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Renewing a commitment to disciple making

Updated: May 30

I still remember the call to discipleship given to me as a college freshman in a Bible study at the University of Oregon in 2014. My heart seemed to race with a primal drumbeat to Jesus’ words in the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20:


Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

I was intimidated by the challenge, and convicted by the realization that as much as I’d wanted to in the past, I had never responded faithfully to Jesus and obeyed these words. Responding to these words and reaching for this goal would mean making a lot of changes in my life; in fact, I might lose my life. “I don’t think I can do this” became a tempting response, until reading “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (v. 20) That was my only hope. If Jesus would help, I could allow him to change my life from one of not making disciples, to making disciples by His authority. I was scared to death, but if Jesus took my hand and empowered me to do what he requested, I would go with him.


My life began to change for the better.


do my actions match my beliefs?

Psychologists would describe this thinking as cognitive dissonance - when one feels conflicted because their beliefs don’t align with their actions. It’s an uncomfortable contradiction that one settles either by changing their convictions to align with the status quo actions, or changing their actions to align with their new convictions. Renewal depends on this decision. Many face Jesus-style disciple making and choose to believe that it doesn’t require commitment in order to avoid the mental discomfort. In resisting the change of lifestyle, they effectively choose to not believe Jesus’ words. This gets reinforced if we are in a faith environment where those around us affirm our lifestyle that the great commission doesn’t really need to be obeyed.


I was raised in an environment like that in the evangelical world, where a fixed and passive mindset towards the great commission was more encouraged than an intentional growth mindset. The culture around me had affirmed “You don’t actually have to do what he says or follow Jesus in order to follow Jesus”. These faith cultures seem to value an ounce of knowledge more than a pound of obedience.


Rather than leading others to the feet of Jesus at that ancient hill in Galilee, we acted as if Jesus would sit at our feet instead. We demanded that the mission of God bow down to our preferences, lifestyles and our ideas of Lordship. These preferences multiplied and were often the very things that held us back from growth in Christ. They did for me until that Bible study came with the call to discipleship.


engaging in the battle

I prayed in that moment that Jesus would transform my heart for the lost, and I decided from that day forward that I would have a Biblical conviction of disciple making with which to align my actions.  I still pray that prayer today, not only for disciple making but for all of Jesus’ countercultural teachings. I look back fondly at my time of becoming a disciple and choosing to make disciples on an extremely secular campus, where our small group saw over a dozen students converted, raised up, and serving in full time ministry or on mission teams. Not only did we transform ourselves, but we made a lasting impact in transforming the world around us.


Fast forward to 2019, my wife and I planted a church in Bend, OR ([six months before Covid hit). Our mission team of mostly young singles were fresh out of campus ministries from other churches, but some common themes emerged. About 90% of our team had never led someone else to the Lord. Without competency in studying the Bible with people, our team did not have basic theology or basic methodology for winning the lost. I believe our mission team was typical of many in the next generation of our churches: a good hearted and eager generation unequipped and waiting to be missionally activated. I believe that without active disciple making in our lives we tend to be active in disciple “unmaking”, transforming into the dominant cultural environment rather than a Jesus lifestyle.


How did we turn this around? I was 25 and spiritually one of the youngest disciples on our team, having been a disciple for just five years before planting the church.  Without maturity, experience, or theological accountability, we were at risk of losing out to the culture around us. We had to train and solidify convictions quickly. We had to do the work of converting our team from a culture of disobedience to a culture of obedience to King Jesus and his commission. 


We had to align our actions with the conviction that making disciples who make disciples is not just theory, but Christ’s will. This then became the call to the culture around us. Sure, we had lots of great teaching on sound doctrine and lessons on how to win others to Christ, but more than anything, I believe our shared commitment to making disciples of King Jesus steered us straight and allowed all else to fall in line with that goal. Our team rose to the challenge rather than sliding back into their lifestyles of evangelistic apathy. So how did we turn it all around to steer our theology through troubled cultural waters? We made disciples. As we engaged with the lost people of Bend, Oregon, we heard things like:


“When Jesus spoke about Hell, he was only referring to the local garbage dump.”


“I’m a Christian. I think Jesus was a great teacher, but he wasn’t the only way. Not sure if he was really God’s son.”


“Jesus said that we have the keys to bind and loose here on earth, so maybe it’s up to us to decide if you can be gay and a Christian.”


Time and time again our team found themselves defending Biblical orthodoxy against this type of progressive theology.  We encountered many people who wanted the Bible to conform to their heart, rather than conform their heart to the Bible. These were challenging issues, but good for our faith. If we had not been actively engaged in disciple making, we would not have had to face these very common opinions.


Making disciples forces us to confront cultural issues and preferences that go against discipleship to Jesus. This commitment of disseminating our beliefs to the world was a practice of the early church and needs to be renewed today1. Our team took a stand on aligning with Jesus and called others to the same conviction through disciple making. Like the early church, this practice of engagement kept us on our toes theologically, prepared us to answer others, and cleared the heresy that we may have fallen into had we not been so engaged2. 


The ongoing drumbeat for this renewal went back to my first prayer in becoming a disciple; “Jesus, will you transform my heart to be like yours?”. In a world that wants Jesus’ Kingdom to bow down to our preferences, I say let’s lay down our preferences for the mission of King Jesus.  Without Jesus’ Kingdom mission, our hearts will not be transformed into Christlikeness, but into worldliness or cultural Christianity.   How will you respond when there’s a cognitive dissonance between our countercultural convictions as a disciple and the culturally normalized actions of those around you?  Are you making disciples of Jesus who obey his teachings and follow his lifestyle?


Here are a couple practical tools that I believe will help you. Our team solidified orthodoxy (what we believe) with Renew Network’s Real Life theology series, while unifying our orthopraxy (what we do) around a seven week disciple makers pathway that we developed to train over forty disciples in missional engagement this past year. These resources were developed to fuel disciple making, and I hope they can help you to do the same as you continually renew your commitment to reaching this generation for Christ.


To God be the Glory as we renew our commitments to being like Jesus!


Joey Hungerford


Joey Hungerford is a film maker, disciple maker, and father serving in the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife Madison lead the Bend International Church of Christ and equip others throughout a collective of Oregon house churches. The Hungerfords have had three births while engaged in church planting, adding Saoirse, Thaddeus and Valor to their family. To connect with God, Joey enjoys backpacking in the Cascade mountains, gardening, and creating spiritual content on the Disciple Makers Youtube channel



1: “Christians do not neglect, as far as in them lies, to take measures to disseminate their doctrine throughout the whole world. Some of them, accordingly, have made it their business to itinerate not only through cities, but even villages and country houses, that they might make converts to God. And no one would maintain that they did this for the sake of gain, when sometimes they would not accept even necessary sustenance; or if at any time they were pressed by a necessity of this sort, were contented with the mere supply of their wants.” Origen, (A.D. 248) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.468

2: “The great heresies in the early Church arose not from the rapid expansion resulting from the work of these unknown teachers; but in those churches which were longest established, and where the Christians were not so busily engaged in converting the heathen round them.” Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of The Church

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