MATHETEUSATE! It reaches out and grabs our attention whenever we read our Lord’s Great Commission command in Matthew 28:19. The King James Bible translates it “teach.” The Greek word “mathetes” refers to a learner, a follower or a disciple. “Matheteusate” is the verb form and literally means “to make disciples” or “make disciples.”

This verse is one of the premiere passages in Scripture. It holds the key for the future of our churches. If we want our congregations to grow, then we need to understand this passage and implement it in our lives and in our ministries. Our churches will grow to the degree we do that.

The Lord’s Command DECLARED

The Lord’s command is imperative. There is a command, an order, a strong admonition to do something. If your Mother says, “Pick up your clothes,” you had better do it. She’s not making a suggestion. She’s giving you an order and you had best comply if you know what’s good for you.

In the same way, there is an imperative command in this verse. A lot of people look at the verse and think the command is “to go,” but it’s not. The word “go” isn’t an imperative at all. It’s a participle which can be translated “as you are going” or “while you are going.” The imperative verb in this verse is the word “mathetusate” – “make disciples.”

Before returning to heaven, the Lord Jesus issued this command to his disciples. They were to go into all the world and MAKE DISCIPLES from among all nations or from among all people groups.

God wants all kinds of people in heaven. He wants Americans, British, Portuguese, Hispanics, Filipino, Chinese, African, Indian and Island dwellers in his heaven and in his church. A church grows to the degree that it makes disciples. Little discipling – little growth, much discipling – much growth.

The Lord’s command is intentional. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen. People don’t become disciples by accident. Pastors and churches wonder why their churches are not growing, why people are leaving, why they are not seeing people saved on a regular basis.

In many cases, the reason is that they have not developed an effective disciple-making process to win new people to Christ and then to help them grow into mature followers of the Savior.

Disciple-making is intentional. It is done on purpose. Someone has to make the effort to talk to lost people, to share the gospel with them, to win them to Christ and then to teach them what they need to know in order to grow spiritually. It takes a significant investment of time, effort and energy to make disciples, but it can be done and pays rich dividends in souls saved, lives transformed and new people added to the church.

The Lord’s command is inclusive. When the Lord issued this command to make disciples, only the eleven remaining disciples were present. This has led some people to assume the command to make disciples was just to those eleven men and to no one else. A quick read of Scripture reveals this was not the way the command was understood by the disciples, other believers, the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch or churches elsewhere. The command to make disciples includes all churches everywhere throughout history since that time up to the present day. Disciple making is the mission God assigned to us. That is what we are supposed to be doing as local churches.

The Lord’s command, however, does not apply to churches only. It applies to each individual Christian as well. It applies to YOU and to ME personally. The Lord was speaking directly to us when he issued this command. Each one of us is to be a discipler. We are to be sharing our faith with others, winning them to Christ and then teaching them how to grow into mature followers of Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Command DESCRIBED

Before you can make disciples, you have to know what a “disciple” is. What does a “disciple” looks like? How does a “disciple” act? What is a “disciple” supposed to know? The words “disciple” and “disciples” are found more than two hundred seventy times in Scripture. They refer to a student, a learner or a follower of a particular teacher. He sits, listens, learns and applies the teachings of his master to his own life. Slowly he begins to take on the lifestyle and the characteristics of his master. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said, “The disciple is not above his master, but every one that is perfect (mature) shall be AS (or like) his master.” In Matthew 28:19, Jesus described a “disciple” as someone who had been identified with him through baptism, and is “observing” or doing the things he commanded us to do.

In Luke 14:26, Jesus taught that in order to be his disciple a person must love the Lord Jesus more than he loves anyone or anything else including parents, children or siblings. In Luke 14:27, he taught that in order to be his disciple a person must take up his cross and follow him wherever he leads. In Luke 14:33, Jesus taught that in order to be his disciple a person must forsake all that he has and put the Lord first in his life.

From a practical standpoint, what does that look like?

If you don’t know the answer, you can’t produce it in your own life, much less in the life of someone else. So, let’s ask ourselves, “What qualities or characteristics do we want a disciple to have?”

Among other things, we want him to be honest, truthful, and dependable. We want him to love God, other believers and the lost around him. There are undoubtedly a number of other things we might want to add to the list of characteristics we want him to have, but these will do for a starting point.

Then, let’s ask, “What changes do we want to see in his life?”

We might want him to stop his sexual sin and be faithful to his spouse and children. We might want to see him get a job and to become a dependable employee who supports himself and his family. We might want to see his language cleaned up and his temper tamed so that he is able to exercise self-control.

Third, let’s ask, “What do you want a disciple to know?”

We want him to have a basic understanding of the key books of the Bible such as Genesis, John, Romans, Ephesians and James. We might want him to know how to resolve conflicts biblically rather than getting angry and saying things he will later regret. We might want him to have a basic understanding of Bible doctrines as well.

And lastly, let’s ask, “What do we want a disciple to be able to do?”

We might want him to know how to show the love of Christ with no strings attached. We want him to be able to share his faith story with others who need to hear the gospel and even how to disciple those he wins to Christ.

If our local churches are going to be effective, if we want our churches to grow and to mature, then we have to stop long enough to ask what a “disciple” looks like and what characteristics we want him to have.

The Lord’s Command DEVELOPED

Making disciples requires intentionality. The word “intentional” simply means to do something on purpose. You do it because you set out to do it.

We get up in the mornings and go to work, school or church. We end up where we wanted to end up because we planned to end up there. In the same way, we have to be intentional developing a plan for sharing our faith with others and for deciding what characteristics, insights, behaviors and knowledge we want them to have as disciples. Then we need to implement that plan to make it happen. People don’t become disciples by accident or by happenstance. It doesn’t just happen. It happens because someone was intentional in making it happen.

Making disciples requires planning and preparation. You can’t get from where you are to where you want to be without a plan (strategy) for getting there. If I want to go downtown to Manhattan, over to Brooklyn or up to Yonkers, I need to have some idea of how to get there. I can’t just start walking down the street with no idea of which direction I need to go and which trains and buses I need to ride. I would never get there without a plan for arriving at my destination.

The same is true when it comes to discipleship. You need to know where to start, what to teach and how to lead that person through the various levels of spiritual growth from infancy to spiritual maturity.

Making disciples is required for growth and maturity. There are two things that are glaringly absent in the majority of American churches: very few people are getting saved, and very little discipleship is actually taking place. Consequently, the vast majority of churches in America (85%) are not growing and nearly 4,000 close their doors every year. Many of the churches that remain are populated with people who have been in church for years, but have never been discipled. As a result, they lack the spiritual maturity needed to disciple othes.

If we want our churches to grow, both numerically and spiritually, if we want them to become bigger and better, then we MUST make the Lord’s priority our priority. We MUST make disciple-making the hub around which everything we do as a church revolves.

It takes work to do that. It takes intentionality to do that, but THAT is what our Lord commanded us to do. THAT is supposed to be our primary objective as local churches and as assemblies of believers.