The longer I serve in ministry the more I realize how easily the church’s priorities can become misguided. Good ministry can become a distraction from THE ministry of the church if we are not diligent and focused. Jesus carefully crafted His desired focus for all believers in what we have come to call the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-29). His final words reflect the same priority before His ascension as He tasks us to be His “witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).”
Years later, when the Apostle Paul zeroed in on his final ministerial advice to Timothy, he wrote, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” I call it the Golden Rule of Discipleship. To paraphrase, pour into others just as others have poured into you. Raising up disciples who make disciples is not a ministry of the church, it is the ministry of the church. This mandate is not optional or negotiable. Billy Graham famously said that if the church followed Paul’s command, we could reach the world in one generation. God entrusts us with the gospel so that we will pass it on to others. Doing so requires . . .
The Priority of a Soldier. Using the illustration of a soldier, Scripture invites us to be willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel (2 Tim. 2:3). Think about the tremendous sacrifices those who don their country’s uniform face. They endure harsh conditions away from the people they love, all while putting their lives at risk. Thus, if we are serious about making disciples we must accept that the work will be difficult.
To stay on task, we should always remember that a good soldier serves with the single purpose of pleasing his commanding officer (2 Tim. 2:3). In a similar way, our goal should never be to please men, but God who examines our hearts (1 Thess. 2:4). Doing so requires avoiding worldly entanglements that distract us from our primary mission of stewarding the gospel well. We should never confuse our calling (to make disciples) with our vocation (our career). In fact, the latter should be a means to fulfill our purpose for living, not compete with it.
The Precision of an Athlete. Next, the Apostle Paul emphasizes the need to play by the rules if we are to succeed in God’s mission. Like an athlete competing for a prize, we must compete according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). True competitors familiarize themselves with the rules of play through diligent study and repetitious practice. Likewise, Christians must pursue godliness through reading and obeying Holy Scripture. Versions of Christianity the undermine or contradict the Bible may appeal to many, but they are anything but Christian. Cutting biblical corners will disqualify even those with the best of intentions from serving the Lord.
The Patience of a Farmer. Finally, in what may be my favorite example of all them all, Scripture reminds us that making disciples is only possible when you realize that doing so requires the patience of farmer working a field (2 Tim. 2:6). Just think about how much patience bringing in an abundant harvest requires. The farmer must wait for winter to end. He plows and plants, then he waits some more. He waters the seed, and then waits. He covers the crops when the frost comes, and then he waits. He waits knowing how the season works. He waits believing that the harvest will come. And He waits trusting that his hard work will pay off. Then, one day, the harvest does indeed come in and, in that moment, the sacrifice of waiting is well worth it. Before the farmer’s food feeds your family, it covers his table. Before his cotton covers you back, it fills his closet. His vegetables will occupy jars in his cupboard before they line the shelves of your pantry in cans. The meat from his livestock will load his freezer before it replenishes yours. And rightly so, because the hardworking farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.
So, let’s keep making disciples. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. No matter how much you sacrifice, no matter how long it takes, and no matter how long you must wait, you’ll be glad that you did. When in doubt, just remember the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer.
Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.