The Church has forgotten its purpose. In the midst of arguing the which word is emphasized in the greek (I have heard it preached both ways: both “go” and “make”), the Church has misplaced half of what Jesus told it to do. Dallas Willard, who has a much higher view of the Church than I, would probably not say it in such a way, but nevertheless he sees the problem. In his book, The Great Omission, Willard argues that discipleship has been omitted from Jesus words in the Great commission. Matthew 28.19-20 says:
19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Willard’s book is a collection of teachings, essays, and lectures that he had written and gave during his many years in ministry. With a simple question in mind, “What makes a disciple?”, he attempts to give methodology and purpose to the argument, while constantly reminding the reader of the lack of emphasis that the Church has placed on discipleship over the years.
“Grace is opposed to earning not effort.” This statement was repeated countless times in the pages of the book. Willard uses this phrase often as a plea for Christians to lose the passenger ideal of discipleship and make the strides to understand and live in the grace of God more abundantly. Grace is a free gift that saves us (Ephesians 2.8), one given by a God who loves us, and therefore cannot be earned. But we must make an effort to understand this grace, employ this grace, and to strive for the grace that has been given us. True discipleship is understanding and walking a close relationship with Jesus Christ. In trekking with Jesus, it is our call as disciples to make an effort to learn and strive to understand his gifts and teachings better. This has been counter-cultural to the Church’s view of discipleship for many years.
Speaking from experience, the Church’s model of discipleship has been, by and large, passive in its learning, absent in its teaching, and lazy in its methodology. Willard wrote this book as a plea for the Church to return to its teaching and making disciples. For many years, the Church has just expected discipleship to happen, without the teaching and implementation of disciplines or accountability. Willard, as he sees it, understands the incapability of discipleship, without these two cogs.
The chapter that struck me the most was his teaching on the spiritual life and care of ministers. As a former pastor who got hit in ministry like a monarch on the windshield of a mack truck, this was a solid chapter on the condition of the ministers heart, that I needed to read years ago. In the midst of games, teaching, ministering, counseling, wal-mart runs, replacing light bulbs, cleaning the building, and eating school lunches, the person I was becoming in ministry was being left behind. Willard argues that this is the most important part of ministry during his 20 pages devoted to the topic.
Willard was a staple amongst the deep thinkers and philosophers of Christianity. This book is amongst the most well thought out and challenging books on the issue of discipleship that I have come across. He throws no cheap shots in his writing, but does call the issue like he sees it. The church, in effort to make more churches, has lost its mission to make disciples.