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Stop Reducing ‘The Great Commission’ to Evangelism

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This is the first post in a series that I’ll be writing on the importance of discipleship and spiritual mentoring. As you read these posts in the coming weeks, I encourage you to begin praying about how God might use you to transform someone else’s life.


Now that all of my favorite comedies on TV are having their season finales, all the major networks are honoring their long held tradition of airing the shows too poor for fall or spring premieres in the summer. Mixed in there are also reality shows, what I consider the bottom of the entertainment barrel. Needless to say, I’ve turned to Netlflix and Hulu to keep me entertained until the real shows with scripts come back in the fall.

I’ve started re-watching Scrubs, one of my favorite shows in high school and college. It has the strange brand of humor I’ve always appreciated and is oddly deep most of the time. If you’ve never watched the show, one of the ongoing conflicts is between J.D. (the main character) and his direct supervisor, Dr. Cox.

Being a young doctor trying to navigate the emotions and challenges of his profession and his twenties, J.D. pursues the older Dr. Cox as a personal mentor. But Dr. Cox, while a brilliant and caring doctor, is rough around the edges, divorced, and self-sabotaging. Every time J.D. confides in Dr. Cox, he initially resists but slowly slips into the role of J.D.’s surrogate father as the series rolls on.

The Case for Discipleship

J.D.’s need for affirmation and direction is portrayed as a personal weakness in the show. In reality, this idea of mentoring is actually quite central to our calling as Christians. Check out Jesus’ final words to his followers before ascending into Heaven.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

This passage, often referred to as the Great Commission, is typically interpreted as a call to evangelism. While it may sound surprising, that’s not what this passage is talking about. Jesus’ command isn’t for them to blindly convert as many people as possible. He is calling them (and us) to make disciples.

What is Discipleship?

This concept of discipleship is rooted in the Jewish rabbinical tradition. As a Rabbi (or teacher of the Law) matured, he would choose for himself young men with promising potential to follow him. These men, known as his disciples, would be immersed in the Rabbi’s life. They wouldn’t just listen to him teach. They would eat with him, sleep next to him, learn about his background, and closely observe everything he did.

This would go on for years until the disciples understood how the Rabbi’s teachings intersected with his own life. They were getting to see how the spiritual principles being taught were playing out practically in everyday experiences. It also ensured that the Rabbi’s unique interpretation of the Law carried on in the lives of his disciples.

Jesus followed in this tradition by choosing twelve disciples of his own. They weren’t very promising but they were deeply interested in how Jesus’ message would impact the way they carry out their lives. As he prepares to leave them behind, his final command is for them to go and make disciples just as he did with them.

Evangelism vs. Discipleship

Notice the difference between this idea of discipleship and evangelism as it’s often done today. Evangelism is often reduced to a quick-hit sales pitch to convert someone to the Christian faith. But true discipleship is letting others experience the Christian faith close-up in your life so it can be replicated in theirs.

Evangelism, when done alone, often leaves someone making a decision without knowing how to move forward. Discipleship is an ongoing relationship that is personal, long term, and sometimes intimate.

Evangelism isn’t enough. You could bring thousands of people to pray the sinner’s prayer but if you never spiritually mentored them or found another Christian who could, you didn’t fulfill the Great Commission in those lives.

Discipleship is essentially spiritual mentorship and we all need it. We all need a mentor and we all need someone to mentor. We need that person in our lives who will spiritually challenge us and we need to do the same for someone else. But here’s the catch – you can’t fake the Christian life while making disciples. True discipleship means the other person will not just hear about your faith theoretically but will experience it by watching you. If it isn’t real in your life, it won’t be his or hers. It’s evangelism and so much more. It’s a costly investment of your time, relationships, passions, and opportunities to see God do amazing things in another person’s life.

So…are you ready it?

Discuss: Have you experienced this kind of discipleship before? What was it like?

Posted in: Discipleship

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