By Rev. Ezekiel Jako,
Pan African International Students
I have been contemplating on the theme of the Great Commission throughout the Bible, and specifically as summarized by Jesus Christ as written by Mathew in chapter 28 verses 18-20. Here, Jesus talks about four key action words: (1) Go (2) Make Disciples (3) Baptize, and (4) Teach them to obey all I have commanded you. My general observation on most efforts of making disciples in our generation, however, is that teaching obedience is almost missing. Many writings and books on Discipleship don’t seem to capture it either. But as we all know, throughout the Bible, the central message emphasizes that obedience is what God is looking for and therefore it should be in the heart of every Christian teaching. For example, when God called Abraham, he simply obeyed. Hebrews 11: 8 confirms this: “By faith Abraham when he was called to go out into a place he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out not knowing whither he went.” (KJV). We also see that all the blessings in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (and of course throughout the Old Testament) are based on obedience, and all the curses summarised in Deuteronomy 28:15-69 (and they are many) are based on disobedience. Similarly, when Saul failed to obey the Lord’s command to destroy all the Amalekites, Samuel told him, “…to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fats of rams.” And throughout the ministry of Jesus Christ and the message in the epistles, obedience was at the center of their teachings. In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked, “Why call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I command you.” (KJV).
As Dr. Ria Martin has mentioned in the earlier blog that,
‘Paul and David Watson co-authored a book, Contagious Disciple Making, a father and son tandem in ministry, who both witnessed eight churches that were planted within a year, forty-eight the following year, 148 the year after that, and in the fifth year, witnessed more than 1,000 newly planted churches. They founded the Contagious Disciple Making, eager to help others apply the principles of the Disciple Making movement in the US and Canada ‘so that people who would not normally go to church would have a chance to fall in love with Jesus and live in spiritual community.’ David said, ‘God taught me, through many failures, that I had to focus on making disciples of Christ, not followers of my church or denomination. He also taught me that I needed to teach these disciples to obey the commands of Jesus, not my church/denominational doctrines or traditions. This is what led to the breakthrough that resulted in more than eighty thousand churches among a people considered unreachable.’
Teach Them to Obey is one of the principles Paul and David Watson have given in the Contagious Disciple Making book. Teaching obedience should be at the centre of the disciple-making process. Victor Choudhrie speaks about ten levels of disciple-making in church planting movements, and ‘Teach Them to Obey’ is at level 4. For him, level 1 is ‘Go”, level 2 is ‘Preach’, level 3 is ‘Make Disciples’, level 4 is ‘Teach Them to Obey’, level 5 is ‘Persecution’, level 6 is ‘Appointing of Elders’, level 7 is ‘Prayer and fasting’, level 8 is ‘Leave’ or ‘pass on the baton’, level 9 is ‘Reporting’ or accountability’ and level 10 is ‘Revisit’ or revitalization’. However, according to him, “teaching obedience is an explicit command. The onus is on the teachers to oversee that all that they teach must be immediately implemented. Any delay will render the teaching useless” (Choudhrie, Victor. Teach Them to Obey. 1913, 8).
Contagious Disciple Making is what is seen in the early Church and in the first century —giving the gospel to people and teaching them to obey it; seeing them become faithful disciples of Christ; leaving them to struggle in obeying the Word of God in their own context and history; and allowing them to develop their own unique practices for worship, leadership, and governance within the confines of biblical obedience. We are to teach others to obey everything Christ has commanded. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul admonished Timothy to teach the things he had received from Paul to faithful men, who will qualify to teach others. However, before we can teach others to be obedient to the gospel, we ourselves must first be examples by living and walking in obedience. David in Contagious Disciple Making book confesses: “I have learned that teaching doctrine and teaching obedience are two very different things”. In John 14:15, Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, obey My commandments.” NLT.
In our Disciple Making efforts, the emphasis should be on how we (the disciple-making teacher and the disciple) can be obedient to Christ in every area of our lives and in every circumstance.
I believe that contagious disciple-making will always result in a church-planting movement if everyone is obedient to the gospel. That is what happened in the New Testament. Jesus Himself declared, “Where two or three gather in my name, I will be there in their midst”. This is in reference to obedience in His name in the context of church planting. So contagious discipleship happens almost instantly and contagiously when two or three gather in His Name. Many also agree that church planting movements begin with small numbers and sometimes when only two or three gather in Jesus’ name. We see this when Apostle Paul writes salutations to several churches in Romans chapter 16. He kept on saying…” and the church that meets in their house.”
For any church planting movement to have an impact, we must not just make converts and baptize them or call them ‘disciples’ as many would like to believe. But we need to truly make disciples by teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded us. “God places great importance on obedience. This is because the work of ministry, the task of the church, and the building of the Kingdom, is All GOD’S WORK. HE IS THE SUPREME HEAD OF IT ALL. Therefore, every aspect of it must come from His initiative, and every action on our part must be a result of our OBEDIENCE TO HIS COMMAND” (Church Planters’ Training Course Volume Three, Page 69). Furthermore, “The Christian desiring to grow in Christ, must be obeying and applying what God has commanded him through the Bible. Such a lifestyle of obedience is basic to true discipleship” (Gary W. Kuhne. The Dynamics of Discipleship Training, Singapore. S+U Publishers, 1983).
