In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His disciples as they go to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20). In that passage, Jesus describes how that mission will be accomplished:
- baptizing them (all nations) and
- teaching them (all nations) to observe all that I (Jesus) have commanded you.
When does teaching them begin? Do we wait until they have begun a relationship with Jesus Christ? Or does it start long before, while we are living before them, in what we say and do? That seems to have been Jesus’ approach. He taught, He spent time with sinners, and He modeled Kingdom principles.
And Jesus even modeled this methodology when He sent the disciples out in pairs (Mark 6:7) to do what He had been doing (preach the Kingdom, drive out demons, and heal the sick). And He drove the home the method of observing Jesus and putting His example into practice when He called them together to share their stories of what happened when they did what He sent them out to do (Mark 6:30).
In order to “make disciples of all nations,” this also means that we must pay attention to three phases of disciple-making. What are these phases? Check out this simple command to His disciples:
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19, ESV)
FOLLOWING. A relationship with Jesus is begun with awareness. Eyes are opened to Jesus, His teachings, and His life. At some point, there is conviction of sin, seeking for forgiveness, repentance, and making Him master of life. At that point, life turns from your way to following His way, to going where He leads.
FORMING. This happens over time. While human effort is involved, forming does not happen without the work of Jesus in us. We grow like the seed in Mark 4:26-29 which “sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” We cannot make ourselves fishers or men (disciple-makers); only Jesus can do so!
FISHING. Disciple-making inevitably means the disciple will move beyond himself/herself. Like Jesus who came to “seek and to save the lost,” His life and example lead us to be concerned for others. We move beyond the church building and our own comfort zone into the community and world in search of people needing Jesus. This requires the right fishing tackle, bait, and lures in order to fish successfully for Him. Each of us has our part (1 Corinthians 3:1-15) in the effort.
These phases ebb and flow into each other. Following flows into forming and fishing. Forming takes place while following and fishing. Fishing often begins while following out of concern for lost friends and family. In other words, there is not a set timetable for movement from one phase to the next, but there should be movement toward fishing.
That is the purpose of following and forming. To stop anywhere short is failure and sin. To stop short is to become Judas rather than Peter. To stop short is to keep Jesus to ourselves. To stop short is for all nations to stay in darkness. To stop short is for the work of Jesus Christ to die with this generation.
Where are you in the phases? Are you stuck at following or forming? Is someone you know stuck? Help one another take a step toward fishing. Pray together. Follow His leadership together. Care for others together. Fish for men together. Make disciples!