And Jesus came and spoke to his disciples, saying, ‘All authority in heaven and upon the Earth has been given to me. Going to a coffee shop, therefore, lecture all kinds of people about all matters of theological and apologetic importance, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, instruct them to observe a variety of spiritual disciplines and moral principles; and see I am among you always until the completion of the age.’ (Matthew 28:18-20)
This is the Scarbrough Modern Ministry Translation (SMMT), my own creation that substitutes each phrase of what Jesus said with its closest experience in modern lay ministry. My purpose is to draw attention to the vast difference between what Jesus actually commissioned us to do and how we practically run our ministries today.
I am not against theological and apologetic formation – both are tremendously important; rather, I am saying that Jesus wanted our formation to include so much more. Nor am I against coffee shops; or meeting students over a hot cup of java. I am the king of coffee shops: “lord of Panera” and “Duke of Starbucks.” Ministry for me has become synonymous with caffeine buzzes and heart-filled talks over exorbitantly priced beverages.
Certainly, I taught many students about the finer points of theology and apologetics. Yet I still wonder if this is what Jesus intended me to do: lecture students about truth and spiritual disciplines while they are starving for divine love, for community, for “living water”?
Honestly, the more I read the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, the more I am convinced that the way many ministries run, including my own, is not all that Jesus intended. Jesus did not, after all, commission us to “lecture all kinds of people about all matters of theological and apologetic importance” and “instruct them to observe a variety of spiritual disciplines and moral principles.” He commissioned us to “make disciples of all nations” and “teach them to preserve all that I commanded.”
So, with a heartfelt prayer, I ask Jesus: “What do you want for our ministry?”
Jesus, what do you want from us?
It was following the Last Supper, when Jesus poured his heart out in prayer. He prays for his Father’s will to be done and that his disciples would be one, as he and the father were one. He says something interesting in this prayer: “I have finished the work you have given me to do.” (John 17:4)
What “work” was he specifically given? He hasn’t been crucified yet, so that could not be what he meant. Did he complete all the miracles he wanted to perform? Or had he preached to the last lost sheep of Israel? Perhaps he is referring to his table flipping ministry… surely, the “last table had been turned” and it was about to fall flat on Satan.
A more likely answer: Jesus was referring to his making of disciples. A couple of verses later, Jesus speaks of “those whom you (Father) have given to me out of the world” (John 17:6). Jesus gives honorable mention to “these men he has been given” nearly 40 times in John’s gospel. These men were Jesus’ work. These disciples, and those who would follow, were Jesus’ “work.”
He chose twelve men. His work was to train these men to think like he thought, to feel like he felt, and to act like he acted, mirroring the greatest commandment: to love the Lord with all of your mind, your heart, and your soul. These men were Jesus’ primary focus; because they would pass his way of life and his teachings on to others.
No doubt, when Jesus dined with sinners and tax collectors, he expressed his authentic love for them; but he taught his disciples how they ought to love others. When he healed the blind and the lame, he genuinely wanted to bring wholeness to each of these people; but he also bolstered his disciples’ faith and showed them that they too could heal. Jesus confronted death on the cross in a way that forever changed how his disciples saw death, and his rising showed them their future glory.
After all of these things, Jesus commissions these men to give this all away to others.
By doing the same thing he did.
That is what our ministry is supposed to be about: knowing Jesus’ heart, mind, and soul, and being just like Him for the sake of the salvation of the world.
The people in our ministries are “those whom the Father has given us out of the world.”
What are we supposed to do with those we have been given? Perhaps a better translation of our earlier scripture can guide us:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All power in heaven and upon the earth has been given to me. Having gone, therefore, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to preserve all which I commanded; and behold, I, I AM with you every day until the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:18-20) (Ash’s Literal Interpretation)
Now, this passage has many verbs in it; but in the “original” Greek, one verb sticks out… the verb we translate: make disciples.
To Jesus’ disciples, “making disciples” meant something very specific: pick a handful of people and spend at least the next three years with them. Live with them and, above all, love them. Pray for them and serve them. Teach them to keep and preserve all the teachings of Jesus Christ. Show them, through consistent demonstration in your own life, how to: love your brother and your enemy, serve the poor, heal the sick, cast out demons, find Jesus in the Scriptures, break the bread of the New Covenant, and communicate the Good News to others, namely, that Jesus Christ is still alive and well today and he wants to be with you.
Comparably, my methods for making disciples have been verifiably pathetic. Simply lecturing students about theology and apologetics has rarely made them more loving. It has seldom helped them look more like Jesus; and it has infrequently made people grow in holiness. Telling students to pray, fast, and give has not helped them love God more. But I will tell you what has…
Making disciples in the same manner that Jesus made disciples:
First, by really loving all those God has given you.
Next, by asking Jesus who (among your leaders or potential leaders) he wants for you to invest more of your time, energy, and affections.
Then, intentionally live the authentic Christian life with them by becoming consistently and actively involved in their lives. It is a lot like adopting them as your child, or even better, as your brother or sister. Unfortunately, a weekly two hour meeting rarely communicates genuine love to others, and often fails to show them how a Christian really ought to live. If all we do is talk to our students without them seeing how we live out our faith, they will likely follow in our footsteps… All talk, with little follow-through.
It is through adoring Christ with you that they learn how to worship. It is through studying Scripture with you that they learn how to seek God in His word; and through praying the Mass with you that they learn how to “offer their bodies as living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). Your guidance will help them learn how to flee the devil, evade worldly influences, and overcome desires of their flesh. But, they need to see you do it first.
How can we do this if nobody has modeled it to us? Well, Jesus has already showed us how to do it all.
After your students have a secure relationship with Jesus Christ, you can encourage them to go and disciple others. But always maintain your relationship of love and friendship with them, even after they begin to teach others.
The aim of the Christian life is Jesus Christ: to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to make disciples who do the same. Jesus’ model of making disciples is a tall order, particularly for campus ministers and priests who are already insanely busy. It requires a lot of time, energy, initiative, emotion, intellect, and compassion, but this is the means of making disciples that Jesus Christ revealed to us, and then he bid us to “come follow him.”
Making disciples the same way that Jesus did and helping others do the same is what the Evangelical Catholic is all about. If there is any way that we can serve you, your campus, or your parish in accomplishing this task, please contact us. We would love for your ministry, for every ministry, to fulfill this Great Commission.