A small group of senior adults met early at the church on Sunday mornings to pray for the classes and worship services that would follow. Theirs was a ministry of prayer for the pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, and workers who would soon be filling the church hallways and walkways. One week they invited me to join them. As a young adult, I was not sure I would fit in.
“Making disciples” was not in the job description of that senior adult prayer ministry that made such a difference in my life many years ago, but that is what they were doing. Their love for Jesus prompted their readiness to include me in their ministry, and in that way, they were helping fulfill the Great Commission!
How can every ministry in the church fulfill the Great Commission?
Recover the Heart of the Great Commission
Jesus said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) The main verb of the passage is to “make disciples” – this is what Jesus is commissioning His followers to do. The other three activities – going, baptizing, and teaching – describe how disciples are made, but making disciples is the heart of the Great Commission.
Not only is discipleship the heart of the Great Commission, but it was the heart of Jesus during His earthly ministry! His passion for making disciples was evident as He poured Himself into the lives of His followers, showing them how to walk with the Father, relying on Him for guidance and power. When they heard the Great Commission, they possessed a clear understanding of what He meant: keep doing with others what I have been doing with you. Understood in this way, the Great Commission should be the primary concern of every believer engaged in ministry.
Clarify What It Means to “Make Disciples”
How can you carry out the Great Commission right where you are? Carve out some time to pray and reflect on the following questions. Whether you do it on your own or with a group, crafting answers to these questions will help you make discipleship a vital part of your ministry and your life.
What is a disciple? Even a casual observer of the New Testament would have to conclude that a disciple is a follower of Jesus. Just as men and women followed Jesus during his earthly tenure on earth, disciples today need to envision themselves as following a living Jesus who goes with them every day! Survey the scriptures to gain an accurate definition of what a disciple IS.
How do we make disciples? Can a deacon make a disciple? How about an usher or a member of a church committee? Yes! Every ministry can be a base of operations for making disciples. When we “make a disciple,” it means that a person was not always a disciple, but now can be called a “disciple” through our efforts, suggesting a process that is intentional and relational.
Ministry always involves people at differing levels of spiritual maturity and experience. You will not always know what they need, but your Father knows! Trust Him to guide you in your relationship with each person. The Lord may use you to influence and encourage a younger believer to grow as a disciple, or He may give you an opportunity to share Jesus with an unbeliever. Sometimes He will use a book that you read together. On other occasions, He will use a timely conversation about what God is doing in someone’s heart, drawing on your own experience.
How do we know when we have made a disciple? By carefully working out this question, your ministry is more likely to fulfill the Great Commission than most. If your ministry is focused primarily on organizational needs and objectives, you may be more concerned with membership and leadership than with discipleship – they are not the same. It is possible to be a good member and a skilled leader without being a mature Christ-follower!
Disciples of Jesus are on a journey to become more like Him. God has made it clear that His purpose is to conform each Christian to “the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29) That is why Paul told a group of young believers that he was “suffering labor pains” on their behalf until Christ was “formed” in them (Galatians 4:19).
Over time, the thoughts and actions of a disciple will begin to align with the heart of Jesus. For example, Jesus exhibited great compassion for people (Matthew 9:36-38). A well-formed disciple will demonstrate His compassion for others as well, sharing his heart for a broken and lost world. If His heart is “moved with compassion,” how can the heart of the disciple beat in any other way?
Cooperate with the Father to Fulfill the Great Commission
Too often we have described the Great Commission as something missionaries are doing overseas, but in whatever ministry I am part of in the church, Jesus has a way for me to influence others to follow Him. Does that seem overwhelming to you? I am sure it was for the earliest disciples too. The good news is that the Father already has the plan and the power for the fulfilment of the Great Commission, and He has determined that you should be a part of His work (Ephesians 2:10). He never intended that you come up with the plan and the resources on your own (John 15:5).
Those senior adults that met to pray each week years ago understood the real objective of their ministry. Their ministry was more than a prayer ministry – it was a ministry helping to fulfill the Great Commission. As a new Christian, I knew little about how to pray, especially with a group. But as I sat there listening to them pray that morning, I was deeply moved by the simplicity and authenticity of their relationships with God. Not only was I learning how to pray, but I found myself wanting to be like them – to follow Jesus the way those dear men and women followed Jesus!
(Written to encourage deacons, this article was originally published as “How to Saturate the Ministry You Lead with Prayer” in the Fall 2021 issue of Deacon Magazine, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.)