A strategic emphasis on discipleship orients the focus of our mission, and orienting around making disciples raises some challenges. On the one hand, discipleship is demanding. There is no way around it. Jesus calls us to purity even of heart and mind. He pushes obedience & love of God to our deepest core. Discipleship is, after all, learning to imitate our Master. We are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
On the other hand, disciple-making can be characterized as a patient process. Jesus demonstrates a dynamic and forgiving way of making disciples. When he calls his first disciples, they spend much of their time simply not "getting him." We might say that it wasn't totally clear that they were even believers yet (at least not by many contemporary doctrinal standards) until halfway through the gospel of Mark when Peter makes his bold confession. Even if they did comprehend more fully, Jesus doesn't really seem to ask them how much they understand until around half-time in his ministry. Instead, he boldly proclaims the good news of God's Kingdom and directly calls them to follow him before they really even grasp all of the implications. As a result, they are still figuring him out with each step in the journey. Even after beginning ministry!
As missionaries, we want to emphasize making disciples who reproduce disciples. This means that we are intentionally pursuing life transformation. We hope to see change in people's actions, attitudes, and worldview, from the inside out and from the outside in. Making disciples means that people are confronted with just how demanding the gospel really is. It simultaneously means that we imitate the patience of Jesus. He realized that pealing back the layers of false expectations, personal wounds, and misplaced desires is a process. Discipleship emerges. Making disciples means that we are investing in people's transformation, and that is a process of trial and error, not unlike Jesus' original disciples.
All missionaries are guided by specific missions principles. For GCMI that is the the principle of discipleship, and it has real implications. First, we are working to help people be formed into the likeness of Christ in their cultural context. We want to allow the demanding call of the gospel to resonate in their hearts and bring transformation. Second, we respect that disciple-making is a relational process. Whether we recognize it or not, discipleship generally begins before conversion and continues after individuals have committed themselves to Christ. For this reason, we are intentional about forming disciples even before they commit to conversion. Just like Jesus' first disciples, we know that everyone we meet is a work in progress, and that is something every missionary has in common with our evangelistic friendships.
J. L. (Tampa, FL)