Can “Discipleship” happen on Short-Term Mission Trips?
Before answering too quickly, consider these things:
“The Great Commission”
“And Jesus came and said to them, “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.” Matthew 28: 18,19,20
If we can agree that within this text there are some means of discipleship, then we can look at those means and discuss whether or not they can be met in a short-term mission engagement. (For the purposes of this post, I am equating ‘Discipleship’ with The Actual Making of Disciples or Student-Followers of Jesus. I am also proposing that “going,” “teaching them to observe (obey) all that Jesus commanded,” and “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” are the requisites or means of biblical discipleship.
A note here: Going, Teaching, and Baptizing are participles. Specifically, these are all Instrumental Participles, or Participle of Means. They show “how” (or by what means) the Making of Disciples or Discipleship is done. The participles in this text are adverbial or circumstantial descriptors of the main verb Mathetes (Make Disciples), none of them are the main verb. These words take on the imperative mood and carry the notion of “must do,” as in you all must go, baptize, and teach others to observe (obey) all that Jesus commanded.
It is now up to you to decide whether or not Going, Baptizing, and Teaching can be accomplished in or by short-term engagements. It would seem on the surface, that these requisites or means each have different time sensitivities. What do I mean?
Going – As soon as one initiates the process of going, they have technically gone. Going can take a second, a day, or maybe even a lifetime. A word here about translating the participle “go,” as “as you go.” I don’t think it’s accurate to do so. I think the best translation is something like, “go and having gone,” or “go and as you are going.” I don’t think anyone “as you goes,” on a short-term mission trip. They are sometimes impulsive, always intentional, and directed imperatives. I think we can agree that people “go” on mission trips.
Teaching – The time it takes to teach a thing can fluctuate. When something is taught, how can we know “when” it has been learned? When one teaches another to tie shoes, the measure of that learning experience is determined by whether or not that one can tie his or her shoes. Here we might run into a bit of disagreement. If teaching to obey ALL that Christ commanded is one of the measurements or means in the making of a disciple, then we have a few choices:
- We can identify all the commands of Christ, list them out, and teach them one by one until we are done.
- We can teach a subset of ALL that Christ commanded and check them off as they are taught.
- We can say that teaching ALL that Christ commanded is a life long endeavor.
- And finally, we can say that as long as one is teaching (in the process of making student-folowers), they are practicing discipleship or are in disciple making mode.
Can discipleship happen on short-term mission trips?What do you say?