Disciple vs Disciple

All my life, when I heard the word ‘disciple’ a vague picture of a man, representing Yahushua/Jesus standing in front of a group of mostly men, some women, teaching, is what came to mind. Not too different from what a church service looks like, but a little less formal. It seems many have a similar picture. In my minds eye, disciple is a person.

As I grew up in the church, I was taught about the ‘Great Commission.’ When I asked people what it was, most dropped in words similar to “Go and make disciples …” In fact, out of 30 translations, only five did not have the words “make disciples.” Three of those five were just different versions of the same translation, Therefore, we have understood part of what we are to do as a follower of the Christ is to be making disciples. Its part of the reason church services are set up the way they are and why there are events designed to bring in unbelievers. The objective is to bring in unbelievers and introduce them to Jesus in order to get them saved – thus, ‘making a disciple.’

It came as a complete shock when I found out the word ‘disciple’ in the ‘Great Commission‘ isn’t a noun. For those who have been out of school for a while, a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Imagine further, the shock in finding out the word ‘make’ isn’t anywhere in the original text. For me, this seems to be a game changer.

The original word is a verb. Verbs are words which show an action. It’s something done. It would be a correct sentence to say, “Disciple (v) the disciple (n).” It is interesting to note, this is the only scripture with this particular word μαθητεύσατε (mathēteusate). Depending on your resource, it won’t show this way, but if you do enough research, you will discover this is true.

As Christians and the Church, we have been mainly focused on finding, creating, making, the noun in that sentence. After all, if there isn’t any noun, there isn’t anyone to do the verbing to, right?

I’ve heard the phrase many times, “Jesus is the product the church is selling.” It just doesn’t sound right when you say it out loud, but truth be told, it is exactly what the Church does, coming from a pure motive. Everything is designed around the consumer. There is merchandising and marketing going on all the time in church. Why? Because we need to keep bringing in new consumers. We are trying to make disciples. Understand, it isn’t quite as cold as it seems, most churches care about the people, there is love involved, so it isn’t as bad as it sounds.

However, if we see the disciple in the ‘Great Commission’ as a verb, how would it change the design? Instead of being focused on generating consumers, we would be focused on developing their knowledge. It would look more like an educational system, like a college. The entire church design would change to one of classrooms, teachings, and studying. Do you see the difference? This kind of brings up a picture of what I would envision meeting at the temple would look like. Reading a scripture and then reasoning with others about it’s meaning.

But if we didn’t focus on bringing people in, where would we get our students/disciples? In my imagining this new design, I see two ways:

  • First and fore most, YHWH/God. There are scriptures which teach no one comes to know God except by Him calling them. We have never gotten anyone saved, He has always called them and they have responded. He may have used us as His arms and legs, but unless He dials the phone, they do not have a call to answer.
  • The second would be Christ followers. But not in ‘Church,’ in their everyday living. As scriptures says they will be known by … meaning when someone meets a follower of the Christ, it will be known because they will be different. Jesus didn’t stay in one place too long. He walked along from place to place. Walking, talking, resting, teaching, feeding, healing, living … all verbs by the way.

It could just be me but changing the Church from the place focused on making disciples to a church focused on discipling creates a whole new picture of what Church would be.

In Bible times, the leader had just been crucified, think about that for a moment. People did not go around advertising they were Christ followers. I would guess people would have had to trust someone before inviting them back to a meeting. This again, would place a lot of responsibility on God to bring people together. In today’s society, especially this specific time, walking, talking, living, doesn’t seem to put me in contact with others who would even be able to know me by … or whom I could get to know well enough to invite to my home, let alone a discipling session. Even those who are working, many work a long way from where they live, so even if they had a fellowship to invite someone to, it most likely wouldn’t be feasible given the distance.

That my friends, is why we can’t just read our Bible as it is translated. Our translations are the milk, the deeper meaning is discovered when you dig into the meat.

Understanding the ‘Great Commission’ has called us to disciple (verb) is one thing. Figuring out how to go about doing that is another. But if we are called to it, then we are equipped for it.

The big question is, are we willing to change a thought we’ve been carrying around for years to bring us more in line with what Jesus commissioned us to? Could you imagine a church totally focused on discipling instead of making disciples? Can you imagine a church completely changing their format on a Sunday morning to be 100% focused on discipling? What a picture.

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