But we hear so much talk these days about being "mission-minded" and "missional" (who fabricated that word, anyway?), I really wonder if the missions "experts" even know what they're talking about. We often hear Matthew 28:19-20 quoted as an urgent command to get busy and merely bring more people into the church buildings, whatever the cost, whatever the method, however we must change our teachings, our practices, or even our identity (Should Lutherans really look and act like Pentecostals when they worship?). There also seems to be a thick layer of guilt attached, as if we Christians have never "discipled" anyone at all until someone from our recent generation unearthed the passage in Matthew 28:19-20, or as if to say, "Oh no, we'd better get busy and do this, or else the Lord will hold us accountable for other people's rejection of Him."
However, I find that when I keep the true meaning of "discipling" in mind, the true joy overcomes the false guilt. (I also find it easier to ignore the institutional and "missional" babbling and jaw-boning!) What a joy it is to realize that when I teach my flock the things of Jesus - whether that's from the pulpit on Sunday morning, in Bible class discussing the Augsburg Confession, in the day school teaching 7th-8th grade Theology, or catechizing a group of adults according to Pr. Bender's Lutheran Catechesis - then the mission IS being carried out. Yes, where and when the Gospel is being proclaimed, the Sacraments are being given out, and the teaching of Jesus is occurring, the mission of the Church IS happening!
This is why I find great joy in the following quote from F. Dale Bruner. While I too squirm a bit at his "decision" language, I appreciate what he says about "discipling":
"'Disciple'.... Interestingly, the usual missionary terms are not employed here: 'preach,' 'convert,' 'win,' etc. A slower, lower-profile verb is used, an almost scholastic, schoolish word, 'disciple.' To disciple means 'to make students of,' 'bring to school,' 'educate'.... The word pictures students sitting around a teacher more than it does penitents kneeling at an altar--an educational process more than an evangelistic crisis, a school more than a revival. The word's prosaic character relaxes and says in effect, 'Work with people over a period of time in the educative process of teaching Jesus.' Only the Cosmocrator can do the big things like convert, win, bring repentance, or move a person to decision [!]--all authority is his alone. But disciples can, must, and will do the little thing of 'discipling' others--that is, they will spend good time with people--in the confidence that sooner or later the Cosmocrator will create in these people the decision for baptism (or, in Christianized cultures, the decision to own baptism) and so to follow Jesus" (Matthew, Volume 2, p. 1096-97).And I would be remiss if I did not include this quote from Bruner on "teaching," as he aptly summarizes the whole thrust of Matthew 28:19-20:
"'Teaching' is another slow word, too. All three of the main responsibility verbs in this commission--disciple, baptize, teach--are three slow or earthy ways of circling the same object, saying the same thing: disciple--take your time with people, work carefully with them, bring them along gently. First, we disciple by living among people and talking with the inquiring; then we disciple by baptizing the convinced; and then we disciple by teaching the baptized an ever-increasing loyalty to Jesus' commands" (Matthew, Volume 2, p. 1102).Yes, the mission IS happening when faithful teaching of Jesus is taking place!