Making disciples involves crossing generational barriers. To realize the Great Commission, disciples must engage every generation around them.
By Aaron Summers
Going to all the nations involves extending the gospel invitation to everyone outside one’s usual relational circle. When Jesus gave these instructions before ascending to the Father, He was not the keynote speaker to hundreds of would-be missionaries. Jesus was not trying to increase the mission brand.
Instead, Jesus was conversing with a group of friends who would go and change the world. He charged them with taking the gospel to everyone they encountered. The disciples were to extend the range of the mission to include Gentiles without ceasing the mission to Israel. To extend to the Gentiles was to take God’s love to those outside their regular circles and go into uncomfortable areas of morals, ethics, and lifestyles.
Jesus is sending them to all the world (“ethnos”). While many have used this term to mean nations other than the United States, I suggest that “ethnos” is also found in our homes and neighborhoods. Generational distinctions and gaps create a feel of an “ethnos.” Each must be intentional to take the gospel to every generation. For the church today, going to all the world includes going to every generation in our communities.“For the church today, going to all the world includes going to every generation in our communities.” — @aaronwsummers Click To Tweet
The differences among the worldviews of the five present generations are akin to asking an Israelite believer to take the gospel to a Gentile. Therefore, viewing “all the world” from a generational perspective is a significant factor in incorporating evangelism and discipleship into churches needing revitalization. The clarion call of the Great Commission is undoubtedly for those physically going to other nations. However, for the rest of the church, it means going across the street or the aisle at the grocery store and engaging in an intentional conversation.
Make disciples where you are
Matthew 28:18-20 is the most common Scripture used when discussing going into the all the world. This text’s history of interpretation and meaning is more personal than missional. Many understand this to be the great missionary call for the church to send people across the globe to reach people for Jesus. And making disciples of all nations requires some to leave home and go elsewhere. But Jesus’ focus was on the task of believers to duplicate themselves as they go along in life.
Jesus first expresses a command to go. This succinct command calls each to move beyond the routine of life and seek to engage people in different places. Jesus did not want them to remain stationary, waiting for something miraculous to happen. They were to go and be that miracle as they lived and shared the gospel.“Discipleship begins with an intention and continues with a conversation.” — @aaronwsummers Click To Tweet
As you go, seek out opportunities to make disciples. Discipleship begins with an intention and continues with a conversation. A disciple lives in such a way as to raise the desire of others to become one. Jesus commands a kind of evangelism that continues after someone makes a profession of faith. He is giving an order to be carried out by all who consider themselves His followers. A disciple has a whole-hearted, life-sacrificing, personal attachment to Jesus and desires to cause others to want the same.
See the harvest
Jesus was not issuing a command to leave home and country to make disciples of people in other geographic spaces. Instead, He was commanding them to make disciples wherever they went and with whomever they came in contact with.
Making disciples of all the tribes means going out amongst the general population, crossing generational barriers, and engaging in conversation. To fulfill the Great Commission, disciples must engage every generation God has placed all around them. The fields are white, but the workers are few. With the knowledge of other generations’ strengths, weaknesses, and worldviews coupled with an attitude of spiritual concern, anyone can begin to engage in gospel conversations.
Listen to stories
There are two difficult points: starting a conversation and turning a conversation. While the timeframe for the latter is often extended, beginning the conversation is as simple as “Hello. My name is…”. It’s easy to walk in and out of stores without speaking to anyone. But the disciple is called to engage.
Turning conversations involves being attentive to the Holy Spirit and the other person. It would need to be quick in the check-out line, but you can proactively return at the same time another day and choose the line with the same cashier. This repetition will, over time, build a small bond. Asking about their day or the story behind their tattoo is a way to engage and show interest. If it’s a Saturday, ask if they have plans for the next day and listen. Show genuine interest and seek to enjoy what they say. If time runs out, smile and share gratitude for the moment. But if time allows, ask if there is something for which you could pray. If time still permits, make a quick prayer. The way into a conversation often revolves around that person’s story. Everyone has a story to tell, but so few stop to listen.“The way into a conversation often revolves around that person's story. Everyone has a story to tell, but so few stop to listen.” — @aaronwsummers Click To Tweet
Take a stroll through Walmart. The Silent Generation is likely at the door greeting. These are the oldest in our society and the slower walkers in the aisles. Help them. Boomers are management. Some will be newly retired and possibly working part-time at the check-out. Many of the men are veterans. Thank them. Ask them about their service. Gen X in the store are also management. They may be angrier than others. They wanted upper management positions, but none were available. Millennials are young adults. The ones with kids are the older ones, while the more youthful millennials, along with Gen Z, make up much of the stockers and cashiers in the store. Each has a story and a dream. Start with those.
The final aspect of discipleship across generational lines is crucial. If a disciple engages in gospel conversations, the conversion will occur along the way. Jesus stated that His followers would teach “them to observe” all He had taught them (Matthew 28:20, CSB). Young and old alike ask about the other: “Why do they act that way?” This question comes from a position of ignorance. They have not sought to understand the other generation. Each must study the other to understand the nuances better. In this study, coupled with prayer for a heart like Jesus’, love begins to grow.Fulfilling the Great Commission doesn’t only mean to reach people far from you. The term also means to reach those groups of people closest to you but far from God. Click To Tweet
In our desire to evangelize the globe, how often do we ignore the personal responsibility to reach those closest to us? “Ethnos” doesn’t only mean to reach people far from the disciple. The term also means to reach those groups of people closest to them but far from God. Jesus did not intend for His followers only to go elsewhere but to reach those far from God in their communities. Today, the five generations act as five tribes or peoples. Therefore, when a modern reader reviews Matthew 28:18-20, it’s entirely plausible to understand the call to make disciples as a call for generational missiology along with national or tribal missiology.
Aaron serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Crowley, Texas, and as a church consultant with Texas Baptists. He and his wife Dulcie have two kids in college and enjoy traveling in their RV.
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