As Paul and David put it,
We have to learn to teach by asking a minimal number of questions, not by
giving the answers to every question or having an expressed opinion about
everything. Our focus in discipleship has become obedience to the Gospel,
not adherence to a doctrine. With a doctrine-centered discipleship program,
one must teach everything to ensure a person has the knowledge to be obedient.
With an obedience-centered discipleship program, the emphasis is on how we
can be obedient to Christ in every area of our lives and in every circumstance.
When a new disciple asks a question, my answer is always the same: What must
you do to be obedient to Christ?
To teach obedience, the environment is important…
To teach obedience, we recommend that the environment in which the teaching is done must be within a small group setting. This is because, small groups are easy to manage, and the leader can assess results and make follow up. Our Master Teacher, Jesus Christ spent three years modelling his life and teaching a small band of His followers (only twelve disciples). He could have chosen to start a mega congregation, but as we witness in our generation, mega churches have the challenges of maintenance, structures, and systems.
On the other hand, the advantages of small groups are many. Top on the list is that they are manageable and easy to control as we have also mentioned. As John Tay puts it, “To carter for the large numbers of believers, the early Church met not only in temple courts but also in homes (Acts 2:46). This organization of the Early Church into small groups meant that church growth would not be hindered by lack of space or facilities.” (Tay, John: The Acts of The Apostles, A guide to Personal and Group Study; 2010, 49).
Discipleship in small groups also provides opportunities for believers to learn from each other as they apply the gospel within the intimacy of relationships (Titus 2:1–8). …. The smaller the group, the easier the interaction and relationship. This makes the disciple-making movement natural and effective. Small groups make every group member share their opinions and relate with one another without a problem. The atmosphere becomes relational and friendlier when the group is kept small and it is easy for everyone to be accountable. The leader can also interact with every member of the group and make follow up on whether the teaching is well understood. That way, teaching obedience becomes an easy goal to achieve. We suggest that small groups of not more than 15 people should be conducive for the leader to interact well with every member.
Furthermore, small groups make disciple-making simple and intimate. One doesn’t need to be a gifted or talented speaker, teacher, pastor, or evangelist to teach obedience. But one needs to keep the teaching simple and make the group intimate and at the same time vibrant. This is what Jesus did with His disciples. His teachings were simply full of life examples that they could relate to, and He kept them intimate with Himself and with one another. We can also imagine how vibrant the group was when it came to action, especially after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He knew them so well, that he could tell who among them was going to betray Him and who would deny Him. But he loved them to the very end (John 13:1).
In addition, a small group setting makes it easier to challenge members to obey God and hold them accountable. This is because members get to know each other and learn obedience from a leader whom they can relate to and practically see obeying God. That way, even in a Bible Study, members have a living example to look up to.
At Kwiverr, we have come to understand that Discovery Bible Study is one of the best ways and settings to teach obedience. This is because, it is done in a small group setting and the attention or focus is not on the leader, but on every member because it is interactive and participatory. Herein, the leader of the day will begin by asking each one how their week has been. What highs and lows they had and if they shared the lessons learned in the previous session with anyone? Then move on to lead the members to read the passage of scripture together and answer a few questions, like (1) What does the scripture say about God (2) What does it say about people, (3) How are you going to obey the Scripture, and (4) Who will you share what you have learned with.
Finally, in our disciple-making sessions, we should put the emphasis on teaching obedience and not on the recruitment of members into a particular church or denomination. We should teach our disciples to obey the commandments of Jesus Christ. Richard Warren in 12 Dynamic Bible Study Methods for Individuals or Groups reminds us that the way to do it is to understand that, people grow as disciples by getting into the Word as a habit of life and applying it consistently to their daily life. So, applying the Word consistently in their daily life is an implication of being obedient.
One major reason why the Great Commission has not been fulfilled is a lack of obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Many disciple-making movements do not emphasize teaching obedience enough. On the other hand, although we live in times of mega-churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin American extra, the emphasis is not on obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ, but on adherence to a doctrine. We must convince ourselves that if the ministry of making disciples is to have an impact, we must teach obedience.
Choudhrie, Victor., Teach Them To Obey for Disciple Makers. A Training Manual. January 2013.
International Christian Movement. Church Planting Training Course, Module Three. Singapore 1994.
Kuhne, Gary W., The Dynamics of Discipleship Training, Singapore. S+U Pubishers, 1983
Warren, Richard., 12 Dynamic Bible Study Methods. Wheaton, Illinois. Victor Books, 1983.
Tay, John S. H. Acts of The Apostles, A Guide to Personal and Group Study. Singapore. Armour Publishing Pte, Ltd. 2010.