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IN THIS CHAPTER
Discipleship: God's very best for his people
Discipleship: God's primary work
Defining terms: Disciple Disciple-making Discipleship Spiritual formation
Exploring a faith that embraces discipleship
The kind of person the gospel can create
For two years, one of my friends followed the rock group The Grateful Dead. He was known as a Deadhead. He didn't follow The Dead casually like a fan who follows baseball. He traveled from city to city, living out of his car. He wanted to live the same life the band lived.
My friend might have been misguided, but he was totally committed. He was a true disciple in much the same way the New Testament describes discipleship.
Discipleship: God's Very Best for his People
Jesus taught that faith means to follow. That was his first test of a person's faith (see Luke 9:23-25). Following, however, isn't short term. Discipleship isn't a program or an event; it's a way of life. It's not for a limited time, but for our whole life. Discipleship isn't for beginners alone; it's for all believers for every day of their life. Discipleship isn't just one of the things the church does; it is what the churchdoes. It's not just part of the advancement of God's kingdom; the existence of serious disciples is the most important evidence of God's work on earth. Without enough of these workers, the task languishes and the work remains incomplete (see Matthew 9:35-38).
Simply, discipleship means learning from and following a teacher. However, while we can define discipleship in these simple terms, something about the discipleship movement has never quite made it into the heart of the church. I find it particularly puzzling that we struggle to put disciple-making at the center of ministry even though Jesus left us with the clear imperative to "make disciples" (see Matthew 28:18-20).
So why don't we automatically place discipleship at the center of every ministry? Perhaps certain words put people off: influence, vision, submission, accountability, vulnerability, confession, study, sacrifice, and discipline. With just a few powerful words, the apostle Paul touched on another reason people tend to avoid discipleship: "Train yourself to be godly" (1 Timothy 4:7). Let's face it-discipline isn't something most of us like. We avoid discipline if we can, because it disrupts the normal and comfortable pattern of our life.
The great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote that the word he detested most was "interference." Interference occurs when someone sticks his nose in your business. However, that's precisely what discipleship is all about. If you want to grow in a meaningful way, you not only must tolerate another person's intimate knowledge of you, you must also willingly invite that person into your life. Even more startling, you'll grow to love and depend on the "interference."
Most of us want to reap the harvest of a discipline while living a life of relative sloth. We want all the benefits of humility and growth without being humble or working to grow. Yet Scripture states clearly that we require a great deal of interference to stem the tide of our self-indulgence. This positive interference lies at the very heart of making disciples-a process Jesus described as teaching others "to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20).
Discipleship: God's Primary Work
Why is the call to make disciples the very heart of God's work? Why is God pleased when we make a total commitment to discipleship? What does discipleship do that nothing else can?
Let's start with the obvious. Discipleship ranks as God's top priority because Jesus practiced it and commanded us to do it, and his followers continued it.
Jesus Said So
Jesus told us to be disciples and to make disciples. When he issued the Great Commission, he could have spoken about contemplation, study, worship services, or gathering people together for revival meetings in the temple. He could have restated the Great Commandment. But he didn't. Instead Jesus got straight to the point with simple words: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). With the Great Commission, transformation became mission.
Jesus' words reveal his heart and priority. They also indicate a method that will fulfill God's plan to rescue the world. A commitment to be and make disciples must be the central act of every disciple and every church.
God Gave His All to This Mission
Jesus came "to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). He came not "to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). He held back nothing to reach those he loved. When he claimed, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me," in effect he was saying that all the authority of all realms and all time was being marshaled so that, through him, imperfect disciples could go and make other imperfect disciples. The words of William Law come to mind:
Christianity is not a school for the teaching of moral virtue, the polishing of our manners, or forming us to live a life of this world with decency and gentility. It is deeper and more divine in its designs, and much nobler ends. It implies an entire change of life, a dedication of ourselves, our souls, our bodies unto God in the strictest and highest sense of the words.
