Last year, I visited St. Petersburg, Russia with Phil Jackson. We were invited to facilitate a dialogue around the concept of “Disciples Who Make Disciple Makers.” A Russian minister made a statement followed by a question. He stated, “The foreign missionaries came in the early 1990’s and baptized many. They often did not stay long and left us. However, when the missionaries left, many of those who had been baptized also left.” He then asked the question, “Have you done a study of why those baptized did not stay?” It was a penetrating and insightful question. The simple answer is “no I have not done a detailed study of that particular question.” However, I could not easily dismiss the question. One brother from America also attending the conference rephrased the question in regards to what he was hearing. The question was actually, “Why did you leave us like this?” You came, you taught us the good news of Jesus and you left us. We did not do well after you left. Why did you leave us like this?” The question continues to haunt me.
I don’t have the answers, but here are some thoughts. I have come to understand that my understanding of what we call “The Great Commission” has been inadequate. I hear and understand that I am to go into this world and as I am going, I am to “make disciples.” I am to help them to see Jesus and bring them into a relationship with God. Those who believe are to be baptized into the possession of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. My heritage has helped me place a high value on the importance of this step of faith. However, for years, I misquoted Matthew 28:19-20. I might have said it correctly, “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” However, I have lived out the Great Commission as if Jesus said, “teaching them everything I have commanded.” Don’t get me wrong, knowledge is vitally important. But in my ministry, I have assumed knowledge equals transformation. Yet, that is not the case. Jesus says, everyone “who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24 ESV). Disciples are those who listen to Jesus and obey Him. Disciple-makers are those who teach followers of Jesus to hear and do. Perhaps the problem lies in our misunderstanding or misapplication of The Great Commission.
I listened to a Russian church leader’s response as I asked him why he thought that the Russian churches generally did not do well after the missionaries left. He had three answers: 1) we were not taught to develop a deep relationship with and trust in God chance to listen, learn and reset our minds toward making disciples that make disciples. There are no easy answers, but it seems that building deeper international partnership upon trust is a good way forward. Together perhaps we can focus on what matters, hearing and obeying Jesus.d, 2) we did not accept personal responsibility for the evangelization of our own people, and 3) we were not taught the importance of being and making disciples. As I listened and as he shared, I suppose we should have responded to this conversation with discouragement, regret and sadness. However, the exact opposite took place. The conversation inspired, encouraged and motived us. We realized that in a real global partnership, we have a second chance to listen, learn and reset our minds toward making disciples that make disciples. There are no easy answers, but it seems that building deeper international partnership upon trust is a good way forward. Together perhaps we can focus on what matters, hearing and obeying Jesus.