Today is Joe’s birthday, so I am going solo on this 2nd blog on the importance of the Great Commission. My thesis is that if Christians, and by extension, the American church, do not understand the terms, expectations, and requirements of the Great Commission to make disciples, we forfeit the right to call ourselves “missions-minded.”
Let me start today by saying in all seriousness that there is nothing silly or funny about this matter of making disciples. In fact, there is an element of tragedy connected to this topic. This tragic element is on display virtually every time I speak or teach on this theme. The blank stares and silence that follow my comments indicate to me that disciple-making, the central concern of Jesus for his followers, is rarely understood, thought about, spoken of, taught, or practiced with any seriousness.
Let me ask a favor of you, the reader. I would be very grateful if you would locate a copy of the May/June 2013 (Issues 35:3) of Mission Frontiers magazine and read the article by Fran Patt titled “Equipping the People of God for the Mission of God: How Are We Doing?” (article available on line at http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/equipping-the-people-of-god-for-the-mission-of-god-article. All past issues and articles are accessible at www.missionfrontiers.org.). If you don’t read it for me, you could read it for Joe as a birthday present for him.
If everyone would read the Patt article, I would be spared the need to comment any more on this topic. But that wouldn’t be much fun, so I will scribble out a few thoughts and observations on Fran’s thinking.
I would be hard-pressed to find anything to disagree with in this article (other than three typos all concentrated in one paragraph – and please don’t tell me about all the typos you find in my blogs). Fran is basically challenging us to think through the question of whether we are reproducing Jesus’ DNA in the church, or whether we have accepted the status quo of North American culture (Patt says we are doing the latter). And the result of this breakdown in truly discipling people to follow Jesus is seen in the failure rate or recidivism of missionaries.
What we tend to do, Fran argues, is contextualize key biblical values to western Christianity, “forcing the church further and further away from biblical patterns on behavior…” This causes us to embrace certain “sacred cows” that Patt asserts “need to be turned into hamburger.” (He lists six sacred cows; I won’t repeat them here or address them individually, but I do agree with his six and could probably add a few more of my own to his list.)
Here’s a teaser…I fully concur with Fran’s comments on how the training a medical doctor receives before being allowed to function in practice is much closer to the biblical disciple-mentor idea than is the formal training given to a prospective minister or missionary: “The pertinent question is why it is seen as normal and necessary to train and mentor doctors so meticulously and yet something as important and as complicated as communicating the gospel and living spiritual truth in a cross-cultural setting should be treated so cavalierly?”
Why is this such a serious matter? Why am I so relentlessly pursuing this topic in a series of blogs? Let me conclude by quoting Patt…
“The most significant issue that we face in preparing men and women for the mission field is that American Christians are not primarily representative of the biblical idea of being a follower of Jesus and they do not embrace enough of the beliefs and values associated with Jesus. What the American Christian missionary represents is a culturally conformed church that will unwittingly reproduce its own culture and communicate its values as the gospel and as central to being a follower of Jesus…We need to rethink our methods and practices of pre-field training of missionary candidates with a focus on effective disciple-making, because if we do not, if discipleship happens at all, it will be to make disciples of American evangelical culture and not of Jesus and the kingdom of God.”
Thank you, Fran. And happy birthday, Joe!