The relationship between discipleship and missions is significant. These two key elements of the Christian life cannot be separated, nor can one be done without the other.
We do missions because we want to see more disciples. We engage in missions work because we want to do the type of things that lead people to become committed believers in Jesus, and this is the door we enter through to begin the process of discipleship.
How is discipleship related to missions? Discipleship is related to missions in that the goal of missions is to make more disciples (believers) of Jesus Christ and the outcome of discipleship inevitably leads to more people being involved in missions.
The Role of Discipleship in Missions
How does discipleship play a role in missions?
Many churches and sending agencies are training missionaries to make disciples, and they are giving them the tools and techniques they will need to make disciples in a particular context.
One of the first steps they take in sending a missionary is identifying what things need to be taught in a particular culture and what the best method is of teaching in that culture.
We can conclude that a big component of discipleship is teaching–transferring quality information from one person to the next. And this looks different in every culture and context, which means it is very important for a missionary to learn how to do this well, in order to be effective.
Therefore, if discipleship was not important, then there would be no need to learn how to teach in that particular culture. But because it is important and plays a significant role in missions, learning how to teach in a cross-cultural setting becomes a high priority in missions training.
The Role of Missions in Discipleship
Whenever we making disciples, we are training people to do what Jesus did. One of the primary things Jesus did was proactively reach out to other people, to make the universal invitation for all to be saved.
If we are teaching people to be like Jesus, then we begin to do the thing that Jesus did, which is intentionally befriending other people, while offering them the gift of salvation. Jesus offered people the way back to God, and we should be doing the same thing.
Both in our individual lives and in our churches, missions is a key component. It is impossible to be a mature disciple unless you step outside of yourself to do what Jesus did. There is a danger for the Christian who has zero involvement in missions.
The believer who is not involved in mission work in any way, will either become or already is, inwardly-focused and spiritually apathetic. This is not to shame anyone, but to understand that the Great Commission is a key element of our Christian faith, and if there is no desire to see the lost saved, there is a need for examining your heart in order to discover how this can be changed.
However, for the Christian who is involved in missionary activity in some way or another, they will mature in their faith and can fully expect to witness selfishness growing smaller and smaller in their hearts over time.
How Discipleship at Home Differs Discipleship Overseas
It’s incredibly important to understand the context in which you are going to do discipleship. Christians, especially missionaries, are social anthropologists of sorts and in order to be effective, we have to study and understand the culture we hope to impact.
Everyone has a worldview that is carried with us wherever we go, whether that is at home in the local church, or overseas in a foreign land–wherever we are, our worldview will influence how we interact with and disciple others.
Therefore, what works at home with those who share our worldview may not necessarily work on the mission field, where the context and worldview is 100% different.
So let’s take a look at just two helpful examples of how discipleship at home differs from discipleship in a foreign country.
The Example of Straightforward Accountability
America is a straight forward culture and if a teacher sees their disciple living in sin, they will be straightforward in a correction. This is not expected to offend the other person, it is expected to be received as loving.
This way of doing things, however, is not the case in the rest of the world.
Take South Korea for example. If you were to call someone out in the American way, it would be seen as deeply shameful and would more than likely do more harm than good.
The Example of Gender Roles
Women in America and in the Western Church have ample liberty and there is no shame in a woman approaching a man, or vice versa, to discuss Biblical topics, or to simply be friends, etc.
In Muslim culture, this is not the case. Women are usually separated from men and kept with the children while the men are taught. There is generally no equality between men and women, therefore, the ways in which we interact with one another here would be seen as immodest and unacceptable.
The key is learning the context and responding to it in the most effective way that is sensitive to the views of the people.
How it All Comes Together
Missions exist because worship doesn’t.— John Piper
John Piper, in his famous quote, puts it in such a plain way for us to understand. Those who are not disciples, do not worship Jesus. However, the disciple lives a life of worship to Jesus. Piper’s statement sums up the very core reason we do missions, and the very life of a disciple, which is a life of worship and to teach other people the worship of Jesus Christ.
Discipleship and missions, therefore, are not exclusive from one another but are linked with an unbreakable chain. This is the reason missions exist. We must go and make disciples, inviting all people to worship and live for Jesus Christ, the King of kings.