Making disciples has nothing to do with winning others over to a philosophy or turning them into nice people who smile a lot. rather the Great Commission launches a rescue mission; all followers receive orders with full authority to take action wherever they happen to be. Discipleship involves saving people from themselves and eternal oblivion, permitting the transforming power of God to change them from the inside out. All is the Great Commission's key word-all authority, all sacrifice, all-out effort, all the time, for all people. How could anything else the church thinks up be nearly as important?
A Transformed Person Can Change the World
Jesus addressed this imperative command to his eleven remaining disciples, the first examples of his disciple-making. Many English translations use the word nations to describe the target of discipleship. However, the Greek New Testament uses ethne, which means "various people groups."
The focus of reaching others has been universally accepted among orthodox Christians since the beginning. But the ambitious impulse to fulfill the Great Commission sometimes gives it a mechanical or programmatic feel. In particular, the church in America has superseded the theoretical for pragmatism, creating a marketplace model of church and society. This isn't a new phenomenon. Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who toured America in the 1800s and recorded his impressions, said, "Where you expected to find a priest, you found a politician-or a salesperson."
This marketplace emphasis became deeply rooted in American church culture. Eventually the idea of disciples making other disciples became a church-growth method, a way to increase numbers and satisfy the American thirst for progress. After all, it's a great plan to train eleven people who will go out and reach others. In turn, the reached will reach still others.
As many writers and teachers have proclaimed, when all who become disciples make disciples through several spiritual generations, the result should not be reproduction (adding disciples one at a time) but multiplication (one disciple makes two, who make four, who make sixteen, and so on). I've heard sermons (in fact, I've preached a few) theorizing that if we just follow this multiplication plan, the entire world will be converted to Christianity in thirty years. That was more than thirty years ago.
In spite of how logical it sounds, this plan runs aground repeatedly on the rocks of human frailty and ignorance of how people really change. We must admit that this mathematical formula has never worked in any broad way. It might have limited success in controlled environments, but it would be wrong to claim that multiplication has worked to the extent of reaching whole cities, countries, or generations.
The principle behind discipleship does involve one person influencing another, which does result in a change in heart and mind. The success of discipleship doesn't depend on soldiering forward in a mechanical strategy of reproduction and multiplication. And discipleship doesn't involve developing a well-trained, elite sales force. Rather discipleship occurs when a transformed person radiates Christ to those around her. It happens when people so deeply experience God's love that they can do nothing other than affect those around them.
The heart of being a disciple involves living in intimate union and daily contact with Christ. Discipleship-the effort both to be a disciple and to make other disciples-is about the immense value of God at work in one individual's life and the resulting impact on other lives.
A Company of the Committed
When someone claims to have faith in Christ, he must also commit to follow Christ. Remember, Jesus taught that faith meant to follow him (see Luke 9:23-25). Anything less is something else-a wish, a desire, or a good intention. But it's not faith, because faith means to follow.
Participation in the Great Commission doesn't require great learning or ability, but it does require regeneration-being a transformed person. Only the habitation of God in a disciple enables her to answer the call to follow Christ. Two acts of submission flow out of this regeneration:
1. To be baptized-to go public: Although baptism remains significant in the present, it lacks the risk and courage it required in the first century. Then the act of baptism proclaimed that someone had indeed decided to follow Jesus. Being baptized in the name of the Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-meant the follower entered into the reality of experiencing God in his fullness. This separated the believer from all other gods and philosophies.
In the twenty-first-century Global North, where Christianity is established but shrinking, we don't face the risks that followers of Christ had to take in the first century. In much of the Global South, however, baptism remains a courageous act. Being baptized can put a person on a government watch list, make him an enemy of his people, and even make him a hated member of his own family.
Baptism means going public as a disciple. It was never meant to be a private ritual that takes place inside church walls. For Christianity to flourish, disciples must start out public and remain public. A single disciple creates a light, and the community of disciples shines like a city on a hill. Keeping your light under a cover isn't an option (see Matthew 5:14-16).
