I love Matthew 28, which is referred to as the Great Commission. I love the mandate to spread the good news of Jesus. I am committed to be the hands and feet of God to the people around me. For many years, however, I misunderstood what Jesus meant. I always thought the command was "go." In fact, the primary command is "make disciples." The "go" is kind of an assumption, like "as you go on your way, make disciples," or "everywhere you go, make disciples."
What kind of discipleship is Jesus telling us to engage in? Having been in the church for over half a century, I've seen many different definitions of discipleship. We've seen discipleship groups who read through the latest self-help book by esteemed authors. We've seen the youth pastor having regular coffee meetings with younger students. We've seen older church members conduct classes for young Christians, teaching them everything from doctrine and theology to the "proper way" to be a church member.
Perhaps Paul gives us the best definition of discipleship in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 when he urges the church members to follow his example. He puts the same expectations upon all church leaders when he says, "Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do (Phil. 3:17)." It appears that becoming "Christ-like" is a prerequisite for church leadership so that these leaders might be an example to younger Christians.
How does this happen? Through relationships. The first person to mentor my brother and me was Scott. He was a college student at our church, and I was a 7-year-old kid. He took us to lunch, to movies, to just hang out and talk about God. He had time for us and invested in us.
Romans 12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." We are to be transformed into the image of Christ. That's a tall task. 2 Corinthians 3:4 reminds, "Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God." It appears that God, through the Holy Spirit works in his children to continually transform them into his image. In this way we become a living model of Christ on Earth.
Discipleship is a continual growth process in which both mentor and mentored are being transformed into the very person God has made them to be. It is God's will to see the church and the world filled with those who are being continually made into his image so that they can disciple others, who then are examples for more people, and on and on. From the oldest in the church to the youngest, you help to create a group of continually transformed people. The Holy Spirit does his work as we yield ourselves to him.