If the only mission that brought Jesus Christ to the earth was to die on the cross and then rise again, there was no need for him to spend 33 years living here. The death and resurrection only took three days to accomplish and while this is the basis of our salvation, there was more to His mission than just the cross. In fact, the night before the crucifixion, He prayed this prayer, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4 NKJV). What work was he referring to? He had taught and demonstrated God’s kingdom for three years. The little land of Israel had witnessed the love, power, healing, forgiveness, authority and demonstration of God’s heart through Jesus and He had trained a small band of followers.
At the heart of Jesus’ work was preparing this community of ordinary people who would carry on the work after His departure. So, when He said that He had finished the work God had given Him to do, He was primarily referring to the training of the 12 (along with a larger following of around 70). They were the focus of the rest of His prayer in John 17 which included this request. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21 NKJV).
The good news of the Kingdom would never have continued without the disciples, so getting them ready to carry on the ministry of Jesus and train others who would train others was critical to the success of the mission. A large part of the four Gospels is about the challenges that Jesus faced in transforming His fumbling disciples into capable ambassadors and representatives. The fact that the message of Christ had gone to so many nations is proof that they did their work well! The fact that there is still much to be done means that we cannot neglect this work.
As a church, we are taking a hard look at how well we are continuing this legacy of making disciples. We realise that we are in need of a Disciple-Shift, a change of approach that will enable us to do what Jesus did in the same way that He did it. While programs, structure, buildings, organisation, curriculum and events all have a place in equipping people to whole-heartedly follow Jesus, we need to give attention to the fundamental method that Jesus used to shape the lives of others. His method was building intentional relationships which resulted in genuine life change.
With our busy, pressurised lifestyles we have tended to substitute activities for genuine fellowship and this has reduced the depth and quality of our relationships. Ultimately, this robs us of true friendship and the kind of transformation that happens when we learn to do life together with Christ in our midst. Fortunately, we have a proven blueprint and model for success. Our founder not only left us with an unchanging message of salvation but also the method of learning to live out a new life in Christ in true community. The method is building the kind of relationships that change us and, in turn, change the world.
Interested? Stay tuned, there is more to come...