What do we Really Need to Make Disciples?
Last month I talked about the “rule of three” in inter-generational ministry. It means that when we gather as a church—for worship, for an event, or to serve—we should strive to have at least three generations present; one generation to represent the past, one to represent the present, and one for the future. This allows our faith to be passed to the next generation as told in Psalm 78: ‘we will not hide them from our children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might and the wonders that he has done.’
Why are generations so important? Our ultimate goal is to make disciples, lifelong followers of Jesus. To pass along our faith to others. We cannot pass on our faith if there is no one to pass it to. And our children cannot learn about their faith if there is no one who is willing to share. Every generation has a role and a purpose for making disciples. As Psalm 78 goes on to say, ‘He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.’ Did you catch the word commanded? Making disciples in not just a nice thing to do, it is a command by God to pass our faith to others. Jesus again gave the command to his disciples in Matthew 28, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.’ It was so important that these were his last words before ascending into Heaven.
So how do we make disciples? What do we need as a church community that will allow us to pass our faith to the next generation? We might think about Sunday school curriculum, community events, mission trips, lock-ins, dinner nights, and VBS. These things are great, but they are not necessary. These are simply tools we can use to achieve our goal of making disciples. Research has shown that relationships with people from various generations has had a significant impact on whether or not teenagers stay in the church into adulthood. It is not about the activities themselves, it is about the relationships that develop from the activities. Dr. Richard Ross, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, found three needs that are essential for making disciples:
- Parents/families who adore Jesus, love the church, and are actively on mission.
- An integrated community of believers where older and younger generations interact in relationships and worship.
- A Bible-focused peer group who actively live out the gospel together.
These are essential to making disciples. Our shared goal should be to help people of each generation follow Jesus better together. If we start with our goal in mind and work back to what we need to put into place and then consider the tools we can use to get there, we may realize our idea of ministry needs to be reworked. Our measurement of success may change. It is important to remember that faith formation and disciple making are a lifelong journey, not a sprint. Relationships take time and effort to develop. But the reward of watching one another develop in their relationship with God is worth it.