Read Mark 3:7-19
One of the keys to being effective as a church is knowing what we are meant to do – what our mission is. Why do we exist?
Churches can be very busy places with all sorts of committees and programmes and events. Church members are often busy with various roles and functions. But what is all that busyness achieving?
I suggested three weeks ago that there is one question that can be used to assess a church – assess all that busyness and all those committees: How many disciples are being made?
We have looked at what a disciple is: a student of Jesus learning from Him to be like Him in thought, character and actions – a follower of Jesus.
Last week I said that God puts great store on maturity. Jesus’ desire is not for spiritual babies but for mature Christians. That is why the Great Commission talks about bringing people to faith in Jesus – the new birth – but also talks about growing them to maturity.
Some people have, quite rightly, said to me, “You are telling us what we are commissioned to do but please also tell us how to do it.” Today I want to start looking at the how, by looking at how Jesus made disciples. We are followers of Jesus and Jesus was the greatest disciple-maker the world has ever known. So, let’s learn from Him.
Jesus made disciples by choosing twelve men and walking around Galilee. Shall we do that? Do we have to all grow beards and wear sandals to disciple people well?
No, but what are the principles we see in Jesus?
The first principle is this: Intentionality (or, purposefulness). Jesus was very clear about His intention; very clear about His task; very clear about what He strove to achieve.
When Jesus called the first of the Twelve to be disciples, He said to Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Then he walked a bit further and called James and John, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”
Right at the beginning of the process, Jesus knew exactly what He wanted the end product to be. He was going to make fishers of people. In other words, He was going to turn these men into missionaries, or disciple-makers. Right at the beginning Jesus knew exactly what He wanted them to become. That is intentionality.
If we turn to Mark 3 we pick up the story a little later. Lots of people were following Jesus. In fact, a great crowd had gathered because they had heard the reports about Jesus healing the sick and delivering those possessed by demons – so many people that Jesus had had to get into a boat and talk to them from out on the water, to avoid being crushed by the crowd. In that context, we read that Jesus went up a mountain and called to Him those whom He desired and they came to Him.
Mark 3:14 He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with Him and that he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.
That verse says two profound things. It says that Jesus called them to be with Him. That basically was His training method. They would simply be with Him and learn by watching Him. They would travel with Him, eat with Him, worship with Him, minister with Him, listen to Him, question him, see how he handled opposition, see how He handled money, see how he coped with tiredness. Everything. By being with Him they would learn how to be like Him.
So, firstly, Jesus is very clear about His method. He would train them by their being with Him.
But he was also very clear why he was training them. He was training them so that He could send them out – to continue His ministry. In fact, He called them apostles which means “people sent out”. His training method was that they be with Him. His training purpose was to send them out. He was clear about that – very intentional. One writer calls this “withness for witness”.
Even His selection of twelve out of a much larger crowd demonstrates His intentionality. Jesus wanted to grow them to considerable maturity – the maturity required to live and minister like Him after He had gone. He wanted to do a deep work in their lives. You can’t do that with thousands. You can only do that with a few. Jesus could have been tempted to focus on ministering to the crowds. Big numbers look like success. That is pretty appealing. He did maintain His ministry to the crowds to some extent but His focus shifted to just twelve men whom He would train.
If Jesus modelled intentionality, then we too should be intentional. What would that mean in practice? How can we be equally intentional?
Intentionality means having a clear mission, having an effective plan, acting on that plan and refusing to be distracted.
Do you ever have those days when you are not quite sure what you want to do so you drift from one thing to another, dabbling and fiddling? At the end of the day you feel you have achieved nothing. In contrast, do you also have days when you get up clear about something you want to achieve and you get on with it?
The first aspect of intentionality is knowing what you want to do – or what God has called you to do. Jesus was very clear about that. He would train some men to continue His ministry – make disciples.
But having a clear sense of mission is not enough. We can have wonderful intentions. The old proverb says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Lots of Christians know what they should be doing. Intentionality means that we will also develop a plan for achieving our mission.
Jesus had a plan. It was summed up in the invitation to be with Him. His plan was to influence them by modelling and teaching a different way of life and letting them observe it and imitate it.
