If the church is an incubator for spiritual growth and development that means it is incumbent on those who lead to ensure that the church is functioning according to Christ’s design. The light of Christ must shine with clarity of God’s truth and warmth of His love. The atmosphere must be oxygenated with prayer in communion with God and dependence upon Him. Discipleship will not be reduced to mere information but transformation into maturity, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them (Matt. 28:19).
I was born at an early age. That is to say, I emerged from my mother’s womb ahead of schedule, weighing only about three and a half pounds.
I’m told that my first days were spent in the hospital, in an incubator. The incubator provided a controlled environment where I could develop well enough to thrive on my own – a half-way house of sorts between womb and world.
Our Lord Jesus has this sort of image in view for His church. At the close of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus instructed His disciples to make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the triune God. Baptism points us to the doorway to God’s covenant community, His visible church.
The church is God’s incubator for making disciples. Through the means of grace made effective by the Holy Spirit, the church provides the light of God’s Word in an atmosphere oxygenated by prayer – the perfect environment for spiritual growth and development.
Unlike my time in a hospital incubator, the disciple is never released to be on his or her own. The need for Christ is constant and the church makes that apparent through celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, both of which sustain the disciple in this world and anticipate the world to come.
The Bible gives us numerous ways to understand what it means to be a disciple and to grow as a disciple, all related to Jesus Christ and His transforming grace in our lives. For example, Peter speaks of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The heart of Christian discipleship is growing to know Jesus, beholding Him through faith, loving Him who first loved us.