I am a big history buff. I love to read biographies where I can learn about the lives and times of people who made history. If you have ever read anything about the Civil War, you know about Lincoln and how he seemed to be divinely placed by God to lead the country through that painful, bloody chapter in our history. You know about Grant and Lee. You have probably heard of Sherman, Buell, Stonewall Jackson, and James Longstreet.
At the beginning of the Civil War, none of these men were as prominent as the Union’s General-in-Chief, George McClellan. Unless you are a student of Civil War history, you have probably never heard of General McClellan. On the surface, McClellan was astonishing. He was tall and handsome. The ladies loved him and men wanted to be him. He was smart and educated. At age 15, he was the youngest person ever to enter West Point. He graduated West Point at the top of his class. He came from an influential family. He was called the “Young Napoleon” because his incredible ability to grasp military strategy. He was an excellent recruiter. Under his leadership, the number of volunteers increased 300% in four months. He was loved by his troops. No one was surprised when President Lincoln appointed McClellan to lead the Union Army as General-in-Chief. He had the experience. He had the talent. He had it all. Now he was in command of an army that outnumbered the enemy two to one, and he had an army that could be supported by the industrial machine of the north.
There was just one problem, he wouldn’t fight. For weeks McClellan readied his position. He organized. He strategized. Lee’s army was just a few miles away and they were dangerously exposed. Lincoln repeatedly urged McClellan to fight, to use his numerical and tactical advantage to crush the rebels with one mighty blow. McClellan knew all about strategy. He knew the odds, but he wouldn’t fight.
After a year of waiting, Lincoln fired McClellan and eventually replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was not born in privilege. He barely got into West Point. He did not set the place on fire academically and graduated in the bottom third of his class. When the Civil War started he had resigned from the army and had not found his calling. Yet when his country needed him, he was willing to fight. Grant’s willingness to fight was the key to his rising to the top of the Union ranks. Lincoln said of Grant, “I can’t spare this man, he fights.”
If a general has all the ability and resources yet refuses to fight, what good is he? The greatest asset of a military man is his willingness to engage in battle. Without that, he is of little use. There is something as Christians and as a church that we need to do well, and without this one thing, everything else we do is useless. That one thing is making disciples. We can raise money. We can build wonderful buildings. We can preach inspiring messages and write wonderful songs. We can have the most incredible children’s and student ministries, but if we don’t make disciples, we fail.
Discipleship is at the center of the Great Commission—both for the church and for you as a believer. Jesus commands us in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In the Greek, the words “go”, “baptize” and “teach” are all participles that derive their force from the one controlling verb “make disciples.” Which means that going, baptizing and teaching are only effective in so far as they contribute to making disciples.
In 1962, Robert Coleman wrote a classic book entitled “The Master Plan of Evangelism.” Here’s a quote from the book:
The Great Commission is not merely to go to the ends of the earth preaching the gospel, nor to baptize a lot of converts into the Name of the Triune God, nor to teach them the precepts of Christ, but to ‘make disciples’—to build men like themselves who were so constrained by the commission of Christ that they not only followed Jesus themselves, but led others to follow him, too.
The measure of any church is not how many people are attending your services or how big your budget might be. The true measure of a church is how many Christians are actively winning souls to Jesus and impacting others with the gospel. How many in your church have a heart that breaks for the lost?
The responsibility of disciple-making is not just for the church or its pastors, it is the responsibility and duty of every follower of Jesus. We are tempted to read the Great Commission and think, “That responsibility falls on the apostles, not us. That’s what the church and the pastors do and I’ll support them as they do it, but that’s not something I’m supposed to do.”
Look once again at the Great Commission. We are to teach people “all that Jesus has commanded us,” and that includes making disciples. Jesus did not say, “Teach them all that I have commanded, except this command to make disciples. I only gave that one to those who are ordained. I only gave that to the pastors, evangelists and missionaries.” No, everyone who follows Jesus is to be a disciple-maker.
Jesus said in John 15:8, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” How is God glorified in you? He is glorified when you bear much fruit.