Why do we say this? because Jesus Christ Himself said it in His final words before His Ascension into heaven.
Matthew’s account sums it up: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you …” (Matt. 28:19, 20). Significantly, in the original text, “go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” are participles. This means that these responsibilities derive their direction from the leading verb, “make disciples,” or as it might be translated, “make learners” of Christ.
It shouldn’t seem strange that Jesus Christ should place such a high priority on discipling. After all, Jesus was simply asking His followers to do what He had done with them. That is why they could understand it. As they had freely received, now they were to transmit what they had learned to other seekers of truth. His mandate was the articulation of the rule by which Christ had directed His ministry. Though slow, and not accomplished without great sacrifice, He knew His way would succeed. For as individuals learn of Him and follow the pattern of His life they will invariably become disciplers, and as their disciples in turn do the same, someday through multiplication the world will come to know Him whom to know aright is life everlasting.
A Ministry Life-style
The Great Commission is not a special calling or a gift of the Spirit; it is a command—an obligation incumbent upon the whole community of faith. There are no exceptions. Bank presidents and automobile mechanics, physicians and schoolteachers, theologians and homemakers—everyone who believes on Christ has a part in His work (John 14:12).
Biblically speaking, we cannot define clergy and laity as mutually exclusive terms. In the bonds of Christ, all are laity (or the people of God) and equally share the responsibility to make disciples. By the same criteria, the whole body of believers receive the inheritance of Christ, which is the root idea of the term in the New Testament from which clergy is derived. Radical distinctions between the pulpit and the pew did not develop until well into the second century.
The establishment of a professional clergy has had a sharp effect on the average unordained Christian. The creation of such roles has confused his understanding of the priesthood of all believers and often has nullified his sense of responsibility for ministry. Many Christians feel quite satisfied with the situation, content to allow paid clergymen and staff to do all the work. But even those who are more sensitive to their calling and want to be involved may experience a sense of frustration as they try to find their place of service. “After all,” they may ask, “if I’m not a preacher or missionary or something of the kind, how can I be properly engaged in ministry?”
The answer lies in their seeing the Great Commission as a life-style encompassing the total resources of every child of God. Here the ministry of Christ comes alive in the day-by-day activity of discipling. Whether we have a “secular” job or an ecclesiastical position, a Christ-like commitment to bring the nations into the eternal Kingdom should be a part of it.
Robert Emerson Coleman, The Master Plan of Discipleship (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1987), 9–12.