by Bob Allen:
A marathoner trains to run 26.2 miles.
For some, the desired outcome is simply to get to the finish line.
For some it is get to the finish line without walking.
For some it is to shave seconds or minutes from a previous time.
In order to reach the goal, whatever it is, the person running is going to do more than show up on race day and assume they’re going to be able to get the job done. To simply show up and believe that by some sort of Harold Hill-ian “think method” that you’re going to achieve your goal just through your mere presence at the course is…well frankly, it’s stupid.
If you want to achieve the goal, you need to train. You need to put in the hard work. Because you know the end goal, you can see the finish line, so to speak, and because you know the outcome is within reach you strive to make it happen.
In the book of Numbers, God makes a promise unlike any others. In the midst of the Israelites making really poor decisions while in the wilderness, Moses begs God not to wipe them out. Moses urges God not to strike his people with affliction for his own name’s sake. Here’s how God responds to Moses’s plea, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers.” (Num 14:20-23, emphasis added)
Did you see it?
It’s kinda snuck in there, though I put it in boldface so you wouldn’t miss it. God’s glory is going to fill the earth. In spite of these folks who were supposed to be living to glorify God by being set apart and living lives that looked drastically different from the cultures around them, God’s glory is going to have its day.
Much like the marathon, there is a finish line–God’s glory filling the earth.
Ultimately, it is achieved with or without the help of the church because when the time is right and Jesus comes in his glory, people will, whether they want to or not, bow down at his name and worship him. God doesn’t need the church to get his glory.
But God wants the glory in the here and now, from the near 7,500,000,000 (give or take a few tens of millions) people living on the earth today. There is glory to be given to God now not just then.
So, the church, who can see the finish line clearly because of God’s promise here in the Book of Numbers and throughout the rest of the Bible, receives the honor of being God’s messengers of reconciliation for God’s glory. The apostle Peter writes that God’s chosen people, his royal priesthood, his holy nation for his own possession heralds God’s past, present, and future glory to the watching world.
So the question then becomes, “How do we herald that truth?”
Is it simply by being street-corner proclaimers of the gospel? Is it by shouting from the rooftops that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father? Is it by being graceful, kind, and generous people to all? These are good things, but they only demonstrate our view of God. If we want to se God glorified by the seven-and-a-half billion-or-so people on the planet, they must view God as the believer views God. In short, we have to make disciples, a command given to disciples by Jesus himself. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:18-20)
As an individual, I can only disciple so many people. If I were to share the gospel SUCCESSFULLY every second of every day for 200 years, I wouldn’t reach 7.5 billion people in my lifetime. Many of us feel like reaching ONE person successfully would be an accomplishment let alone the billions around the world which are perishing because they aren’t hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. The task is far too large for one person.
And this is where the mandate to make disciples comes in. For example, if I reach three people with the goal of having them become disciple-makers and not just converts, and they in turn reach three people with the goal of having them become disciple-makers, who in turn…you see the pattern. But let’s say we start with turning current believers into actual disciple-makers and we dedicate ourselves to the task in conservative two-year time periods. At the end of the first two-year cycle, there are three; at the end of two cycles, there are 12 because I’m not going to stop after the initial three people; at the end of three, 39; after five—one decade, 363.
But what if there’s not just one person doing the work?
What if we could get the entire body to buy into this framework?
Imagine if a church of 100 members decided to take this approach. 100 becomes 36,300 in a decade. In eleven years, that number jumps to 109,200 I live in Davenport, IA where the population stands at 102320 as of 2017. In eleven years, a church of 100 members, dedicated to disciple-making, could in theory reach the entire city.
Let that sink in. A church of 100 members zeroed in on reproductive disciple-making could reach nearly 100,000 people in just over a decade.
For argument’s sake, there are 47,456 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention and they average 111 weekly attenders. Let’s make the math a little bit easier and round the number of churches down to 47,000 and the average attendance of 111 people down to 100.
Do the math.
47,000 x 36,300 = 1,706,100,000. People. In a decade. That’s just under a quarter of the world’s population. Projections tell us that will be roughly 20% of the population by year 2030.
And that’s only Southern Baptist Churches! Research shows that there are possibly 500-650 million evangelicals worldwide. At that rate, the world could be completely converted in under a decade if every evangelical focused on being a disciple-making disciple.
Have you picked your jaw up off the floor yet?
Remember, I’m talking about possibility here. I know this is theoretical, but don’t the numbers, even in theory, show us that the work of making disciple-makers should be our priority? We the church have been given a task which if taken seriously can change the world. We the church must fixate on the job which no one else the world can do. We the church, at the behest of our Lord, serve to see HIS glory cover the earth.
But God’s glory isn’t going to cover the earth unintentionally. It isn’t like we’re going to wake up one morning and the entire earth is going to luck into figuring it out. It requires a dedication and commitment to disciple making that must become the norm.