Matthew 28:18-20 is a bedrock concept for every church planter. We all can grasp what it means to make disciples of all the nations. It’s simple to understand, yet one of the hardest components of any church community to put into replicating practice. However, through a western theological lens, this activity often takes on a specific approach. Usually, it means going out to bring disciples into existing church community culture. To speak broadly, missionaries from Western countries have historically used discipleship as a pathway to colonize people and places. Does that sound right? Are we called to go into the world to make the world a little more like us?
If our understanding is to be a church that owns people and ideas, then a Great Commission that seeks assimilation makes sense. We may not use the word “assimilate,” but it seems churches organize around the idea of sameness, particularly along racialized lines. What does your church community look like?
We don’t want to erase the Great Commission, but we do want to address our approach that informs church function and practices in our modern world. Our understanding of faith, and even neighborhoods and its people, are not made in a vacuum. We are products of formation and the ways we view the world are shaped through a particular lens. The original question was: Are we supposed to disciple others to think and act just like us? Most of us would answer no, we want to be more like Jesus. But then I would ask another question: Whose picture of Jesus do we follow? Every tradition derives its own understanding through cultural lenses and belief systems. We’re not as neutral as we may think. So what now?
Unity in Diversity
The passage has a call to simply make disciples, then a “how” through baptism. We need to consider the rest of the gospels coupled with the entire narrative of scripture to shape the remainder of our understanding. Towards the end, Revelations 7:9 provides a picture where every tribe tongue and nation bow before the throne. It’s one of ultimate unity in diversity in God’s kingdom. Each of us retain our uniqueness including ethnic identities. God’s final hope is a multi-ethnic multitude. This is a striking culmination that demonstrates the magnitude of the incarnation. Each of us, specifically along ethnic lines, have our own “come to Jesus” moment as it were, that’s unique to our own skin, language, and culture. Jesus is translatable to each unique context. There’s no need to assimilate new disciples to a different culture. Jesus will encounter each of us uniquely.
Missionaries understand the need to develop cultural awareness when translating the gospel into new context. Although the gospel resonates to fundamental human longings, how that’s communicated must vary. Herein lies a partial answer on how we embody the Great Commission in a manner that is apt for our times. We need to develop more tools surrounding cultural competency.
We need to have enough diligence to be more introspective with our interpretations of “why” people believe what they do, and how different cultures or neighborhoods function. We need to be careful how we evaluate belief systems, cultural structures, and languages (to name a few) in an attempt to determine right from wrong. How can we do it?
The key is the crux of discipleship—relationship. To prevent assimilation through discipleship, we need a posture that’s reciprocal. Relationship implies we journey together, alongside one another, to learn and change. It’s working through the unique people in the body, old and new, to discover new ways of how to do and be church moving forward. Through relationships, new awareness develops. We can learn the root identities of the people in the community. We can begin describing or championing key stories and monuments in our neighborhoods. We learn the histories of different cultures and ethnicities. We can discover new relationship with the land.To prevent assimilation through discipleship, we need a posture that’s reciprocal. ~ Rohadi Click To Tweet
Relationship is a pathway to enrich the community through a shared pursuit of God’s kingdom come in our midst. It’s a way to deepen what holds us together beyond a church service or program could offer. We get there not by trying to make everyone look, act, or believe the same, rather, we venture along a shared pursuit towards Jesus, figuring out what that looks like to our unique place and space together.
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