This series of blogs, Discipleship Reflections, are a part of an independent study for my Doctor of Ministry studies. Read, enjoy, comment. Thanks for reading.
By the tenth chapter of Matthew, the twelve men commonly referred to as the Disciples were called. Jesus gave them authority to minister to others through healing and casting out demons. After establishing the identity of the twelve, Matthew recorded Jesus sending them out with instructions.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
It is peculiar that in these instructions, Jesus instructed them to minister only to the Jewish people, even to the extent that they were told to avoid Gentiles and Gentile settlements altogether. The text offers no explanation as to why they were to minister only to the Jewish people. A few explanations are possible. Later, in chapter 15, Jesus said himself that he was sent first to Israel. Were they to be the first ones to receive the Good News? Was Jesus sending them into more friendly places to begin ministry, perhaps a more gradual introduction to the costly nature of discipleship. Was he sending them to a safe place to begin?
In the summer of 2009, I had the opportunity to supervise a pastoral intern through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Collegiate Congregational Internship program. One of her ministry goals that summer was to learn about pastoral care. After making a number of pastoral visits with me, and studying the ministry of pastoral care, I sent her to visit one senior adult without me. Having grown up in the same community where she was serving, I sent her to see an elderly woman she knew well, a lady who loved her dearly. In my estimation, Peggy would take care of this young minister. It was a safe place to continue learning about pastoral care and put to use some of what had been learned and experienced.
Perhaps the truth is that both the priority of the Jews in hearing the Gospel and a slightly less uncomfortable introduction to ministry were factors in Jesus sending the Disciples to the Jewish people first. In sending them, Jesus was honest about the difficulties they would face. He did not gloss over the inevitability of resistance, but he also promised that the Spirit would work through them as they carried out their commission.
In thinking about Matthew 10 and discipleship, there are a few things we might learn:
• It is important to notice that Jesus only asked the disciples to do the kinds of ministries that they had already observed him carry out or participated in with him. They were to do as they had seen him do. It makes sense then, that as we seek to make disciples and prepare others for ministry that perhaps an important step is to simply participate in ministry with those we are teaching. In the context of a local church, this might mean inviting others to come along when we visit the sick, teaching well the teachers in our congregations, and picking up the tools of ministry along those who are serving on the mission field.
• Jesus was honest about the challenges of ministry. We would do a disservice to those who serve with us if we were to hide from them the challenges that will come. That is not to say we should scare off would-be disciples, but we will be found to be inauthentic if we knowingly skip over the known challenges. People will more willingly follow if they know what awaits them.
• As disciples are in the formative stages of understanding giftedness, passion, and calling, perhaps we best prepare them by sending to those places and people where they are more likely to have the kinds of ministry experiences that will encourage further ministry exploration.
In all of Jesus’ time with the Disciples, perhaps some of his greatest work was nudging the twelve along as they processed down the winding path from being disciples (learners) to apostles (leaders and teachers).