Discipleship to Jesus is not a purpose of the local church. Discipleship is the purpose of the local church.
Jesus said, “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 lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
That passage is typically called “The Great Commission.” It’s basically the job description of the local parish church.
It begins with a stunning statement of fact. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That’s the main reason anyone (and everyone) would (and should) seek to become one of Jesus’ students. Jesus is in charge of everything. He knows how life in his heaven and earth is supposed to work. He gives his students eternal life and then teaches them how to live it.
“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.” We receive eternal life by trusting and being immersed, dunked, thrown into the deep end of the life and love the Holy Trinity.
In this bastion of forgiveness, acceptance, and security we become disciples, people who are learning from Jesus how to be like him. “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” As a community of Jesus’ friends, we learn to practice Jesus’ teaching.
In this process we find that he is present in our midst. “And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” His presence is known and enjoyed in Word and Sacrament. Jesus is also present through his people, members of his body (1 Cor. 6:15) and temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19, 1 Pt. 2:5).