for the sake of making Him known, but so that He might have a people who become like Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13). God’s goal in giving his church the gospel is so that those who would believe begin to live in a way that corresponds to His character. That is the reason why God gave his people the Ten Commandments back in the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments reflect God’s character and were never given as a means of being right with God, but to show us how to please him and how to love him. The Ten Commandments were given to show His people how to live and how not to live before God. When God gave the Ten Commandments, He did so that we might observe the things he has commanded. Many people think that, in the New Testament, God has set aside the Ten Commandments. Jesus, however, never set aside His moral law. How could He? God will judge the world according to the moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments (Romans 2:14-16). Jesus upheld the moral law by saying that if anyone lusts after a woman, that man has already committed adultery with her in his heart; again, if anyone hates another person, he has committed murder (See Matthew 5:24-36). The Ten Commandments have been rephrased and expanded on in the New Testament. We need to remember that It was God who gave the Ten Commandments. 

We know that the Ten Commandments don’t give us the power to obey God. We know that they don’t give us the ability to obey God. They serve rather as a signpost, a rule of life, a map showing us how to please and honor God. Therefore, when Jesus said we must observe all that He has commanded us, he included the moral law given in the Old Testament with all He has commanded in the New. It is only the Old Testament ceremonial law and the civic law that concerned Israel as a nation that have been abolished.  But the moral law and its principles in the civic law still apply, and will, to all eternity. 

God desires a people that will love Him and love other people with all their hearts. God desires to have a people that will live holy lives and seek righteousness. God desires a people that will seek for justice in their cities and countries, because by doing and desiring that, and loving people and justice and righteousness and holiness, we reflect the character of God. The Cultural Mandate given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:26-28 should also be observed until Jesus comes again, because that is what Christ commanded: to rule and reign over God’s creation and to represent Him in this world.

To make disciples of all ethnic groups (nations) is possible because of three great truths: first, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ (Matthew 28:18). Because He has the most power in the universe nothing can stop Him from accomplishing His purposes. No one and nothing can stop Him. Secondly, it is because it is His will and purpose to make people His disciplesfrom the very beginning of time. In fact, God planned to have a people that will worship and reflect his glory before time began (see Ephesians 1:3-14). And thirdly, God has given us his presence to accomplish this task. He said that He would be with us to the end of the age. God has given His church his Spirit and because of that fact the task will be accomplished. But how do church planting and discipleship relate to one another? Do you first make disciples and then do church planting? Or does church planting come first and then discipleship? If we want to explore how these two relate to one another we need to ask: what is a church? And what is a disciple? 

A church is a body of believers in a local setting where fellowship, the worship of God and the preaching of the word take place; where the sacraments (The Lord’s supper and baptism) are faithfully being administered; and where we practice church discipline. Without these things you there is no church. A church consists of church members, born-again believers in Christ. The goal of evangelism is that people become members of a local body where they experience the dynamics of the community of the saints, which includes praying together for one other’s needs, loving one another, worshipping together, studying God’s word and being strengthened in the faith. 

A disciple is someone who is fully committed to following Jesus Christ with his whole heart. A disciple of Jesus Christ is not someone who is interested only in Christ’s teachings. A disciple of Christ is not someone who just reads the Bible and prays before a meal or is just a churchgoer. A disciple of Christ is someone who has committed himself/herself to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He is even willing to die for Christ. 

“And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26 ESV)

It is true that there are people such as Judas Iscariot, a fake, one who pretended to be a disciple of Jesus. Judas never belonged to Jesus. That is noticeably clear from the gospels. Jesus called him a devil (John 6:68). A disciple of Christ is someone who has left all to follow Christ, one who has surrendered and submitted to Him as King, who is willing to obey God at any cost. 

So, if we say that the goal of evangelism and making God known is discipleship, we are saying that the conversion of unbelievers is not the end of evangelism; conversion is actually the starting point of the process of discipleship. In some circles, people say that persons can be disciples of Christ without being born again through the Holy Spirit. If that is true then we have many false, Judas-like disciples. The emphasis in discipleship should never be that one can follow Christ authentically without trusting in Him as Lord and Savior. The ways of discipleship are manifold. But discipleship is the sine qua non[1] for believers in Christ. 

Discipleship is a life-long process for the believer in Christ. Moreover, one never grows beyond one’s need to learn more of Jesus. We will never stop learning more of God, even in eternity. We grow in our understanding of discipleship. We become more mature disciples, yet we never stop growing. 

The ideal setting for discipleship is the local church, but it is not limited to that. Discipleship can happen anywhere where believers are together: at high schools during a Bible study; during open air preaching; in one-on-one or casual conversations; in counseling a believer; on the Internet; in a parent-child or employer-employee relationship, etc. Discipleship and Evangelism take on many forms and happen in different settings, but both should eventually lead to fellowship with other believers and flow out into experiencing the dynamics of a local church.

Church planting and discipleship frequently overlap, although they can be separated. The focus in discipleship should be on incorporating saved souls into a local body of believers. If people are converted to Christ but don’t belong to a local church, then church planting should necessarily follow. If a church exists and it grows in a certain location, then discipleship should be the focus of that church, especially with regard to people who are new to Christianity. The goal of evangelism is to see Christians become committed followers of Jesus Christ. 

Also, in the process of discipleship we continue to evangelize, firstly because we are not sure if those we do disciple are genuinely saved and whether they correctly understand the essentials of the gospel. Also, we continue to evangelize during the discipleship and church-planting

process because preaching the gospel is not only necessary for the conversion of unbelievers but also for building Christians up in their most holy faith (Jude 1:20). The gospel is necessary throughout our Christian walk because Christians tend so easily to forget the doctrine of justification by faith through Christ only and start to rely on their own righteousness! 

May God’s goal be our goal in evangelism. May we have God’s vision and mission for the nations!

[1] An absolutely indispensable or essential thing (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary).

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