The Cost of Disciple-Making

Bethlehem 2017 Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders  | Minneapolis by David Mathis


No disrespect to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote The Cost of Disicpleship, but Christians are called to more than mere discipleship. We are indeed called to embrace the cost of discipleship — make no mistake about that — to following Jesus, denying self, taking up our cross, and walking in the steps of our Lord, with all the believing, praying, giving, loving, and serving that involves. This is the first and most basic aspect of Christian discipleship: being a disciple of Jesus.

But Jesus himself calls us to more than just following him. Better put, his call to discipleship includes the call to disciple-making. Those who are disciples of Jesus seek to “observe all that [he] commanded” us (Matthew 28:20). And when Jesus said that in his Great Commission, what was the most recent thing he had commanded? “Make disciples.”

Being a disciple of Jesus involves following a person whose pattern of life was emphatically not monastic, nor was it, on the other hand, preoccupied with the masses. He got alone to pray (Mark 1:35), and he preached the crowds (Mark 2:13), but then we have the Gospels’ curious glimpses into how he invested the bulk of his ministry: with those few men to whom he had called, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He told the world his enigmatic parables (Matthew 13:34), then drew his Twelve aside and explained riddles for them (Matthew 13:36). Even Jesus’s “alone time” was often with his men. “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him” (Luke 9:18). After all, why had he called them? “He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him . . .” (Mark 3:14).

Jesus was willing to bless the masses, but what drove his ministry was investing in the few who would lead the church after his inimitable redemptive work was accomplished and he returned to his Father.

Jesus’s own life was not one of mere personal holiness and uninterrupted focus on his Father. His time and attention moved beyond his own purity and vertical faithfulness. He not only counted the cost of discipleship, but he embraced the cost of disciple-making.

My hope for the session is that it might somehow serve as a catalyst for us to do what we already know we should do, and in some ways want to do, but simply haven’t or aren’t, because everything else in life seems to be going another direction than life-on-life disciplemaking. 

We live in a day of ceaseless distraction. We think mass production as we look for the next life-hack. It may be obvious to us what we really should be doing in ministry, into what basket it is wisest to be putting our eggs, but we’re being carried in just about every other direction. There’s pressure to plan and execute endless events, and pressure to watch the number of people coming in and out of the doors. Perhaps your church expects you to do just about everything, except spend serious time discipling a few who will one day disciple others.

Maybe today is the first time you’re really hearing about life-on-life disciplemaking, but for most of us that’s not the case. We know all about it; we’re just not doing it. Because we haven’t yet been willing to embrace the costs. We intuit the costs, but we haven’t embraced them. 

And my hope this afternoon is that God’s Spirit, through God’s word, would help us over our hurdles, not by hiding how costly disciplemaking is, but by being utterly honest and explicit about the costs, and holding them out in the light for us to see, and then finding whether something in us might just rise to the peculiar glory of it all. God makes foolish the wisdom of the world, with its short cuts and mass production, through the folly of disciplemaking. As he did when his Son took a rag-tag band of uneducated peasants, invested in them at depth, and launched them out to change the world.

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