By J. Michael Corley
Five crows sit on a fence. If one crow decides to fly away, how many are left? Think about it. We’ll come back to that question later.
In the 2004 film The Terminal, Viktor Navorski (played by Tom Hanks) is stranded at the JFK airport. While he was in the air a revolution erupted in his country. He cannot go home. Nor will the U.S. allow him to enter because the new government of Krakozhia has not been recognized. Navorski lives at JFK’s Gate 6 for nine months with both feet firmly planted in midair.
Navorski’s story reminds me of many new believers. The church has been very effective in bringing people to a place where they choose to follow Jesus. But too often we have neglected them. As a result, most churches have lots of converts but few true followers.
Many believers, even leaders, are confused. Maybe it is because we have mistakenly assumed that if we get people to the terminal they will automatically make the rest of the journey.
The repeated “ask” of Jesus was, “Follow me.” Many people believe that having decided to follow Jesus, they have safely arrived at their destination. But they’re actually stuck at the terminal. Jesus’ invitation speaks more about movement than arrival. So does the Great Commission.
The Master’s Command
The Great Commission is a mandate for the church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Young’s Literal Translation renders Matthew 28:19 this way: “having gone, then, disciple all the nations.” This is a more accurate translation because the word make does not appear in the Greek.
Young’s treats the Greek word for disciple as a verb rather than as a noun. Matheteusate is a charge “to disciple,” not “to make disciples.” Let me explain.
Dictionary.com defines the English word make as, “To bring into existence by shaping or changing material, combining parts, etc.; To make a dress; to make a channel; to make a work of art. To produce; cause to exist or happen; bring about: to make trouble; to make war. To cause to be or become; render: to make someone happy.”
Jesus directs us to disciple others because he knows that with his help, we are able to control our own actions. But can we manage the response of others? Can we bring disciples into existence? Can we produce disciples? Can we cause disciples to be? We cannot make disciples, but we can disciple others.
First Corinthians 3:7 says, “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (NIV, emphasis added). If we stay connected to Jesus, we are able to plant and water. We cannot cause growth. Only God can do that. We can disciple. We must. The issue is how to disciple effectively.
Nathan J’Diim grew dissatisfied with the results his church was getting. They were mobilizing people, their best and brightest, to take the gospel to the world. But many burned out and made little impact.
Nathan concluded that the problem was not with the people but with superficial preparation by the church and mission agencies. So he created a yearlong discipling internship he calls TOAG (Training Ordinary Apprentices to Go). Through TOAG everyday people are being radicalized, in the Jesus sense of the word.
Nathan says, “TOAG trains people to follow the ways of Jesus and bring the blessings of the kingdom to people groups overlooked by the church, especially among Muslims.”
TOAG has been so successful that internships have popped up in 20 cities in the U.S. and in three overseas locations, including Moscow, Russia.
A Follower of Jesus
I met Larry at TOAG. He is a businessman in his middle 50s with a wife and a family. We had both enrolled because we liked the challenge. We were urged to grow in our passion for Jesus, for his kingdom, and for being fruitful. One core objective of the course was to learn and share a simple Jesus story each week.
After two weeks of discouraging failure with “storying,” I asked Larry to take me out with him. I met him at his business one afternoon. We jumped into his truck and I asked, “Where are we going?”
Larry said, “To the mosque.”
When we arrived, Larry knocked on the door. A gracious Pakistani physician answered and invited us in.
After removing our shoes, we entered the main room and sat on the carpeted floor. For over an hour we had a pleasant conversation during which Larry shared a couple of Jesus stories.
Our host listened with great respect and interest and shared some thoughts from the Koran. Rather than getting defensive or argumentative, Larry smiled and continued talking about Jesus.
About 75 minutes into our conversation our host received a text message. He apologized for the interruption and noted that he had to go to the hospital to visit some patients. As he left, the doctor smiled warmly and said, “Please come and visit us again.”
When we returned to his truck, I looked in awe at Larry. My respect for him had grown a bunch. So I was not too surprised, at the end of the internship, when Larry sold his business and followed Jesus to North Africa. He is there to share the good news about Jesus with unreached people.
Larry is not a seminary or Bible college graduate. He is simply a follower of Jesus.
The Disciples’ Call
Another TOAG grad, Eric Henley, was serving on staff at Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona. Eric was part of the leadership team guiding the Life Group ministry. He decided that for him, TOAG was so transformational that he needed to adapt the TOAG material. He wanted to offer an internship for believers who had no overseas or full-time ministry ambitions.
So he edited out the Muslim piece but kept the other key ingredients. Some of the learning experiences he retained include:
• Learn a new Jesus story every other week.
• Tell a Jesus story every week at least two times.
• Read a “close to the flame” book.
• Love, serve, and pray for/with not-yet-believers.
When the dust settled, an eight-month beta version of “The Disciples’ Call” (TDC) emerged. Since then the curriculum has been revised. Now 26 weeks long, TDC is offered in two 13-week segments.
TDC retains the passion for Jesus, for his kingdom, and for being fruitful. However, the missional elements have changed: (1) to share Jesus stories with not-yet-believers, and (2) to launch new Life Groups.
What TDC Grads Say
I asked Seth, a young banker and TDC alumnus, about his experience. He said, “TDC opened my eyes to what being a “casual Christian” meant. I learned how to be intentional in my walk with God and follow the example of Jesus.”
Were there any highlights for him? “We studied Jesus stories and shared them with others.”
When asked if he had any advice for a person considering TDC he warned, “A person should only enroll in TDC if he wants to be as countercultural as Jesus was. TDC will shake you up. It will help you have a stronger and deeper relationship with God.”
He summed up by saying, “Going in, I expected my brain to be stretched. But it was my heart that did the most stretching. Holding each other accountable was the best part for me.”
Mike is a police lieutenant. When asked about the best part of the training he said, “Just forgetting everything I’d ever heard about the Jesus stories and putting myself back into them, then sharing with others.”
His wife, Sam, said, “The fellowship and getting together was my favorite part. Especially when we started talking about the kingdom of Heaven. It seemed to be all that Jesus talked about.”
Another participant, Lynetta, said, “Meeting together and holding each other accountable was the best part for me.”
Deciding or Flying?
If one crow decides to fly away, that still leaves five sitting on the fence. Deciding to fly away and actually flying are two different things.
Both TOAG and TDC are organic ministries that are developing and growing, like grapevines. Catalytic Jesus Communities (www.catalyticjesuscommunities.com) is the trellis that supports each by providing an online curriculum and accountability system.
If you have decided to follow Jesus, you can stop sitting on the fence and start flying by enrolling in an intentional discipleship program like TOAG or TDC. Maybe you could invite some others to join you.
James M. Corley is a freelance writer in Queen Creek, Arizona.
Imitating the Actions of Christ
1. Choose a passage of Scripture that recounts an interaction between Jesus and his disciples or other people.
2. Underline, highlight, or write down every verb that describes what Jesus did.
3. What do these verbs show about Christ’s character and priorities?
4. Now look at your own life. Which of Jesus’ actions are present in your life? How can you grow in godliness by imitating Christ’s actions?