We live in a world that focuses on consuming things. Our cities have stores all over the place, and from the construction we see, it looks like there are not enough yet. With just one click, we can buy almost anything we can think of on the Internet. It is very impressive—and very convenient. But I wonder how this consumer culture is impacting our lives as disciples of Jesus and the effects consumerism has on our mission.
The mission that Jesus gave us as stated in Mark 16:15 is to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (NASB). In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says we are to “go and make disciples in all the nations.”
“Disciple” is a word that I think in our time does not have the same meaning that it had in Jesus’ time and ministry. For Jesus, a disciple was a student and follower. In the Jewish tradition it was very important for a young Jew to be a disciple of a teacher. It was part of the culture. John the Baptist had disciples, the Pharisees had disciples and Jesus had disciples. Now Jesus wanted the apostles to do the same and to go to all the world and make disciples. In the book of Acts, we see the early church doing the same thing—making disciples of Jesus.
It looks like the early church was in a hurry to make disciples, and I think it was because they were thinking constantly of Jesus’ promise that he was going to come back. There is no time to waste, they thought. We need to make disciples, so we can greet Jesus when he is back.
The mission of these disciples was to preach the gospel of Jesus and to make disciples— students and followers of Jesus. The disciples were doing the same thing that Jesus did in his earthly ministry. The urgency of the coming of Jesus and the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit to show that Jesus was the Son of God were great motivation for the early church. They were making disciples that made more disciples because this was the instruction of their master.
What about us now? I think that we miss this urgency in the mission that Jesus gave us. I think we have forgotten that Jesus will come back, and sometimes we may even question if we want Jesus to return. We have everything available now, and we worry at the thought of losing all that we have.
I think this is part of the reason why our churches are not making disciples. We have other priorities. The urgency of preaching the gospel is not as important as other things. We worry about the ministries in our churches, making sure that everything runs smoothly. We worry about these things because the church has turned into a competition.
The church that best “serves”—makes people comfortable—is the church that will have the greater number of people. Serving means more programs, more technology to feed the people that will come to our services. We want big groups of people to come to our churches. This is a small part of doing ministry and church, but we turn it into the most important thing in our church.
Sometimes we relate numbers with success of the mission of church. Is the mission of the church to have a full building? I think the mission of the church is not to make our buildings full but to make disciples—students—of Jesus. In our culture, everything is easy access. “The easier the better,” and we want our churches to be the same thing.
Jesus call us to be servants. I think that we need to be acting on this idea. Making disciples has to do with making servants of the world. We represent Christ, and Christ was a servant. When we preach the gospel, we preach about the servant death of Christ. Christ died for us, and the attitude of the resurrected Christ was that after his resurrection he cooked a meal for his disciples.
We must teach people that following Christ is not just about coming to church and filling a space in the building but is about serving others in a culture that wants everything the easy way. I think that if we change our attitude—to be servants and to teach new believers and the people in our churches that to be a disciple means to serve others—the mission of the church will change, and we will be able to reach those who do not believe yet.
Moving from consumers to servants needs to be our priority. We need to teach people to serve more and consume less. I want to make sure that people in our churches learn the importance of serving. God gave spiritual gifts to every single one of us for the purpose of using our gifts in the body of Christ. We need to discover these gifts and encourage people to use them in the body of Christ.
One of the jobs of pastors and leaders is to equip people to serve and to make disciples. I conclude with four suggestions for how we can make disciples.
1. Be an imitator of Christ. Serve others with all your heart and do the hard work yourself. Have in mind that this world is not our home and that we are living for Christ.
2. Serve others with love so they can see the love of Jesus and with your words explain how much Jesus loves them. This is making disciples.
3. Help people to grow in their walk with Jesus. Create opportunities for people to serve others.
4. Do not be afraid to send people out to make more disciples.
We can be consumers and enjoy everything that is given to us inside and outside of the church. Or, we can be servants that make disciples for the glory of God. I think that God wants us to be servants that make disciples that make more disciples.
Daniel Rodriguez is the pastor of Iglesia Agua Viva, a USMB congregation in Omaha, Neb. This past year, Rodriguez presented a Spanish-language LEAD One event on discipleship in Omaha and Fresno, Calif., as well as a workshop on discipleship at the USMB National Convention held this summer in Salt Lake City, Utah. This article is adapted from those presentations.