But having a plan is not enough. The plan needs to be actioned.
Jesus actioned His plan by actually calling them into that relationship. He might have been tempted to prolong the ministry to the crowds a bit longer. He was getting plenty of attention and adulation. There must have been thousands of people expressing their gratitude and awe – thousands telling Him how wonderful he was. Living in close proximity to twelve men who would be slow to learn was much less appealing. And yet, if this new movement was going to survive, it would depend on those men. And if they were to be effective, it depended on Jesus pouring His life into them. Teaching them was going to involve much more disappointment and heart-ache. One of them would betray Him. Another would deny Him. All would dessert Him, yet this was the only way to start a movement that would carry on. He had to make disciple-makers, so he actioned His plan.
What about focus? It is a slightly different context but in Mark 1 the disciples found Jesus after he had gone off, early in the morning, to pray and they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for you.” He had had a fantastic day of healing in Capernaum the previous day. The disciples were pretty pumped. “No. Let’s have another day like that!” But Jesus said, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Do you see that? Jesus had a clear sense of His mission: “That is why I have come” and he would not be deflected from it – even by the prospect of more healings and more excitement. That is intentionality.
Do you think it is true that Jesus modelled intentionality? Well, let’s see if His disciples also understood and modelled intentionality.
Did they have a clear understanding of their mission? Absolutely! At Pentecost, when they received the Holy Spirit’s empowering for mission what did they do straight away? They preached the gospel. Three thousand people were converted that day. But they weren’t just converted. Acts 2 goes on immediately to say, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer, etc.” The apostles immediately began discipling them – teaching them, embracing them in fellowship, encouraging them to pray and so on. At the very first opportunity, they knew exactly what to do. How? Because they had watched Jesus do it and they had been commissioned to do it.
Did they have a plan? Yes they did. Again, it was simply something they had seen Jesus model, so they did the same.
Did they action their plan? Absolutely! They immediately got to work.
Were they focused?
You remember, in Acts 6, when there was some discontent because the Hebrew widows were missing out of the distribution of food? The apostles said, “It would be wrong for us to neglect prayer and the ministry of the word to wait on tables.” They said, “We know what our mission is. It is prayer and the ministry of the word. It is building up the church. It is making disciples. It would be wrong for us to get distracted from that. We won’t do it, but we will appoint some other godly people to do it.”
They learnt the principle of intentionality from Jesus. Anybody or any church that is going to be successful at making disciples will learn disciple-making from Jesus.
My hope, of course is, that we will say, “We don’t want to fiddle around just being busy. We want to be involved in God’s mission. We want to be focused and single-minded – like Jesus.”
What would it mean for us to be equally intentional?
We need to be crystal clear about our mission. It is one thing for me to go on and on and on about that but ultimately it is going to depend on whether we feel called to fulfil the Great Commission. Maybe it won’t be all of us, but will there be some who want to make disciples of Jesus Christ?
Then we will need a plan. How can we make disciples? Intentionality means that we organise the life of the church around our mission; that we question why we do certain things. Are they helping us make disciples? It will mean that, when new people come into the church, we have the structures and the resources need to grow them to maturity. Intentionality would also mean that we say to new members, “Jesus wants you to grow to maturity. Our calling is to help you do that. One of the aspects of maturity is reproduction. We will help you become not just a disciple but a disciple-maker and experience the blessings of that.”
Then we will need to actually do it – actually make disciples. It must be more than talk and more than theory. We actually need to share the gospel and encourage people to respond to Jesus. We actually, need to take those people under our wings and nurture them to maturity.”
And we will need to focus. We must stick to our plan no matter what people say and no matter what other appealing things come up. What have we been asked to do? Make disciples. So, let’s do that.
Are we called to follow of Jesus in this matter of making disciples? Is that our mission? If so, the first principle we see modelled by Jesus is intentionality. Will we be purposeful? Will we say, ‘This is what God calls us to do and we will do it, no matter what”?
For reflection and action
- Do you agree that Jesus modelled intentionality?
- What other passages would show that?
- How would you define intentionality?
- What does intentionality mean for you as a disciple-maker?
- What do you think might be other disciple-making principles that Jesus demonstrated?