Real Disciple Making and the Power of Scripture Memorization
by Dan Vis
Making disciples involves more than just doing evangelism. Real disciple-making is connecting people to the real disciple-maker: Jesus Christ. At least, that's how I've come to view it after nearly 30 years of full-time ministry.
Jesus made this point exactly in his parting instructions to the church: "go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" by 1) "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" and then 2) "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20, NKJV). It is both calling people to follow Christ, and then helping them grow in their walk with Him, together, that makes up the Great Commission.
I became a Christian as a young college student, just a couple months into my twenties, after reading a copy of the Desire of Ages that I had stumbled on to in a used book store. Through a series of additional providential steps, the Lord soon brought me into his endtime church, and I was baptized. That was part one of the Great Commission.
Fortunately, I had some friends around able to help me with part two. A handful of guys from the university I attended, took me under their wing and began to teach me the basics of the Christian walk: how to pray, study the Bible, deal with temptation, manage my time, share my testimony, and more.
Perhaps most important--they taught me the one thing Jesus said we should teach new believers: how to "observe" the things Christ commanded. By introducing me to the basic nuts and bolts of Bible memorization, I gained a skill that completely transformed my life.
You see, the word "observe" in the Great Commission comes from a Greek word meaning to guard or keep. It's used in Matthew 27:54 to describe how the centurion was assigned to "watch" Jesus on the cross. And in Acts 16:23, it's used to describe how the jailor was charged with "keeping" Paul and Silas locked up in prison. And in Jude 1:6, it's used to describe how the fallen angels are being "reserved" in chains until their judgment.
Together, these verses suggest "observing" means to lock up God's Word so securely, it can never be taken from you. To me, that sounds like memorization!
Through memorization, I could fix my eyes on Jesus anywhere--by simply meditating on verses I knew. Through memorization I was able to lock up the Bible in my mind, and keep it there safely. Through memorization, I was able to reserve the Scriptures, so they would be ready for any trial I faced. Memorizing God's Word connected me to the one who gave us the Word.
It wasn't easy, at first. I didn't have a great memory, and I had little exposure to the Bible growing up--so it was all brand new to me. But I was determined, and persevered in investing whatever time it took to get my verses learned each week. Little by little, my store of treasures began to grow.
At one point, something clicked. I had probably accumulated 50 or 60 verses, when I started noticing them popping up in sermons. Or I'd be studying a passage in my devotions, and some verse I had memorized would come to mind, shedding light on what I was reading. Or I'd be praying about something, and I'd suddenly think of a promise directly related to that request. And old temptations began losing their hold in my life, as I discovered how powerful quoting Scripture can be. When asked a question, it seemed I always happened to have just the verse I needed to explain my faith. It was as if Jesus were right there at my side, day by day.
In fact, the more it happened, the more exciting it got. At the time, I had a job that enabled me to memorize while at work--and I took advantage of it. Soon I had moved from 2-3 verses a week to 2-3 verses a day. Memorization was getting easier, and I couldn't seem to get enough. The Bible became "the joy and rejoicing of my heart" (Jeremiah 15:16).
And it soon began to open doors. Though young, and quite new to the church, I was soon asked to teach Sabbath School. And then prayer meeting. Soon I was preaching sermons.
Looking back now, I'm amazed at the doors God opened. With no formal training, I was soon invited to teach Bible at a local academy. Then a second academy. Then a small college. I went on to serve as an administrator in two evangelistic training centers. And ultimately, was asked to pastor a church in the Chicago suburbs--where I was ordained to the Gospel ministry. I've preached in hundreds of churches in more than a dozen countries. The last two decades have just been a blur of amazing adventures.
I'm fully convinced these doors opened, because years earlier, a handful of college friends took some interest in me, and taught me how to memorize Scripture. How to "observe" the teachings of the Bible.
These doors opened because they were true disciple-makers, connecting me to the real disciple-maker. Jesus Christ. And following Him is never anything less than an amazing adventure!
Dan Vis is founder and director of FAST Missions, a discipling ministry helping believers climb higher in their walk with God. To learn more about FAST and the Scripture Memory programs that FAST offers, click the link below!