2. To be taught to obey everything Christ commanded-to submit to transformation: Catholics speak of tradition and Scripture. Anglicans speak of Scripture, tradition, and reason. Protestants speak of sola scriptura (Scripture alone). With these differences clouding church history, can we hope to extract what's most important?
Before Catholics, Anglicans, or Protestants existed, Jesus provided the process to follow: All disciples were to be taught to obey everything he commanded. He commanded 212 things, summed up in three statements:
1. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
3. Love your enemies.
Learning to Obey
Although Jesus provided these summaries, when we look at all he commanded we see that the "curriculum" for being and making disciples is extensive, covering all of life. But before we get concerned with what we need to obey, we first need to understand how to obey. Four ingredients are necessary.
1. As disciples, we need a vision to inspire us. Vision provides hope, and hope fuels our efforts as we walk into the future. Just as a great athlete fulfills a childhood dream to win an Olympic medal or play in a professional league, disciples should dream to be like Christ. The apostle Paul had this goal for himself and for all those he loved and trained (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 4:19; Colossians 1:28).
Our goal should be to absorb the example of Christ into our lives by studying and meditating on the characteristics of his life. Because the core character trait of Jesus is humility, that's the place to begin. This vision can pull us into the future, inspiring us for all of life.
2. As disciples, we need accountability to receive training. Because training involves constant repetition, it requires discipline. But because consistent self-discipline is rare, we need others to hold us accountable.
Unfortunately, accountability is often couched in the negative, such as when a disappointed person comments, "He failed because he didn't have anyone to hold him accountable." However, accountability is a biblical concept-a contemporary term for the ancient principle of helping fellow disciples keep their commitments to God.
Accountability can serve as our best friend, even when we don't want that friend around. It's like a chaperone for life-always in the room with us, but tucked discreetly in the corner. We submit to accountability when we have a passion to please God, to avoid moral failure, or to avoid wasting away the years through neglect and sloth. Accountability means submitting ourselves to at least one other person. That individual has permission to ask any question and keep us honest about life.
3. As disciples, we need structure to empower us. One of the least appreciated necessities in life is structure. Everything from speed limits to the rails on a baby's crib protect us and make life work better.
Just as accountability involves submitting ourselves to other people, structure is about designing life for success. If you want to lose weight, you first need to ask a friend to help you keep your commitment. Then you create a structure that will help you lose weight successfully. This structure might include purging your home of foods that will sabotage your goal, coming up with ways to prepare food at home, and learning how to eat meals in uncontrolled environments. The structure empowers you and makes your goal attainable.
When it comes to developing spiritual habits, a good devotional guide provides structure for me. I meet twice a month with a friend who works and journals his way through the same guide. Our relationship provides accountability and the guide provides the structure. This is just one example of a structure that works. In fact, it doesn't even need to be a great structure. A structure should simply compel us to take action, setting into motion the Holy Spirit's action to reshape us.
4. As disciples, we need relationships where we experience love. Most of us have never experienced the true power of community. The social-oriented programming that many churches call small groups or koinonia groups have little affect on character. True community means living in submission to each another. It requires the work of the Holy Spirit to submit to others and to allow others to play a meaningful part in our growth.
Submission involves trust. Most of us take in only the truth that we trust. If someone you don't trust tries to convince you to believe something or change your mind, she almost always fails. However, when someone you admire and trust does the same, you'll almost always believe that individual. As disciples, our character develops in a faith community where we feel loved, affirmed, and safe enough to trust other members of the community.
Excerpted from THE COMPLETE BOOK OF DISCIPLESHIP by Bill Hull Copyright © 2006 by Robert W. Hull. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted April 26, 2013
This is a great resource for disciplers and disciplees. It's very thorough and Biblically founded - and states clearly why discipleship is so important, why the church must stop acting as if it's optional - and why we should be thrilled to have such tools available to us as we embark on the greatest adventure imaginable: the journey towards growing in Christ-Likeness.
If you're looking for a Biblical tool for discipleship this is a great option. If you're looking for the latest "neat-o" book complete with all the merchandise - move on.
Courage to you on your journey!
Posted January 26, 2010
No text was provided for this review.