Jesus gave you and me a non-negotiable mission—to make disciples. He tells us to love God and love people (Matt. 22:37-39). Before ascending to heaven, Christ told his disciples, “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). I have found—and I’m sure I’m not alone—that this isn’t an easy mission. It requires us to show weakness, abandoning our pride, preferences and comforts. But a weak disciplemaker is infinitely greater than no disciplemaker at all.
I’m a white, 34-year-old man who grew up in the United States. I’ve lived in three different states, most recently in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex of Texas. I am a husband, father to two children and a pastor. And I now live in a place where I am in the minority in more ways than just my skin color. I never thought I’d end up here.
“Here” is Nagoya, Japan, a city about the size of Chicago with a metropolitan area of nearly 9 million people. A recent census listed the population of foreigners (that is, non-Japanese) living in our city at 0.03%, and Caucasians didn’t even get near the top of the list of minorities represented. There is one church in our prefecture for every 22,697 people. To compare, my old home state of Texas has one Southern Baptist church for every 3,472 people, not to mention the churches of every other denomination. Most men in Nagoya aren’t off work in time to eat dinner with their families or even say goodnight to their children. As I’m sure you know, English isn’t the main language here. In fact, Japan often scores pretty low among other Asian countries in terms of English proficiency. These are all significant things that make it hard to connect with people, and, quite frankly, hard for me to function.
Making disciples is a long, hard work and you will feel weak at times.
Being so completely in the minority for the first time and so different from others caused pride to unexpectedly well up inside me. I remember standing in front of an ATM shortly after moving here, dumbfounded as to what 入る or 出す meant. All I wanted to do was pay my rent, and I didn’t know which button to push (as it turns out, it wasn’t either of them). I asked for help, and I’m pretty sure what I said was something along the lines of, “Apartment cost money send to important person I don’t know.” My face was red with embarrassment. I was trying to be sincere, but my heart was saying, “Don’t you know that I’m somebody? Where I’m from people know me. I can accomplish things. I can talk to adults, and I can pay my rent!” To this day, this pride is something I fight against.
Living in Dallas, I was blind to the reality of my pride. Moving to Japan has revealed that I often hide behind my own abilities so that I can remain comfortable, and that comfort comes at the expense of faithfulness to Christ. In in these sorts of moments, I am choosing at a heart level to be the object of someone’s worship and admiration, rather than pointing them to Christ. I’m being disobedient to God’s call to make disciples, and I’m missing the joy that comes with depending on Him.
If you are reading this, you almost certainly live in a nation included in the “all nations” of Matthew 28:19-20. You are fortunate to live in a nation where disciples have been made and baptized in the name of our triune God. Someone following the Great Commission told you about Jesus. They weren’t perfect; they were weak disciple-makers, and yet God saved. In that same nation, you have neighbors, coworkers and loved ones who may have never heard of Jesus—so go tell them! Though you may not feel equipped, you have been given everything you need to accomplish this task (2 Pet. 1:3-4). The hard work of getting to know your neighbor, who is likely very different from you, is a good thing.
I’m not saying it will be easy, especially if, like me, you struggle with pride and the desire to be admired and accepted. As you get to know those who are different from you for the sake of the gospel, your inadequacies will, to one degree or another, be laid bare. Making disciples is a long, hard work and you will feel weak at times. But God’s power is perfected in your weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Stand firm and invite your brothers and sisters in Christ in with you to bear the burden. Remember, making disciples is our non-negotiable mission. If we choose to be disobedient, we rob ourselves of the joy found in dependency on God.
Some of you, like me, might need to move across the world to be brought to a glorious place of weakness for the sake of Christ. Most of you, though, probably just need to walk next door. We must embrace our weakness and trust God to glorify Himself in it. May we be weak disciple-makers, until the whole world hears.