In Matthew 28, as Jesus met with the eleven disciples on the mountain in Galilee, he famously gave them the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
This is the call and the command of Jesus – to make disciples. And this is the call and command we wish to follow upon our return to Japan.
There are a number of benefits to focusing on discipleship within the church. First and foremost, in so doing, we obey the call of Christ himself. Being a follower of Christ means that we desire to do what he wills, so when we see a clear call to make disciples, it makes sense that we would want to respond. You can never go wrong in doing what God calls on you to do.
Secondly, as Mike Breen says, “if you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.” Our goal isn’t simply to add numbers. We could focus on that, and might be successful, but would we really be leading people to be disciples of Jesus? Being a disciple isn’t just about showing up to worship services each week. Being a disciple is about learning the teachings of Jesus and living them out. It means you have both a robust personal spiritual life and a robust corporate spiritual life. Being a disciple is also about discipling others. If you have a church full of disciples, I believe you will grow. A church full of adherents may grow for a time, but it will grow only as far as the talent and efforts of its builder, which frequently is not Christ.
There are other reasons besides these, but the point is that we want to go back to Japan to make disciples, not just to add numbers to a church. Making disciples in a place like Japan isn’t easy, however. The soil in Japan doesn’t always seem that great for growth (Luke 8:4-15). Nevertheless, we believe there are those who God has been drawing to himself (John 12:32), those ready to hear the shepherd’s voice (John 10:27), and we have a vision of reaching them – of participating with Christ in that work. What does that vision look like?
Our vision for discipleship in Japan looks like what we see in the early church. It looks like spending time together in each other’s homes, as we learn and pray together, share meals together, and share our lives together (Acts 2:42-47). It looks like helping young Christians grow into mature, faithful followers (Eph. 4:14-16; Heb. 6:1-3). It looks like helping long-time followers to continue to grow, and to mentor their younger brothers and sisters (Gal. 6:9; Tit. 2:2-8). All of this sets the stage for making disciples outside of the church. You will be hard pressed to make disciples outside the church if you don’t have them inside the church. When we have disciples inside the church, they will be eager to make disciples themselves.
We further envision a church filled with the fruits of the Spirit. We have a vision for a church filled with disciples who live out their faith not just among each other, but within the community as well. This is part of the process of making disciples. We envision a church which is authentically reaching the emotional and physical needs of the community, while praying that this will also provide opportunities to reach the spiritual needs of the community. We believe the church can be a place of healing and blessing which ultimately points people to Jesus. As people begin to hear the Shepherd’s voice, we envision a congregation that lovingly teaches them the way to respond, and embraces them into the local community of Christ’s disciples, enabling them to grow and mature.
Of course, the specifics of this vision will take place in the field. Like Nehemiah, we want to appraise the situation and gather workers so we can effectively work towards making it a reality (Neh. 2:11-18). We do not want this to be only our vision, but a shared vision of the Matsudo church. For that reason, we’ll make sure to discuss this vision with the church together, learning from each other and adjusting accordingly, so we are all ready to pursue it in mutual service and love. We’ll then pursue specific plans geared toward realizing that vision.
In one sense, this vision is simple. It doesn’t look flashy or glorious in earthly terms. But we are confident it pleases God as we become a church that reflects the heart and mind of Christ. As we, together, look more like faithful disciples ourselves, and as we go about the work of making disciples, we trust God will bless us and use us for his glory, and that is our heart’s deepest vision.