A Discipler's Guide to Spiritual Conversations (6/7): Teach
In Matthew 28:20 Jesus said, “Teach them to observe all I commanded.” At first when we read the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 this can seem like an impossible task. At least for me it did. I used to think the “teaching them to obey” part in verse 20 meant my job was to somehow communicate all the commands of Jesus to the one I was discipling. I had the typical Western mindset, one that believes giving the right amount of knowledge and facts about God means we have fulfilled our calling to make disciples.
I guess you could say I found a new freedom upon learning the Great Commission calls me to obedience. It is not so much that I am tasked with teaching commands, but rather that I am to model, teach, and equip obedience, which can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time.
Let’s look at how Jesus went about this work.
We see that Jesus taught his disciples to obey. He did not go around teaching them to beef up their knowledge as if more knowledge was their need or His aim. Jesus also taught by repetition, so it makes sense that we do not see an ongoing list of new commands, but a continuous cycle of obedience.
We see Jesus take advantage of opportunities in everyday life to use them as assignments for teaching. He teaches his followers through crossing the stormy lake, at the feeding of the 5,000, sending them out on mission, watching and praying with Him, casting out demons, etc. Jesus models a life of discipleship through teaching His followers along the way.
Robert Coleman in his book The Master Plan of Evangelism points out Jesus was so much the Master in His teaching that he did not let his method obscure his lesson because He was his method. All the disciples had to teach them was a teacher who practiced with them what he expected them to learn.
This is why Jesus repetively repeated things over and over and taught through the use of parables. Jesus was never about getting a group of rule followers because He had that in the Pharisees and teachers of the law if He wanted it, but He wanted a group of sold out followers who were hungry to learn what it meant to walk with Him.
Previously, I served as a church planter in India amongst some of the unengaged, unreached people groups of the world. We heavily relied on the Great Commission as a process of raising new leaders up and equipping them to go → make disciples → baptize → teach obedience. Our focus with the leaders in India with new followers of Jesus was what we called “obedience based discipleship.”
Now that I am back in the U.S. I have been hesitant to use that language because of the potential negative connotation of legalism. Many in the Western Church have used obedience as a self-pursuit of virtuous living in which the virtue and formation of character is the goal rather than submission to being conformed from within by walking with Christ.
So “obedience based discipleship” has nothing to do with legalism. Instead, it has everything to do with teaching disciples to walk with Jesus. Obedience rightly defined is one abiding in Christ and walking with Him in order to be conformed into the likeness of Christ.
Have you ever considered the goal of discipleship? Most haven’t, but the goal of discipleship is to look more like Jesus. And how does one look more like Jesus? Through learning to walk with Jesus. This is the goal of discipleship. In the New Testament we see the apostle Paul regularly teach new believers to imitate his right belief and right practice (Phil. 3:17). Paul didn’t just focus on seeing people converted. He taught new believers how to live a life modeled on Jesus, one that is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit working within.
Teaching a one to walk with Jesus ensures discipleship continues long after the teacher has left or moved on because the disciple is left with a habit of listening to the voice of Jesus. The call to make disciples is the call to multiplication, which includes obedience to Jesus. This is not about a list of do’s and don’ts, but about fulfilling the Great Commission that Jesus left with us.
Knowing this plays a key role in us shifting our discipleship efforts from teaching people what the Scriptures say to teaching them to walk with Jesus. It’s a process of meeting them where they are, looking to what God has declared, and teaching them to wait on the Spirit as they seek Jesus, watch for where He is at work, and to walk in the fruit of the Spirit bears in their midst.