Make Disciples (By Serving Others)
By Maurice Smith
Three Basic Commands
As Christians, we live out our lives in this world under three basic commands which Jesus gave to His disciples (and anyone who would listen): 1) Love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, 2) Love our neighbor as ourselves, and 3) Make disciples (See Matthew 22:36-40; 28:19).
The first command has to do with worship and the cultivation of our “vertical” relationship with God, our “first love.” The second command has to do with serving others. You cannot meaningfully serve those you do not meaningfully love. This command expresses the “horizontal” aspect of our relationship with God. Genuine biblical faith begins with a restored relationship with God. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). That’s the “vertical” part. But genuine faith expresses itself in restored relationships with those around us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20-21)
And that brings us to the third commandment which governs our lives; the command to make disciples. As we authentically worship God and begin to meaningfully love and serve those around us, something else happens. Something we refer to as “evangelism” (from the Greek word euangelidzo, meaning “to proclaim good news”). Our obedience to the first two commands brings us into opportunities to share the good news of the Kingdom of God with those we serve, and to “disciple” (think “mentor”) those who respond in faith to the good news.
Two Illustrative Stories
Is there more to biblical faith and Christian obedience than these three commands. Of course, there is. Biblical faith and Christian experience represent a spiritual pool in which a child can wade without fear and an elephant can swim without limitation. But biblical faith and Christian experience are also as simple as loving God, serving our neighbor and making disciples. Our failure as Christians and churches to understand and obey these three simple-but-profound commands has brought about a growing disconnect between biblical Christianity and our postmodern culture. Our post-Christian, Postmodern culture increasingly views the organized church as irrelevant when it comes to the daily life of the ordinary person or the needs of marginalized people in distress. Let me illustrate this with a couple of quick stories.
The first story comes from the book, Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians. Jim Henderson was the pastor of a large church and Matt Casper was an atheist. In an unlikely partnership, Jim and Casper visited fifteen of the largest evangelical churches in America and recorded their thoughts and observations. One of the observations made by Matt Casper (the atheist) regarding nearly every one of the fifteen churches in America they attended and analyzed was, “When do you get around to telling people to DO things?” Allow me to quote from the book:
“Casper simply could not imagine Jesus telling his followers that the most important thing they should be doing is holding church services. And yet this was the only logical conclusion he was able to come to based upon what he’d observed. If people who had never heard of Jesus wanted to see what Christians were most interested in, they would probably start their search in some of the same churches we visited. ‘If that’s where they started, they would have to conclude that Jesus’ number one priority was that Christians invest the very best of their energy and their money into putting on a huge church service – a killer show, as it were,’ said Casper. ‘Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do?’”
No, Casper. It isn’t. But in the painful words of A.W. Tozer, “The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.” We have substituted entertainment for worship and love for God, forgotten what it means to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, and then we wonder why the good news of the Kingdom doesn’t get meaningfully communicated to our generation, and why we are failing to make disciples.
My second story comes from a recent online article in Outreach Magazine. In the article, the author recounts a lunch-time discussion with another pastor concerning “outreach,” how to reach out beyond the four walls of the church and meaningfully connect with people in the community. The author’s account of his lunch-time discussion makes it painfully clear that his fellow-pastor was clueless when it came to genuine outreach. “I looked at him and asked, ‘How much time do you spend in a normal week with people who are not yet followers of Jesus?’ He looked at me, and then looked down at his food for an uncomfortable amount of time, saying nothing. Finally, he looked up and locked eyes with me with a very sober look on his face. He did not speak, but simply lifted his right hand; placing the tip of his thumb against his pointer finger, he made a circle. He swallowed and said, ‘None! I am so busy doing ministry, I don’t have time to invest in nonbelievers.’” He wasn’t connecting with anyone outside the walls of his own ministry.
For the remainder of the article (which you really should read for yourself), the author offers eight suggestions for better outreach. Unfortunately, his suggestions consist mainly of generalities, revealing the church’s genuine lack of understanding concerning the true nature of outreach. Outreach embodies the practical outflow of loving God (i.e., “worship”) and loving our neighbor (i.e., “service”). When loving God fails to manifest itself in loving our neighbor, the biblical process for sharing the good news of the kingdom and making disciples breaks down. And the breakdown of that process cannot be “fixed” by presenting a more elaborate “killer show” (to use Matt Casper’s description) or by preaching better, snappier sermons (complete with video). As a genuine biblical community of faith, we simply MUST do a better job of obeying the three basic commands of Jesus (love, serve, make disciples). And that leads me to conclude this article with a basic question.
One Basic Question
Let’s summarize this discussion with one basic question which every professing Christian needs to ask and answer: What are you doing to love people and make disciples of the Kingdom by serving others as an expression of your love for God and His love for you? Your personal answer to this question will be different from someone else’s answer, based upon the gifts God has given you, and what learn about yourself and the needs of others as a result of your personal journey through “30 Days And 30 Ways Of Doing Good.” How do you plan to answer this question for yourself? For me and my wife, our answer took several forms: co-founding a food rescue ministry to rescue prepared food from local area restaurants and place it in meal sites which serve those in need; serving on the Board of a men’s homeless shelter and serving 40 men on a regular basis; serving breakfast and leading a men’s discipleship study in the shelter every Saturday morning for those wanting to grow spiritually; serving on the Leadership Team of the Spokane Homeless Coalition and working with people I’d never met before. What is your answer to this one basic question, so that on that day when the King separates the sheep from the goats, you will hear him say:
“‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)