What if Jesus Really Did Commission Us to Make Disciples? – (2/3)

By Dr.  David Bjork

After thirty years of missionary service in France, Dr Bjork and his wife are now ministering in Cameroon, Africa. Dr Bjork who holds Masters degrees in Missiology, Pastoral Theology, and History of religions, and Doctorate degrees in Religious Science and Theology, is professor of Religious Science at the state university of Yaoundé. 

It is widely held that the most definitive statement of the mission of the Church is found in the risen Christ’s commissioning of the disciples:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)

Unfortunately, for historical reasons we have interpreted this mandate to mean that we are to go into all the world to plant the church,[i] and the church will make the disciples. But that is not what Jesus said! He specifically gave us the job of making disciples, and He explicitly promised that He would build His church (Mt 16:18). Our task is to make disciples, His responsibility is to build His church.

This reversal of roles is the primary reason we are failing to win our world for Christ. Associated with it are many understandings of our mission that hinder us from actually doing what Christ sends us into the world to do.

Nearly forty years ago I read an exposition of Ephesians 4:11-13 that greatly impacted me. That study demonstrated that this scriptural text teaches that God has given Spirit-gifted leaders to the church with the sole purpose of discipling (mentoring, training, equipping, coaching, and releasing) God’s people (i.e. lay men and women) so that they can do His work in the world.

If it is true that the communication of the Christian faith is primarily the work of Spirit-filled laity and that God ordained leadership serves fundamentally to facilitate, strengthen and empower lay men and women in that task, then we must reconsider much of our current practice. I am convinced, for instance, that the professionalization of the witness of God’s people has silenced much of their communication.[ii]  So too has church programming that dominates the schedules of members to the point that there is just no time nor energy left for them to do the very thing they were created for – to really share the same environment as their neighbors in a manner that allows the recognition, familiarity, and “relational endurance”[iii] necessary for authentic and challenging life-transforming encounter.


[i] In other places I have written about the development and limits of this “church-centered missional paradigm,” see: David Bjork, Unfamiliar Paths: The Challenge of Recognizing the Work of Christ in Strange Clothing (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1997), pp. 56-69.

[ii] For a historical study of this phenomenon in North America see Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990 (New Brunswick, [NJ]: Rutgers University Press, [1992] 1997).

[iii] I borrow this term from Lindy Backues who uses it in opposition to the inability of the modern person to work through the problems of community (“The Incarnation as Motif for Development Practice”, in World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit, Darrell Whiteman & Gerald Anderson eds. [Franklin, TN: Providence House Publishers, 2009], pp. 310-323).

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