When Jesus commissions his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20, he sends them out to demonstrate what the church looks like. They are a follow-ship: a fellowship of believers that experiences and follows the risen Christ. It begins with Jesus himself calling them to a mountain and ends with his promise of presence: “Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the age.”
I think there are at least five components of good follow-ship. Maybe you can think of others, but these are the ones listed in the great commission. One is not as important as the other, but each one is a part of the life of the church. By following Jesus, they show a different kind of community, a church, also known as a fellowship of the Trinity. When we do these 5 things, we are showing others who Jesus is.
Believe – When the disciples see Jesus, they worship, and some doubt. Belief involves worship of the risen Christ and doubt. This is not the kind of disloyalty described in James 1 that leaves you tossed about in a storm. This the kind of doubt that Peter and the disciples had in the boat with Jesus in Matthew 14. Peter still doubted, despite walking on the water with Jesus. This doubt is evidence that their faith needs to grow.
Bless – To grow our faith through our doubts, we go and bless others. I imagine Jesus gesturing to his disciples like Abraham blessed his son Isaac. He blessed them to go as they had already gone. They were experienced go-ers. Now they were going to bless others the way they had been blessed by his presence.
Belong – When you go, you disciple people and help them belong to the follow-ship. Belonging happens through blessing. Good deeds (Blessing) often lead to opportunities to show people what a church looks like. Discipling is the ongoing mentoring and apprenticeship needed to form fully functional followers of Jesus. It takes more than a signature on a decision card. We need relationships with other disciples. As one person said, in order to be a disciple, you have to disciple others. These relationships are formed in community with others.
Baptize – To initiate new believers into the church, Jesus gave us baptism. When you are baptized, we speak the name of fellowship we represent over your life. It’s the name of the figures that appeared at Jesus’ baptism: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the bride of Christ, you now take on the name of the Trinity as part of your life.
Behave – None of us can work our way into the church, and none of us can correct our own behavior without the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives. As part of the community, we show and demonstrate a different kind of lifestyle. We learn how to live morally, spiritually, and relationally. We “teach them to observe everything” as Jesus commands. Jesus’ words are God’s words to us. He is the filter through which we decide how to live our lives. We ask ourselves, “If Jesus were living the life I have right now, how would he behave?”
As the diagram suggests, Jesus communicates this chiastically, or in a circular pattern. The circle suggests that you can begin anywhere you want. You can begin with behavior or belonging, but the important point is that it all leads to personal experience of the risen Christ that sends you out to the nations. The pattern also suggests that each person can work on a stage along the journey of life. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of beliefs; at other seasons of life, we need to work on our behavior. No matter what you do, or wherever you go, Christ’s presence stays with you. Welcome aboard the follow-ship!