by Matthew Ellison – Sixteen:Fifteen, President and Church Missions Coach

I have been engaged in mobilizing churches to engage the nations for nearly twenty five years, and if I had a nickel every time I heard people say, “Why go to the ends of the earth when there are so many lost people right here?” — I would have a pile of cash!  Since people are everywhere and there are plenty of non-Christians all around us, we should get to work right where we are and make disciples.  No one should object to this imperative. But it does leave something out of Jesus’ marching orders to make disciples of all nations.  Matthew 28:19.

I want to point out two things about the word make:

First, make is a “transitive” verb. It “transfers” the action to an object. Or said another way, it never stands alone; it is not complete in itself.  It only makes sense when it refers to something else. Let’s try it: “Make!” “Make what?” you ask. Unless you know what to make, the command is vague at best.

The second thing about the word make, it is not even in the text. It has been added by translators for the sake of grammar.  The actual verb in the passage, “disciple” and up until recently a “disciple” has been a person (noun), not an action (verb). So for the sake of grammar, the verb has been translated “make disciples.”

But if you will submit to poor grammar for the sake of accuracy, you have not, “…make disciples…,” but “…disciple….”  Immediately you notice that “disciple” like “make” is a transitive verb. It is not complete without an object, a person!  Commanding someone to “Disciple!” does not communicate anything useful unless you happen to be looking or pointing at someone or a group of people. “Disciple” does not stand alone. It requires an object, a person or group of people.

The object of “disciple” is “all nations.”

Jesus did not say to disciple, or to disciple your family, or disciple whoever happens to be near, or disciple the people in your community, or disciple the people like you. He said to disciple ALL NATIONS, i.e. all peoples, all ethno-linguistic groups.  I contend that “make disciples” cannot be divorced from “all nations.” (Adapted from material written by David Mays)

Neighbors and Nations

While at a Vision Refresher Workshop with First Presbyterian Church in Ipswich, MA, a church we coached a few years ago, the missions team regrouped to evaluate the progress of their global strategy.  We rejoiced together, as we recounted how missions has become more and more a part of the atmosphere at FPC and how many who at one point in the not too distant past did not appreciate that the Great Commission is not simply about making disciples but more specifically, it is about making disciples of all nations.

Kent, an elder at FPC, now also part of the missions team, said when their global vision was first rolled out he thought to himself, “Why are we going to Bangladesh? We need to be making disciples right here…and that is what I am doing in the marketplace!”  Kent wisely saw his ministry calling and vocation as an integrated whole, but he had not made sense of the mandate to not only make disciples of our neighbors but also the nations. After his first trip to Bangladesh to provide his business expertise to their Business for Transformation (disciple making) strategy, God not only broke Kent’s heart for the people of Bangladesh cut off from the Gospel, but he fell in love with them.  Kent continues to make disciples in the marketplace in the Boston area, but now he is a part of making disciples of all nations, namely Bangladeshis.  Moreover, he is mobilizing other business professionals to find their place in FPC’s global strategy.

The workshop concluded with the FPC missions team thanking Sixteen:Fifteen for the paradigm shifting coaching work we did with them.  Let me now extend that thanks to YOU our partners, because of your partnership, churches like FPC are shining forth the light of the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ to people groups at the ends of the earth.