Jesus’ command to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) wasn’t given to the paid “professional Christians” among us; instead, Jesus’ design and desire for his church is that all of us would use our gifts to grow up together towards maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:13), as disciples who make disciples.
Paul repeatedly uses the metaphor of the church as a body to highlight the unity believers have been given in Christ and that we must strive to maintain. The unity and commitment that Jesus desires for his people to have for one another can be hard for us to grasp in our hyper-individualistic culture, but the Christian life cannot be an individual affair. The church is necessarily plural.
Anyone who is “in Christ” is united inseparably not only to Jesus himself, but just as equally to every member of Christ’s body. We have been redeemed and arranged by God (1 Corinthians 12:18) to be as interdependent as the limbs of a body (Romans 12:5), with every single member of the body positively indispensable (1 Corinthians 12:22) to the mission of growing up together towards maturity in Christ, as disciples who make disciples.
Yes, pastors and ministry leaders have been assigned a particular calling within the church body, but they are not thereby “more important.” It is impossible to be more or less indispensable — either you are indispensable or you aren’t — and God’s Word tells us that we all are indispensable to the building up of the church and the carrying out of its mission.
Discipleship is done by all
Jesus is at work now building his kingdom by praying for his people, by pouring out every spiritual blessing upon them, and by giving the church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God and mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–13).
Did you catch that? One of the main purposes Jesus gives leaders to his church is so that they might equip the saints for the work of ministry (v. 12). This means, as J.T. English has written, that “Ephesians 4 is not calling teachers, ministers and pastors who feel called to do the work of ministry for the church but with the church. … Ministry is not something the church staff does; it is something the whole church does.”
The elders and leaders of a church are given by God to shepherd each member by helping them cultivate their God-given gifts for the building up of the church. Every single believer has been entrusted by the Spirit with ministry “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Romans 12:6), “and that ministry is finding needs and meeting them with the goal of the spread of the kingship of Christ.” Each gift is “an ability to ‘edify’ another (1 Corinthians 14:4), to spread the kingdom of Christ (Ephesians 4:8), to build up the church (1 Corinthians 12:7).”
You will never feel ready to disciple others
I fear that many of us have avoided discipling others or using our ministry gifts because we’ve been afraid that we don’t know enough or we aren’t equipped enough to lead. However, such a fear betrays a lie we’ve far too often believed: that our ministry fruitfulness and effectiveness in discipleship is primarily dependent upon us and our skill. Without question, we should all strive to become “skilled master builder[s]” (1 Corinthians 3:10) like Paul, but praise God that he doesn’t need us to accomplish his purposes.
Most of us will never feel “ready” to minister or disciple someone else, so if you’re waiting to feel spiritually mature enough or equipped enough, that moment will almost certainly never come. But discipling others isn’t like running a startup or giving a TED talk. You aren’t leading as someone who has “arrived. Rather, you are merely leading as “one beggar telling another beggar where to get food.”
The fundamental way the Great Commission will be fulfilled will not be by charismatic preachers filling stadiums, but by ordinary believers faithfully and prayerfully seeking to disciple others. Though discipleship may look different among the various members of the congregation, it is still every church member’s responsibility and privilege to help others to grow in Christlikeness.
You have a part to play in discipleship
If every member of the body is indispensable to the mission, then that necessarily means there is a part of the mission that God has given to his church that only you are meant to fulfill. God intends to use you as a paintbrush to paint a particular portion of his masterpiece of redemption. Isn’t that amazing?
If you don’t know how to share your faith, then find someone to teach you! If you don’t know how to spend time in God’s Word, then ask somebody to show you! And then take what you’ve been given and pass it on to someone else, so that we grow up together towards maturity in Christ, as disciples who make disciples, until this gospel goes forth to the ends of the earth.
Article by Matt Francisco, (2022, Feb 11). Discipleship is for The Entire Church. Radical. https://radical.net/article/discipleship-entire-church/