Planting Churches is Not Making Disciples
We know that what Jesus came to do on earth was not to start a religion but to establish a Kingdom, basically a new pattern of living, with different sets of values and allegiance to a different authority. This is why when He was leaving He said “Go into the entire world and make disciples of all nations…” He did not ask us to go convert people to a new religion, He simply said, make them disciples, make them live like me. Simply put, change the way they live.
In response to that, we have for centuries adopted the mechanism of the church as the tool for discipleship. In reality, the church is not the end in itself; it is only a means to an end, a means to making disciples. Put more correctly, those who become disciples are actually the ones referred to as the church. This means that people are not yet part of “the church” until they have been made to live their lives based on the values and in the pattern of the Kingdom Jesus came to establish.
The Problem with “Church Planting”
Very sadly today, planting new churches has become the highlight of ministry. We have misinterpreted making disciples to mean planting churches. Once someone comes to the point of realization that there is an obligation on them from Jesus to make disciples (which is what most people term as a “call to ministry”) the next thing they want to do is quit their jobs to take up employment or volunteer in a church, or in many cases, go start their own churches (or denominations). You will hear people say things like “my ministry” in reference to churches they have started.
Many times, these churches don’t end up making disciples, what they end up doing is propagating a religion and inviting people to a change of religion. Over the centuries, the entire image of the church has been misrepresented and as a result has generated strong hostility towards it in different parts of the world. In places where religion is very finely interwoven with culture and identity, people are willing to protect their religion at the cost of their lives, because a change of religion apparently meant a complete change or loss of identity. Alas, this is not what Jesus asked us to do. He simply told us to make people live and behave like Him, notwithstanding what name other people chose to call them. It is interesting to note that Jesus Himself never used the word “Christian” all His life. He simply taught people a new set of principles by which to live. For example He spent time on the Sermon on the Mount giving people a new standard for love, submission, forgiveness, marriage and life generally.
It is sad that in many parts of the world today the church is a forbidden entity. So if our idea of making disciples is to plant more churches, then we really cannot make disciples of all nations anymore because there are places where we will never be able to establish new churches. Now, note that I am using the word “church” in its most used context.
So how do we make disciples?
It is also important to point out at this stage that when Jesus said “go into all the world”, He never said how we were to go. He simply said to go. In other words, it was like saying whatever takes you around the world, one thing you should do is make disciples. A better way to explain it though is this, since the “go” was a command, it means He expected us to take the initiative of going, we could say Jesus was meaning “intentionally create platforms that will take you around the world, and when you do, make disciples wherever you go”. Understanding the great commission from this perspective changes the whole game. It takes away the burden and limitation of titles and having to be seen to have planted a church before you can be said to be obeying or fulfilling Jesus’ final instruction.
In the light of this understanding, increased hostility against the church and even an outright excommunication of the church from several nations has nothing to do with stopping us from making disciples there. In fact, even the laws of nations that forbid them from changing their religions do not in any way stop us from being able to make disciples since being a disciple of Jesus is not at all a function of the name of your religion. It is a function of the way you live and whose authority you recognize as sovereign.
What we need to focus on is our strategy and intentionality in creating platforms that take us into the world and enables us to connect with people, because that is all that we need to make disciples – contact. Whatever puts us in contact with people is a platform for discipleship. We just need to be able to relate with people at a proximity from which they can observe our lives and in a manner by which we can influence their lives and their decisions, that is all we need to make all nations disciples of Jesus.
So let me let you do the answering, what are those things that put us in contact with people? I am sure several things are running through your mind now: business, education, sports, trade… you can go on and on. These are the platforms that we should intentionally create, plug ourselves and others into and go into the world to produce disciples of Jesus. Maybe for once we should give church planting a little break. Let’s shift the focus off churches and let us give attention to making disciples.
You can join the conversation by commenting on or discussing the question:
What are other platforms available to us for making disciples and how do these provide an opportunity for us to go into the entire world.
 Matt 28:18-19