Discipleship and the Christian School

We hear the Great Commission all the time—“Go therefore and make disciples.” This passage is often quoted in reference to overseas missions, but Jesus’ command cannot be limited to those taking the gospel to other countries. The Great Commission is a command for all Christians to make disciples. This means Christians should disciple those whom God has placed in their lives, including the children God gives them. And if discipleship includes children, then this has important implications for the Christian school. Let’s look at the passage:

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" (Matt 28:18-20).   

These are Jesus’ final words in the Gospel of Matthew. He has already died for the sins of His people and been raised from the dead. The resurrected Christ now gives a commission to His disciples to go and make other disciples. But this commission also has application for all future generations of Christians. We know this because Matthew wrote it down for later Christians like us, that we may take part in the discipleship process.  

Jesus’ commission is clear—go and make disciples of all nations. Though Christ came first for the Jews, He ultimately came to redeem people from “every tribe, language, people, and nation” (Rev 5:5). Christ came to save the world and extend His kingdom throughout the nations, and this happens through the task of discipleship.

So what does discipleship look like? To answer this, we must understand the grammar of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28. The main verb in Greek is “make disciples,” which is modified by the participles “baptizing” and “teaching.” Jesus thus teaches us that discipleship involves two things: (1) making converts to Christianity, beginning with baptism into the name of the Triune God; (2) and teaching these converts all that Jesus has commanded.  

In other words, discipleship does not end with evangelism (sharing the gospel of Christ with unbelievers). Those who respond to the gospel in faith are to be baptized, in which Christ claims them as His own. And because they belong to Christ (both adults and children), baptized persons must be taught the Christian faith in order that they may become “mature in Christ” (Col 1:28). This means one of the main tasks of the Christian church is to educate its people. This should happen through the teaching ministry of the local church, as pastors and elders preach and teach the Bible to their flock on a regular basis.

But God has also entrusted the teaching ministry of the church to individuals, and this is seen particularly in the role parents. God commands parents, “You shall teach them [God’s laws] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 4:7). This parental obligation to educate children is reaffirmed in the New Testament, as Paul tells fathers to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

This command certainly has bearing on where and how parents educate their children, and many Christian parents seek to carry out this instruction of the Lord by homeschooling their children. But as many parents know, this task becomes increasingly difficult as children grow older and increase in their intellectual abilities. This is where the Christian school comes in.

The Christian school comes alongside parents to aid in the discipleship process. The Christian school is not there to supplant the role of parents (as so many schools do today) but is there to partner with and support parents in the role of discipleship. Parents who send their children to a school are in a sense extending their covenantal authority to the teachers and administration. This is one reason why Christian parents ought to send their children to a Christian school. But even the Christian school is dependent upon parents maintaining their role in the discipleship process. Without parents doing their part at home, the Christian school is fighting an uphill battle.

But when parents work together with the Christian school (and the church), a beautiful thing happens. God begins to work in the life of Christian children, and He starts to shape their hearts and minds with a Christian worldview. Children begin to see the world, including history, math, science, and literature, from a biblical perspective. All of this has the goal of producing rock-solid disciples of Christ, who are equipped to live as Christians in the world and eventually make disciples of their own. The Christian school therefore has a significant role in carrying out Jesus’ master plan of discipleship.  

All of this is grounded in Jesus’ authority as King of the universe—“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Jesus’ title as “King of the Jews” was mocked throughout His ministry, but His kingship was vindicated at His resurrection. Jesus ascended to heaven and is now reigning on earth through His church. It is because of Jesus’ authority that we can have confidence that the task of discipleship will succeed, including in the Christian school. The only question for us is whether we as individuals will be obedient to Jesus’ command.