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HOW TO MAKE DISCIPLES!
I was taught the centrality and primacy of the local church long ago. I don’t remember exactly when I heard it – but it must have been very early because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe it. Everything in the New Testament is centered in local churches. Jim Gent said, “The word ‘church’ is used about 100 times in the New Testament...The church is not some afterthought of God...To the early Christians, the local church was the divinely ordained unit through which God chose to work, and the only such unit” (Jim Gent, The Local Church: God’s Plan for Planet Earth, Smyrna Publications, 1994, pp. 81, 83, 84).
The Greek word translated “church” is “ekklesia” – it means an assembly of called out ones – the gathered flock of those God called out of the world, and joined together in Christ by His Spirit. Properly speaking, we do not “go to church.” We that are saved are the church! Christ told us about the founding of the church in Matthew 16:17, 18. Then He told us about the discipline and authority of a church in Matthew 18:15-20. But it is in the Great Commission that Christ tells us what a church is supposed to do, what its purpose and mission is. In Mark 16:15 Christ said,
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
This commandment to go into all the world is repeated several times. But that is not the main theme of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, 20. Dr. W. A. Criswell said, “The commission of Jesus was to the...church in every age. The imperative word in the commission is ‘teach all nations,’ more literally rendered ‘make disciples’” (The Criswell Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979; note on Matthew 28:19-20).
Some have said that this command was given only to the Apostles. That is a false view. We only have to read the Book of Acts to see that all the New Testament churches believed this as a command given to them – and to all churches. And Dr. Criswell also pointed out “teach all nations” is in the imperative mood and literally means “make disciples.” My long-time pastor Dr. Timothy Lin was one of the translators of the New American Standard Bible. He taught at Talbot Theological Seminary and went on to be the president of China Evangelical Seminary. Dr. Lin gave this explanation of Matthew 28:19-20.
There are four verbs in the Great Commission: “go,” “make disciples,” “baptize” and “teach.” Only the verb “make disciples” is in the imperative mood; all the other three are participles or verbal adjectives. Therefore, the precise translation should be:
Going therefore, you must make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
In other words, “go” is not a command [here], but “make disciples” is, and it is also the main theme of the Great Commission (Timothy Lin, S.T.M., Ph.D., The Secret of Church Growth, FCBC, 1992, p. 59).
Albert Barnes said the same thing, “The word [teach] properly means ‘disciple’ or ‘make disciples of’” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Baker Book House, 1983 edition; note on Matthew 28:19). The New International Version translates it as “make disciples” (NIV, Matthew 28:19). Dr. R. C. H. Lenski, the Lutheran commentator, also translates it this way, “Having gone, therefore, disciple all nations” (The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961 edition, p. 1170). “Make disciples” is also the translation given by Charles John Ellicott and John Peter Lange in their commentaries. William Hendriksen said, “‘Having gone, therefore, make disciples’ is by itself imperative. It is a brisk command, an order” (The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Book House, 1981 edition, p. 999). Therefore, the theme of the Great Commission is the mission and purpose of a local church. Everything we do in the local church should be centered around going and making disciples, then baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded. The local church is to be a training center to “make disciples of all nations.” Everyone who pays careful attention to my sermons knows that I admire Dr. John R. Rice.
I don’t agree with him on every point, but I strongly agree with his emphasis on winning souls. Listen to Dr. Rice expound the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19, 20. Dr. Rice said,
Nearly everyone will agree that the Great Commission plan by the Saviour demands that soul winning have priority, that soul winning is the main business of Christians, pastors and churches...[“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations”] Notice that “teach” here does not mean expounding the Scriptures to Christians. It means “to make disciples.” The Greek word is “matheteuo,” meaning “to make a disciple”...So, the first teaching commanded in the Great Commission is to make disciples (John R. Rice, D.D., Litt.D., Why Our Churches Do Not Win Souls, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1966, p. 22).
The Greek word translated “disciple” is described perfectly by W. E. Vine – “a disciple is not only a pupil [student], but [also] an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teachers” (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Fleming H. Revell Publishers, 1966 edition, p. 316).
But the question arises – how do we recruit new disciples? I think that is a critical question in our time. We have found that many of the old methods, which may have worked in the past, do not get new people into the local church today. They just don’t work! Passing out tracts doesn’t get new disciples into a church. Hanging invitations on doorknobs doesn’t do it. Going door-to-door and praying the so-called “sinner’s prayer” with people doesn’t do it. Everybody who seriously tries these old methods knows they don’t get new disciples into a church.
When I was first converted I was reading John Wesley’s Journal. It was John Wesley’s method to go out and preach in the fields. Some people would then come to him and he would form them into small groups. I thought that was the way to evangelize. So each day after work I would go out on the streets in downtown Los Angeles and preach. But there was very little results. I was able to hopefully lead an elderly couple to Christ in their home, after the husband heard me preach on the street. But those two people were the only fruit after preaching on the street for two years!
Next I tried passing out tracts. When we started this church we passed out tracts constantly. I estimate that we gave out nearly half a million salvation tracts. They were our own tracts, with the name and phone number of the church. But, after several years, and having given out tens of thousands of tracts, we did not receive even one person into our church! Not one!
