“Therefore go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19 NIV).
We readily recognize the above text as the beginning of the Great Commission.
In context, Jesus has risen from the dead, and the eleven disciples have gone to the mountain in Galilee where Jesus had instructed them to go. Even then, “some doubted” … a fact which has given me comfort from time to time in my own journey.
In the previous verse, Jesus declared a major game changer: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” With this truth established, our Lord then said to these disciples, and all future disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples.” In another post-resurrection appearance, Jesus declared the same strategic/tactical imperative: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
Strategy is the overall big picture plan to achieve an objective, whereas tactics are the means to implement the strategy and thereby attain the objective.
As an example, the overarching strategic objective of the U.S. Navy is two-fold: (1) keeping the sea lanes open (ensuring that imports vital to our survival and defense arrive at our various ports, and our exports reach their destination); and (2) projecting the power of the nation (to areas of vital national security and/or interest).
On the other hand, U.S. Naval tactics are built around “sending” trained/discipled warriors equipped with various platforms from which to fight.
The overarching strategic objective of God is the redemption of mankind and establishing His kingdom rule in the hearts of men so that His love touches and impacts people as though Christ Himself were physically walking the earth.
The divine tactical imperative to attain this strategic objective, among the nations and throughout the generations, seems to be dependent on a “going” to make disciples. We could call this Plan A or “Alpha.” There does not seem to be a Plan B or “Bravo.”
The effective making of disciples is an area where Christian leaders in the American church must concede that we have fallen short. The church’s incrementally fading influence in the culture gives adequate testimony to this fact.
One of Sun Tzu’s principles was, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.” This ancient principle also seems to have some relevance in the life of the American church.
In order to develop effective strategic/tactical discipleship operations on the local level, the following critical essentials are offered for consideration:
- Effective discipleship strategy/tactics must … must have a mobilization initiative component. Before Jesus gives the command to “make disciples,” He says “Go.” “Wars are not won with defensive tactics” (General George S. Patton).
- Jesus is our consummate model, and therefore we should wholeheartedly purpose to emulate His pattern of making and sending disciples, as well as developing, by design, dynamic “Paul/Timothy” relationships.
- Effective disciplers will be those who passionately embrace the Great Commandment, to love God above all and our neighbors as ourselves, both in word and in deed. A tepid embrace of the Great Commandment will significantly hobble the implementation of the Great Commission, and consequently adversely impact discipleship initiatives. Within this reservoir of passionate believers is a prime place to recruit, train, equip, and send disciplers to disciple.
- It is an exercise in futility to expect those who have never been discipled to go and make disciples. Just imagine if the military, organized sports, corporations, or even fast food chains had no tactical plan or resources allocated to recruit, train, and equip personnel to attain their strategic objectives … vis-a-vis discipleship.
- It is also futile to attempt to disciple those who do not wish to be discipled or who are unfamiliar with the concept or requirements of discipleship. Therefore we must actively promote the concept of discipleship as an understood essential of the faith. If we cultivate the desire for discipleship and its benefits, and passionately promote the biblical standard as our standard, people will respond.
Jesus said “Follow Me” on several occasions, but it was often a declaration as well as a challenge. He was issuing a paradigm shift for the very life of the individual.
He was not creating a new system of religion with a list of rules; rather, He simply said, “Die to self.” Drop your nets, learn a new way to live life, and become fishers of men.
Sacrificial living (living to serve others) is not a popular subject in 2015 America, yet it is at the core of making disciples. We seem to believe that such a life is only for military, law enforcement, fire fighters, and pastors.
One thought for local strategic/tactical planning would be to incorporate the relevant facts of #4 and #5 above. In addition, by design, include a plan to match some Pauls with some Timothys in the local congregation.
Second Timothy 2:2 is but a single verse, yet if these reliable (faithful) men fail to make contact with “others,” whole generations are at risk. The following verses (vv. 3-7) provide various reference points demonstrating that discipline and hard work are necessary and required to achieve the goal of discipleship: Christlikeness.
Why should we assume that our many discipleship programs will work if they are not modeled after the imperatives of the New Testament template? Winston Churchill once observed, “However beautiful the strategy, you must occasionally look at the results.”
Related to that is this perspective of General George S. Patton, “Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy.” Bear these thoughts in mind as you attempt to design your discipleship plans.
As leaders, two reasonable questions need to be asked, even for seasoned followers of Christ:
- Who are you discipling?
- Who is discipling you?
Retired Naval aviator John “Barney” Barnes is a widely sought-after communicator to men about becoming true warriors for Christ in the battle against our enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil.