Jesus commanded us to “make disciples… teaching them to obey everything I (Jesus) have commanded”(Matt 28: 19-20). The early church’s vision of “making disciples by teaching” was quite different from how we understand teaching in contemporary church culture. In our understanding, “making disciples by teaching” involves conveying important biblical truths, with the assumption that once people learn the right things, they will automatically shape their lives in response to what they learn. However, this information dump hardly produces discipleship. The church becomes like the Dead Sea, with many inlets and no outlets, making it the saltiest body of water in which nothing can live. Or a highly cognitive church with no visible sign of life. In my life I have known many churches like this.
In the early church, “making disciples by teaching” included both the communication of truth and the modeling of a Christian lifestyle. Dogma and experience lived together in the early church. This is the key to discipleship. The key lies in our understanding of the great commission; what does “teaching them” refer to? Sermons? Bible studies? Lectures & Conferences? Partially true. But partially truth does not complete the truth. The key is in Jesus saying “teaching them to obey” all that He has commanded. This phrase demands more than just an information dump; this is the language of discipleship or, in other words, apprenticeship – a teaching that takes place by doing life together. This is what is missing in churches today, and this is what we at Immanuel is trying to foster. This is the kind of “teaching” that takes place when we welcome one another into our homes, when we do ministry together, when we go out and share Christ together. It’s the kind of teaching that is taught and caught as we do life together. In our very secluded, compartmentalized, me-oriented, reserved, and private culture, this is calling for a radical change. But aren’t we all radicals?
Making disciples is the mission of the church. There is no other mission more important than this. But the teaching aspect of this is more than the unloading of information; it is life lived together. It is investing prolonged, real-life intentional time with one another to grow in Christ together. This is what leads to church growth.