I’m rarely entrusted with kitchen duties, but when the recipe is simple enough, my lovely wife will occasionally hand over the apron. Pancakes are my specialty. Bisquick mix, milk, and eggs. Boom. Pancakes. My Saturday morning triple-ingredient culinary masterpiece! When it gets more complicated than that, my wife wisely and mercifully takes the apron back.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that I gravitate toward making disciples. The recipe is simple and easy to remember: Gospel, Relationship and Mission. Just like pancakes, each ingredient is essential. If you leave one out, your final product isn’t going to be a pancake … or a mature disciple of Jesus.
Author Caesar Kalinowski describes discipleship as the process of moving from unbelief to belief in every area of our lives. The more I chew on this definition, the more I like it. In a sense, we are all still “unbelievers.” We all live with a head / heart distortion – a large gap between what we say we believe, and what we truly believe. In our brokenness, our responses to life are often disconnected from the theology that we confess. Fear, anger, anxiety, insecurity, performance issues, striving, and discouragement all lurk in our hearts and whisper in our ears a counterfeit message that lures us away from the truth of the gospel that we say we believe.
We often think of the gospel as something that needs to be shared with those who are not yet disciples of Jesus. But in reality, the gospel is a narrative that we need to preach regularly to other believers and to ourselves as well! Not only is it the foundation for our salvation, it is the means of our sanctification. It’s how we come to faith, and also how we grow in it. Frequent meditation on the truth of the gospel helps to close the gap between what we know in our head and believe in our heart. And making mature disciples of Jesus requires regular reminders of gospel implications:
“It means that you no longer have to carry the weight of the guilt of your sin. Whatever you’ve done that makes you think you are unworthy to be received and accepted and delighted in as God’s child – it’s been wiped clean. Shame has no power over you any more.
It means that you’ve been brought from death to life – and the literal presence of God indwells you through His Spirit – all the time – whether you feel Him or not.
It means that you don’t have to perform for acceptance any longer. You are free to obey God out of gratitude and love – not from guilt or fear.
It means there is no future version of yourself that God delights in any more than who you are right now in Christ.
It means that no one apart from Jesus Christ can shape your identity. How others perceive you, how they think about you, and what they say about you carries no eternal weight.
It means your identity, value, and worth is rooted not in your career achievement, relational status, net worth, physical beauty, education level, athletic ability, ethnic background, or social standing. It’s rooted solely in the completed work of Christ on your behalf.
It means that you can rest… you can breathe… you can smile… you can fall on your face without fear… you can laugh… you can sing… you can give to others lavishly… you can enter into dark spaces for the glory of God… you can be who you were created to be.”
– Rob Sweet
If this gospel ingredient is missing in our disciple-making recipe, attempts at discipleship will drift toward mere information exchange or behavior modification methods. Both will be devoid of any genuine life-transformation. You may succeed in making smarter sinners or moralistic rule-followers, but you will fail at making mature disciples of Jesus. The gospel is ESSENTIAL.
Think back over who has had the most impact on your spiritual growth? Most likely it is someone who walked closely with you through a formative season of life: A parent, a close friend, a youth pastor, a mentor. Discipleship seldom takes place from a distance, which brings us to our second ingredient: Relationship.
One of my mentors repeatedly said to me, “Mark, you can impress people from a distance, but you impact them up close.” He gleaned this wisdom from observations on how Jesus made disciples. Jesus didn’t say to his original 12, “Come to my Torah study on Sunday nights at 6:00.” His disciple-making was not compartmentalized. On the contrary, He invited them to follow Him through life. Mark 3:14 states that Jesus chose the twelve “that they might be WITH him.” He walked through everyday life with them and used teachable moments to speak truth into various situations. For the original twelve, their discipleship happened over meals, at a wedding party, during a storm in the middle of a lake, and along the road. Because of this, I’m convinced that discipleship is more than just a Bible study. Yes, truth must be communicated, but it has greatest impact in the fertile soil of rich, deep family-like community where life is shared.
When Jesus called his original twelve to follow him, he front-loaded his invitation with the purpose behind their discipleship. He didn’t simply say, “Come follow me.” He said, “Come follow me, AND I will make you a fishers of men.” Mark 3:14 puts it this way: “He appointed twelve so that they might be with him and he might send them out…” Making disciples of Jesus involves calling people to and equipping them for this same life-encompassing purpose: Making more disciples of Jesus! This mission is the third ingredient in our disciple-making recipe.
Every disciple of Jesus is automatically given the role of a disciple-making missionary, in order to continue the work of Jesus in the world. What a privilege! We don’t live on mission because we are supposed to, but we get to! And as we participate in God’s redemptive mission, it’s important to understand that a mission field isn’t necessarily overseas. It is wherever God has planted us, and could be as close as next door.
I take great comfort in the fact that our role as disciple-making missionaries isn’t something that we turn ourselves into or muster up in our own strength. I personally feel quite inadequate to the task! Observe closely that Jesus says; “I will make you fishers of men.” It’s a divine work in our hearts as we simply open ourselves up to the transformational power of the Spirit. When we are insufficient, he is still ALL-sufficient, and our feelings of inadequacy are not a good excuse for inactivity. He will work through us, in spite of ourselves. After all, the original twelve was a rag-tag group of unschooled and ordinary men. If he could use the likes of them to turn the world upside down with the message of the gospel, then he can certainly use the likes of you and me as well! God has a history of using the inadequate to accomplish the impossible.
Making disciples isn’t necessarily easy, but it isn’t complicated either. Just stick to the recipe: Gospel, Relationship, and Mission. I’m probably better at making pancakes, but there’s no greater adventure or joy in life than making disciples of Jesus.