Jesus didn’t just teach his disciples. He also sent them out to teach what he taught (the kingdom) and do what he did (heal people). We see this in the sending of the 12 and the 72 in the gospels.
In Matthew 10:1-2 we get a very interesting shift in language,
” Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles…“
Why the shift in just two verses, back to back, from disciple to apostle? Verse 5 tells us,
“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…”
The word for apostles in verse 2 and the word for sent in verse 5 are the noun and verb equivalents of basically the same root word. The noun is a “sent one” (we just say apostle which is a transliteration rather than a translation) and the verb is “to send.”
The word disciples means a “follower.” The disciples don’t stop being disciples once they are sent. They are both disciples and apostles until Jesus ascends into heaven. From that point on they aren’t following him, boots on the ground, they are sent by him via the Great commission and Acts 1:6-8 which makes them “sent ones” or apostles.
We need to embrace this shift as well. First, we need to more fully embrace being a disciple/follower. We need to learn from Jesus, sit at his feet in reading and studying the gospels to learn to do life his way. Then we need to be sent out with the message of the kingdom.
I believe many have been weak in this across the board – we don’t do discipleship well and we don’t send well (we have ministers and missionaries for that) so we don’t expect much from the congregation in terms of personal commitment to these biblical priorities. But we should expect much more.
We have to embrace discipleship before we can be equipped to be sent. We don’t get to the second because we never did the first. What is worse, we send people on mission (the second) without them understanding discipleship (the first). This is backwards. We have to understand and practice discipleship before the sending makes any sense because what are we to do when we get where we are going? Make disciples. We are sending people to do what they don’t know how to do because they never went through it themselves because the generations before them got caught up on engaging their time and resources in theological debate more than disciple making. We are now experiencing the fall out of that approach. Our sending is weak because our discipling is weak.
It is time to make disciples, starting in our own congregations. When we do that well the sending will happen on its own and it will involve far more than missionaries and ministers. It will involve all Christians.