The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus giving his disciples one last charge, what has come to be called the Great Commission: “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
What does that mean, “make disciples”?
Well, one thing that can help us understand the Great Commission is the latest buzz from the set of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. The rumor has been confirmed: Andy Serkis will be playing a small part in the movie.
Warner Bros. photo of Andy Serkis at work via Screen Crush (click photo for link).
Serkis is a movie star, but he’s not a familiar face. He played Smeagol/Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. He played Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes movies. He played King Kong. All of those characters appeared on screen as computer-generated graphic animations, but their movement — their acting — wasn’t the product of animators. It was the result of an actor, Serkis, doing a new kind of acting involving performance-capture technology.
Like most people, I don’t really know how that works, exactly. Most actors don’t really know how that works, exactly. Actors have been performing and perfecting their craft, passing it down to the next generation, for centuries, but this is something new. And the first actor to figure it out, to master this new means of performing, is Andy Serkis.
Serkis now has a consulting company that helps teach other actors, directors and filmmakers learn this new form of their craft. That’s part of why he wound up on the set of Avengers 2 — Marvel Studios hired his company to help their company as a business transaction.
But it wasn’t only a business transaction. Andy Serkis was able to master the technological craft of motion-capture acting because he loves acting and he is committed to doing it right. That commitment to the thing itself compels him to help others who are trying to get it right. James Spader and Mark Ruffalo and Paul Bettany are talented actors, but they haven’t yet learned to do what Serkis has learned to do, so he goes and teaches them.
He’s making apprentices, which is to say, he’s making disciples.
Here’s video of one of those apprentices/disciples, Spader, gushing with gratitude and praise for what he was able to learn from working with Serkis.
The tone of that reminds me of this, from the comments to an article I linked to a while back, “I Was Tony Gwynn’s Bat Boy“:
I was playing JUCO at Grossmont, and was working for the San Diego School of Baseball at the time as an assistant (shag balls, set up, clean up, basically do whatever they ask). One afternoon after one of the hitting clinics was over, there were 2 of us assistants hanging around getting things cleaned up. Tony stayed late to sign autographs for every kid in attendance (well over 1000). I had spoken quite a bit to Tony over the year, he knew me, he addressed me by name, he never made me feel like just a random person, anyways as he was walking out one day, he asked me how my season was going. I was doing pretty good, and had been working on taking the ball the other way (as a lefty) so I brought up my approach to him.
He put down his stuff and went into the cage with me, asking me to show him rather than tell him. For about 15 mins he sat and watched as I attempted to replicate his 5.5 approach. … He didn’t say anything for 15 mins. …
After I was done he took a few swings, and showed me a couple tips. It was amazing. When he hit in the cage, he wasnt that 5.5 guy, and he explained to me that when he is at the plate his approach is always to hit it through the pitchers legs, cause there is nobody there to get you out. So while hitting he proceeded to hit 10 consecutive pitches right back through the hole in the net where the ball came out (roughly the size of a softball) I was in shock. He told me also that if you work on hitting the ball the other way in the cages, when you get in the game that pitch is going to be coming a little faster, and you are going to foul a lot of pitches off, which made sense.
To wrap up, I thanked Tony and started about my cleanup, he said goodbye and was walking to his car, when I saw that 32-30 still leaned against the cage with a pair of brand new Franklin batting gloves on it (the ones he wore that day at the camp) I grabbed them and chased him to his car, saying Tony you forgot your stuff, to which he replied.
“Those aren’t mine D.”
That’s what making disciples looks like.
What’s going on there? Partly what we see is Gwynn’s generosity toward a young ballplayer, but if it were only that — only his kindness to another person — then he could’ve just autographed that famously tiny 32-inch, 30-ounce bat and given it to the kid and driven home. But Gwynn was compelled to stay and help this kid become a better hitter because Tony Gwynn loved hitting. He loved the discipline of it. He had devoted much of his life to perfecting that discipline and that craft, to getting it right. That devotion meant he couldn’t ever be satisfied with just doing that himself — hitting his way to Cooperstown while almost never striking out. It also meant that he would drop everything to study the swing of a junior college novice, watching, listening, and then showing him how to practice and what to practice, leaving behind a little bit of equipment and a big dose of inspiration.
There are all kinds of books we can read about hitting, or about acting, and plenty of those books probably include lots of practical wisdom and sound advice. But we can’t really learn to do those things by reading books. To learn to do them properly, we have to pick up a bat or step on a stage. We can learn a bit on our own, by trial and error (and error and error and error …), but it’s better to learn from someone else who has been studying and practicing the discipline for a long time.
That’s what it means to become disciples. And that, of course, is the necessary first step for anyone who wants to eventually make disciples.