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Disciple formation

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Go and make disciples…! (Matthew 28:19)

Among evangelicals, this is probably one of the most quoted verses. Recorded as Jesus’ parting words to his disciples, this instruction must be important.

Yet, though many of us have the verse memorized, perhaps there is more to it than we realize.

If its usage is going to be ubiquitous, it would be helpful for all of us – not only those who take post-secondary courses in theology – to learn about the underlying grammar. These structural details are important because they introduce a subtle but significant shift in our understanding of what the verse is saying.

The central part of Jesus’ words is “disciple.” This is the main action word, the head verb. It’s also what causes us trouble with English translations, since we don’t really use “disciple” as a verb (or for anything other than the 12 men who followed Jesus) outside of the church.

Cam Stuart helps us understand what it means to disciple by likening it to apprenticing, with the caveat that the Christian’s learning journey under the tutelage of the master Jesus is never ending. One who is apprenticing is a student, gaining skills through instruction, observation and practice, all under the guidance of an experienced mentor.

Jesus’ main command in our favourite utterance, then, is to learn, develop and grow. This instruction applies first to ourselves. It’s about rearranging our hearts, minds, wills and priorities to those communicated by God.

To be sure, following Jesus demands that we speak of the hope we have in him, and that we encourage others to discover it as well. And Jesus does explicitly instruct that this discipling – developing/following/growing – happens among all the nations. But the urban legend of the Amish man and the tourist holds an important challenge for us. When the tourist asked the Amish man, “Are you a Christian?” he replied: “Ask my neighbour.” In so doing, the Amish man is not failing to answer the question but acknowledging that his answer must be verified by his observed behaviour. What he would say about himself could be belied by his neighbour’s perception of his faithfulness.

This is not to encourage Christians to judge each other’s actions, failing to acknowledge that God sees the heart. But our words and actions do reflect what’s in our hearts.

The Great Commandment – which Cam Stuart urges us to hold in balance with the Great Commission – calls us, above all, to love. “Love” is another verb that is easier to use than understand; however, the invocation to love our neighbour as ourselves makes it tangible. For our neighbours to experience our love, we need more than positive thoughts; we need positive actions.

That takes us to the “go” part of the famous verse: it might more helpfully be understood as “as you go,” or “in your
going” or “as you live,” make your life about following Jesus.

This is what the mythical Amish man was saying. Being a follower of Jesus permeates our actions and should be central to the impression others form about who we are.

As we participate in church, as we love our neighbour, as we go about life giving off the aroma of Christ, learning to be more like him every day, Jesus has two more instructions for us: baptize and teach. Jesus always starts with our hearts and moves outward. In humility, we submit our hearts and minds to his instruction, and he gives us a task to share him with others. The learning goes on.

[Karla Braun is associate editor of the MB Herald.

About this issue

One way to continue learning about following after Jesus is participating in Sunday school classes or small groups, as Matt Balcarras writes. Another is attending the EQUIP Study Conference Nov. 1–3, 2017, in Abbotsford, B.C., and practising unity amid diversity [of opinion] at the special general meeting on CCMBC business, including budgets and the C2C-MB Mission merger.Reading and engaging with the family is also a way to continue the discipleship journey. Articles to stimulate thinking and share inspiration from the MB family in Canada (and the world) are posted on the MB Herald website throughout the month. Visit often to avoid missing a story. And, if you particularly enjoy a feature or news article, you can share it with friends or your church on Facebook, Twitter and via email.

As the magazine of the MB family, the MB Herald wants to hear from you. We welcome your letters to the editor, comments on the website, likes and shares on Facebook, and your submissions. The November/December issue will cover the season of Advent and Christmas, and the January/February 2018 issue will look at the theme of waiting. If you have a short devotional reflection/testimony or inspired artwork/photographs to share on these topics, please send them to mbherald@mbchurches.ca for consideration.

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