Much has been said in recent years about the percentages of our young people who leave the church when they leave home. No matter which report I have read, the bottom line is troubling. For my part, I’m convinced that at the heart of this troubling problem is a failure to robustly develop a discipleship culture in the church.

Consider a very popular formula seen in social media memes. A stairway with five steps, “Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized.” Sometimes there is a sixth step, but other times just a mention at the top of the stairs, “Be Faithful Until Death.”

Contrast this to the words of Jesus in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The command of the original language is “make disciples.”

There are three participles addressing the way to implement this command: “as you are going,” “baptizing,” “teaching.”

As the Apostles were going, and today as Christians are going, the preaching of the Gospel is, of course, implied (Mark 16:15-16). Those who choose to respond to the Gospel are, through baptism, introduced into a relationship with the fullness of the Godhead. Those in this new relationship begin their walk as disciples and consequently are instructed in all the ways of Jesus.

There is absolutely no room here for a Sunday-Go-To-Meeting Christianity. Neither is there a place for anything less than a strong discipling emphasis. To take up the ways of the Christ in self-denial and daily cross bearing is the nature of Jesus’ call to everyone who chooses to follow after Him (Luke 9:23). Engagement in all areas of life and in all places where we find ourselves is the nature of true Christianity.

Think of the profound differences created by this model from any we would see in a less ambitious practice. Could it be that among those of us who claim the name “Restorationists” that we have in many instances fallen short of the challenging bar of discipleship? Practically speaking, can it be that the “sixth step,” the very emphasis of the Great Commission recorded in Matthew, is the most neglected step of all?

The commonly encountered five steps are often engaged in short order by those who obey the Gospel, but being a disciple is about the rest of our story, the “faithful until death” part of the equation. It is about “everything pertaining to life and godliness” and being “partakers of the divine nature” as we are “transformed” into the “image” of Jesus (2 Peter 1:2-4; Romans 8:29).

I am convinced that if discipleship, the command of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, the command of the One who has all authority “in heaven and on earth,” would be given its divine due, the percentages of our young men and women who leave the church would dramatically drop. Engaged, transformed disciples would find it much more difficult to leave than those whose investment was more that of an affiliation than a way of life.

By Edwin Jones