From the early second century, “among all the New Testament writings and especially among the gospels, Matthew seems to have been the only one to have had a normative role and to have created the climate of Christianity at large.” And “it is a fact that mainstream Christianity was, from the early second century on, to a great extent Matthean Christianity.”3 The focus on “all that I commanded you,” should not be restricted to only specific commands. It certainly includes them but is meant to include all of Jesus’ teachings. Nor is it simply a matter of learning information, though that is essential; what we learn must be internalized. Jesus’ moral and ethical instruction is to be a practical guide to living a life that pleases God. Giving priority to the teaching of Jesus certainly does not minimize other parts of the Bible; in fact, it will send us back to the Old Testament and forward to the New Testament as we seek more light.
How is this material to be taught? Jesus demonstrates how. He began by forming a small group of disciples who wanted to follow and learn from Him. This initiated a process that included times of larger group instruction, smaller group discussion/interaction, one-on-one counsel and guidance, and opportunities to practice what they were learning.
What is the intended outcome or goal of this process? In a word, transformation. This occurs as we internalize Jesus’ teachings and obey them in faith and love, for in so doing we become more and more like Him over time. It goes without saying that this is the work of a lifetime, not just a few weeks in a basics class. This Christ-centered transformation was the lifelong work of Jesus’ greatest disciple, the apostle Paul, who urged all believers to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), and said: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:28–29).
This is where the church has failed for a very long time and is still failing. Making disciples involves not just teaching from the pulpit or classroom, though both are essential. Nor does it involve just meeting with a small group to discuss and process what is being taught, though that, too, is essential. It involves, alongside these, personal interaction and friendship between a younger, less mature believer and an older, more mature believer. In such a relationship, the younger believer is mentored and coached about how to understand and apply the teachings of Jesus to daily life. This is a labor of love, takes time, and appears impossible for larger churches — which is true if the pastor is the lone disciple maker, or even with other the pastors and elders. But by starting small and building a core of capable disciplers over time, even a large church can develop a culture of disciple making and transformational discipleship.
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