Collecting vs. Making Disciples

By Joel A. Hess

I often forget a little detail in our Lord’s command to His church in Matthew 28. He says, “Go and make disciples…” Every time I read and reread this almost cliché passage, I am reminded that Jesus tells us He is going to “make” disciples. It will be something done to people. No one will be waiting at the church door knocking to come in. 

 “Making disciples” implies that no one is going to “come to the cross,” “come to their senses,” or “sign up on the sign-up sheet” hoping to be selected. No one came to the birth of our Lord except those called by God. No one came to the empty tomb except those expecting to find a dead body. Jesus made every disciple we read about in the New Testament, from Mary and Joseph to Matthew the tax collector and Mary Magdalene.

He did this by the power of His Word and words. Every single person who has come to faith in Christ was once stone-cold dead—worse, an enemy of God. As Jesus says in John 8, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus finds us. We don’t find Him. So He calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He is the “Good” Shepherd because He is the Shepherd David talks about in Psalm 23. But He is also really good at being a Shepherd! Just as God found Adam and Eve and made them into believers of His grace, so He finds lost, scared, dying people and does the same. He does this through His church, that is, through other believers in Christ.

While I give lip service to this directive of Jesus, I often times find myself collecting disciples instead. I think many of us pastors and fellow disciples do the same. It’s our default disposition. We look for people who look like us, believe like us, have the same political views as us, talk like us, and live lives like us. Ironically, it has been my experience that those people are the hardest to convert.

Social media probably hasn’t helped us, and neither has the increasing habit of putting our whole lives into political party categories. By doing so, we put a barrier up before we can even start to share the good news of Christ!

I get it. If we only live by sight and not by faith, it certainly seems impossible that a person bragging about their atheism, their alternative lifestyle, and even their hatred of Christianity would ever be a disciple of Christ. But that is what we all were! We were all made disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit through His Word. No one began with a disposition that was neutral, let alone favorable toward believing in God.

How quickly we are tempted to write people off! How quickly we are tempted to not believe the power of the God’s Word, that is, the Good News, that God does not hold our sins against us but has placed them upon His Son!

The church is not a collection of like-minded people, but a creation of God’s, united in their being found, rescued, and gently made (and being made) into hope-filled, peace-filled believers of Jesus.

May God open my eyes to see my neighbor and my enemy as Jesus sees them: as future disciples.

4 thoughts on “Collecting vs. Making Disciples

  1. Seems to me that discipling, is something we only engage in (by the Greek grammar); if I can agree with what you said about Jesus making disciples. He even gives us the tools by which we engage in that process – baptize and teach (everything I have commanded you). My understanding of this would be that we should engage in discipling, whether someone is a believer or not; and I suppose that would give some concern to where we “go” and what our vocation is. That’s going to bring different people and different circumstances to all of us – and therefore, at least to my mind, what our tasking would be in discipling. I try not to spend too much worrying about making my circumstances match my assumptions – that’s God’s job. I think of Acts 17:28 – “For in him we live and move and have our being…”

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  2. I forget exactly where Jesus said it. I will find the verse later. But He told the people, including a crowd of would be followers and His disciples, “It is the work of God that you believe on Him who He has sent.” I have often been a bit confused on exactly where reformed churches, mainly Calvinistic ones, and Lutherans agree or disagree on the role of election and predestination in the manner in which a disciple is called out of darkness into receiving the Gospel of salvation. Paul says in Corinthians that “the preaching of the cross is foolishness to them who do not believe,” I have found this true in my own experience. Most people I have worked with over the years, including neighbors, and friends, even close friends, relatives as well, could honestly care less about the Gospel message. Most have been uncomfortable about even discussing it. My wife and I, and members of my LCMS Bible study class share our faith and our journey with the Lord, but I find very few outside of this circle interested. I believe in election, and I depart from some of my Lutheran brethren in accepting “double predestination.” It seem logical to me that if one person is ordained to eternal life by predestination, than another person who has not been elected has been preordained to damnation. If God Himself said, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated,” what are we to make of this? We certainly can’t ignore it or go past verses we cannot understand or which are contrary to our accepted Lutheran doctrines. In any case, it seems to me disciples are called by God alone, even as He may use us as vehicles and instruments to bring His word and sacraments to them.

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    1. Some response back about double-predestination. The word does talk about election for “in”, but it does not say anything at all about election for “out.” And if human logic applies to what God is doing, we’re all like God. On the other hand, he is said to be unsearchable. Lutherans don’t accept double-predestination, and rather specifically reject it as “thus saith the Lord,” because he doesn’t (saith it).

      As for hating Esau, Esau refused his birthright, and that nation expected to destroy Israel, his elect – it’s on him. It’s not very different from his problem with Cain. There is another quote that says God wants all to come to the knowledge of the truth.

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  3. Thank you for your clarification on predestination, Don. Part of my nightly reading includes some time spent looking through the second edition of “Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions.” edited by Paul McCain. The 745 page book sits on the night table next to my bed, and it is on loan from my daughter, a WELS Lutheran. (My daughter left an LCMS to join a WELS church, and they are putting her through a four month training cycle in Lutheran distinctives, and of course, she cannot even participate in the Lord’s Supper until their pastor gives her the OK. Even though she has attended LCMS churches for years, the WELS orientation is very rigid, assumes you know absolutely nothing about Lutheran doctrines, and she must be a member to receive communion. In any case, the sections of the Concordia about predestination and the split with Calvin is still a bit confusing to me.

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