Then we tried going door to door and teaching the plan of salvation. Finally I made a tape recording, explaining how to be saved. Our people played that tape recording to hundreds upon hundreds of lost people. Very few people, almost none, came into the church! None of the few that came were young people. I can't think of even one who stayed with us!
Finally we tried a simple invitation. We didn’t take a Bible, or tracts, or any other literature. We started sending our people out to the malls, colleges, and some selected street corners. They would approach people and have a casual conversation with them. They would invite the people to come to a party at our Baptist church. They would then ask the person for their first name and phone number. We would focus on young people. Dr. Timothy Lin said, “According to statistics, the percentage of people over 40 years old who receive Christ is extremely small, especially among Chinese” (ibid., p. 73). Actually, however, it is even lower among non-Chinese! Other statistics show that almost all conversions (90% or more) occur before the age of 30. It amazes me that so many preachers in the last days put almost all their soul-winning efforts on older adults, when all studies show they are the most resistant age group! Dr. Lin said we should put most of our effort into discipling young people. So we target those between 16 and 25. Many preachers in the last days want immediate results. Therefore they seek, by all means, to get “ready-made” Christians from other churches. They get people to leave their old church and come with them. Dr. James Dobson said almost all growth in our churches is by transfers. This is a tragic situation. Preachers are forced to do this because they do not know how to get new disciples from the lost world. Many preachers have no idea how to attract lost people and get them discipled and converted. They have no idea what to do! They can only “steal sheep” from other churches! No wonder there is no revival!
When our people come back from “evangelism” they turn in the names and phone numbers they get to the phoners. The phoners have learned how to call these people and invite them to be with us. We tell them exactly what they are coming to – I will speak, then we will have a birthday party and a meal together. There is always someone who is having a birthday within a few days! After the new people have come for a few weeks we invite them to go to evangelism. We do not wait for them to be converted. We follow the example of Jesus. He called Simon Peter, doubting Thomas, and others to follow Him as disciples before they understood the Gospel and were converted. Judas was a disciple for three years without ever being converted. Thus, they became disciples before they were saved! That is the method Jesus used. And it is the only method I have tried that works!
Furthermore, Jesus did not “ease” them into discipleship. No! He plunged them into it! Notice how He called the first disciples. We are told that Jesus saw Simon Peter and Andrew fishing. Jesus said to them, “Follow me” and immediately they left their nets and followed Him (see Matthew 4:19, 20). Then Jesus saw James and John in a small boat. He called them. “And they immediately left the ship...and followed him” (Matthew 4:21, 22). They had no idea who He was. They said, “What manner of man is this?” (Matthew 8:27). By this time He had twelve Disciples. They didn’t even know who He was yet. What did Jesus do? He sent them out two by two to evangelize! Then he led them into one conflict with the Pharisees after the other. They met the Rich Young Ruler. He asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus said, “Sell what you have, and give the money to the poor, and come and follow me” (cf. Matthew 19:21). The rich young man went away sorrowful. He did not become a disciple.
Then Jesus told His Disciples that He was going to Jerusalem to be crucified. They had no idea what He meant. About three years had gone by and they still didn’t understand the Gospel! They learned to be disciples before they were born again! When Jesus was arrested and taken away to be crucified, they all ran away, and finally hid in an upper room. On Easter Sunday evening the resurrected Jesus came to them. They were overjoyed when they saw Him alive! Then He breathed on them, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, “I personally believe that at the moment our Lord breathed on them and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost,’ these men were regenerated [born again]. Before this they had not been indwelt by the Spirit of God” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, volume IV, p. 498; note on John 20:22).
I think Dr. McGee was exactly right. But even if you don’t completely agree with that last point, it’s clear that Christ discipled the Apostles in a completely different way from what our churches do today. He made them disciples before anything else.
For the last hundred years we have tried to “lead” people to Christ first. And only afterwards did we “follow up” on them. Christ did it the exact opposite. It is my hope that some will turn away from that failed method – and go back to the way Jesus made disciples. And, if you are here with us, I am asking you to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Come all the way into our church! Take up the cross and follow Christ! Come Sunday morning and Sunday night! And come to the Saturday evening prayer meeting too! Learn to live a serious Christian life. Then trust Jesus and be born again – and washed clean from all sin by His Blood. Amen.
I am asking you to come with us. I am asking you to become a disciple of Christ – one who learns from Him and follows Him. I am asking you to come all the way into our church, on Sunday morning, Sunday night – and Saturday night, for prayer and evangelism. Come with us and Christ will make you a “fisher of men!” He will make you a soul winner – a fisher of men! Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Sing that chorus with me!
I will make you fishers of men,
Fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men
If you follow Me.
If you follow Me, If you follow Me,
I will make you fishers of men
If you follow Me!
(“I Will Make You Fishers of Men” by Harry D. Clarke, 1888-1957).
Bring them in, bring them in,
Bring them in from the fields of sin;
Bring them in, bring them in,
Bring the wand’ring ones to Jesus.
(“Bring Them In” by Alexcenah Thomas, 19th century).
Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sin. He shed His precious Blood to cleanse you from all sin. He rose from the dead to give you eternal life. Trust Jesus and He will save you. Come with us to win souls. Amen.
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(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Matthew 28:16-20.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Bring Them In” (by Alexcenah Thomas, 19th century).