“Love on people.”
“Doing life together.”
“Life on Life Discipleship.”
You’ve probably heard at least one of those phrases used by someone in a Christian gathering this week. Some of the phrases are downright creepy (seriously, can we just cut “love on _______” from our Christianese vocab?) These kinds of phrases are not necessarily bad on their own, but they are so grey and watered down that we are not really sure what we are saying anymore.
The most significant one to me is when we talk about “disciple-making.” Every good church and every good pastor express a passion and vision to create a disciple-making movement. We preach the importance of disciple-making on Sundays, talk about becoming disciple-makers in small groups, try to create disciple-making initiatives in church staff meetings. No sane minister or ministry denies the importance of disciple-making.
The potential danger, however, is to assume that mere language is going to fix the problem. Calling yourself a disciple-maker doesn’t cause you to become a disciple-maker. Thinking disciple-making is important doesn’t install you as a true disciple-maker. The point is, if our disciple-making is nothing more than good jargon and thought, it’s likely not disciple-making at all.
Take the popular phrase “Disciple-making movement” as an example. Every single word in that phrase assumes that actual work is taking place. “Disciple” foremost means “learner,” which would imply that someone is taking the time to teach them. The teacher is physically acting for the purpose of helping the disciple learn and grow. “Making” is, of course, a word that implies creating something, putting our hand to work to fashion and build something. “Movement” indicates that it’s not stuck in neutral, but rather, moving down the road. All three words imply action, work, constructing, producing.
This is not to say that we need to be crunching spreadsheets, running analytics, motivated by the statistics of ministry. That is never the point. But if we are not careful, we “gospel-centered disciple-makers” can get so caught up in the theorizing and the thinking that we miss the doing. We will become, as James calls it, hearers who forget:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25 ESV)
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel we see Jesus leaving his disciples with a high calling, a challenge to create a disciple-making movement. When Jesus commissioned the disciples to become disciple-makers, he used verbs like “go,” “make,” “baptize,” “teach,” “observe.” These are actions. The best diagnostic we can run on ourselves in this matter is, are we following these verbs? If people had to describe our ministry in one or two words, would they use these kinds of words? Truthfully, if we yes and amen the preacher’s call to go make disciples on Sunday mornings, but fail to incorporate any disciple-making verbs into our Monday-Saturday, I think we have missed it.
How we act is much harder to discern than why we act. The “why” can be easily found in Scripture, the commands to “not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn. 3:18) The “how” is much more difficult to nail down. But the point is, let’s act. Let’s be doers of the Word. Waking up early in the morning to have coffee with a coworker. Helping our neighbor rake his yard, and asking him how life is going. Baking a dessert for a new mom or a hurting mom. Volunteering at the local homeless shelter. Teaching a Bible study. See how that works? “Waking,” “helping,” “baking,” “volunteering,” “teaching.” Adjectives are great for describing the kind of mission we want to be on, but let’s be people of verbs, “doers who act” as James put it. There are endless opportunities to become a part of a disciple-making movement. The only question is, are we moving?