A few years back I heard this story at a conference:
A school superintendent told his assistant superintendent the following: “Next Thursday morning at 10:30, Halley’s Comet will appear over this area. This is an event which occurs only once every seventy-five years. Call the school principals and have them assemble their teachers and classes on their athletic fields and explain this phenomenon to them. If it rains, then cancel the day’s observation and have the classes meet in the auditorium to see a film about the comet.”
Assistant superintendent to school principals: “By order of the superintendent of schools, next Thursday at 10:30 Halley’s Comet will appear over your athletic field. If it rains, then cancel the day’s classes and report to the auditorium with your teachers and students where you will be shown films, a phenomenal event which occurs only once every seventy-five years.”
Principals to teachers: “By order of the phenomenal superintendent of schools, at 10:30 next Thursday Halley’s Comet will appear in the auditorium. In case of rain over the athletic field, the superintendent will give another order—something which occurs only once every seventy-five years.”
Teachers to students: “Next Thursday at 10:30 the superintendent of schools will appear in our school auditorium with Halley’s Comet; something which occurs once every seventy-five years. If it rains, the superintendent will cancel the comet and will order us out to our phenomenal athletic field.”
Students to parents: “When it rains next Thursday at 10:30 over the school athletic field, the phenomenal seventy-five-year-old superintendent of schools will cancel all classes and appear before the school in the auditorium accompanied by Bill Haley and the Comets.”
Have you ever experienced things getting lost in translation? When you say one thing, and what is heard is something different? Sometimes very different? If you are married I know you have experienced this. If you are a teenager or a parent of a teenager, I know you have experienced this.
When we hear the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV) All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. What do we hear?
Do you hear: “Therefore find missionaries and have them go to all the countries in the world so that they can make converts. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit and give them Bibles and MP3 players with all sorts of good teaching on them so that they can know everything I have said.”
Sometimes I think that is what people really think here in the American Church. We think the “go” is meant for missionaries, that “make disciples” means people making a decision for Christ, and that “baptizing them and teaching them” means joining a local church that they faithfully attend, financially support, and serve on a committee.
If your message can get lost in translation as fast as it happened for that superintendent, imagine the challenges that 2000 years of history, a change of continents, and a radically different culture could create!
A Christian disciple at that time and place was not someone who merely made a decision to accept Jesus as their Savior, but a person who was devoted to Him, His Church, and His mission. Discipleship was not a programmed thing, or a role that one played in certain places or on certain occasions. It was a way of life. Discipleship wasn’t something that was done alone. It was done with another. It was a spiritual living out of Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (NIV) These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
So when Jesus tells us to go and make disciples, He was calling us to something very personal and very relational. He was calling us to be spiritual parents. I think it gets much closer to the intent of Jesus’ command to paraphrase it like this:
“Therefore go as spiritual fathers and mothers, be fruitful and multiply, making spiritual sons and daughters from all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them as a parent would their children, to obey everything I have commanded you.”