A Simple Pattern For Discipleship
I have had the exact same conversation happen exactly the same way perhaps 30 or 40 times. It always starts the same way: ‘Jesus tells us every Christian to make disciples!’ Often the person out at breakfast with me heartily agrees, it is hard not to. But then all the air comes out of the balloon on the follow-up: ‘So who are you discipling?’ The sullen look and quiet response is almost exactly the same. Every time. The truth is, few of our people are making disciples, and few have had discipleship modeled.
Tragically, though many in the church today can agree that discipleship is important (and we can even agree that few are making disciples!), even the very word itself seems to be disagreed upon. I worked at a church early in our ministry where a fellow pastor actually said to me, “the thing you need to understand is that discipleship can mean different things to different people.”
Questionable hermeneutics notwithstanding, it doesn’t. The word ‘disciple’ literally means ‘follower.’ In Matthew 28 when Jesus invokes that very word, it isn’t subject to interpretation. He was commanding His disciples to go likewise and do the same, and surely it is an ‘aha!’ moment. They must’ve realized that for years this is what Jesus has been modeling all along. That is why they have been called disciples all this time!
As a result, making a disciple doesn’t require a manual or another 200-page book. Jesus showed us how to do it! We simply follow in the pattern of His instruction.
While much more could be said here, it is worth pointing out three simple things from the model that Jesus provided us.
In Mark 1, we read about Jesus’ initial call to four of His disciples: “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Mark 1:16–18)
1. JESUS GIVES A CLEAR CALL
“Follow me…” I often hear that discipleship is ‘doing life together,’ which isn’t strictly Biblical, and isn’t strictly true. I certainly do come alongside someone in their life, but the fishermen come to Jesus and follow Him. To this end, I have become quite unapologetic and bold in how direct I am with people. “You need to be discipled my friend! It will require a lot of you as you grow in Christ! But I am here to serve you in this! Join me!” That invitation is intentional and essential. (That it absolutely demands personal follow-ability and moral qualifications can be a discussion for another day!)
2. JESUS GIVES THEM THE GOAL UPFRONT
“I will make you become fishers of men…” As we read our Bibles, we can read about the effect of Jesus’ discipleship on His disciples in the Book of Acts. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). I am sure Jesus had this diamond in His Divine Mind from the beginning. These men might appear common, but in God’s eyes Jesus will make them extraordinary. Friends, our churches are full of the ‘common and uneducated’. Our churches are full of ‘just’…’just’ housewives, ‘just’ college students, ‘just’….what? Don’t overlook a person who’s self-conception is common! Give them a holy view of what God wants to do here. Among us are future elders, youth called to ministry, and overlooked people with gifts ready for service as an offering.
3. THERE IS A COMMITMENT
“Immediately they left their nets…” This is why I ask very intentionally for a commitment right at the beginning. It is not at all because I feel my time is valuable or anything like that. It is because I am certain there will be many, many off-ramps when it comes to discipleship, and this is one of the few on-ramps. Your disciple will have every crisis and work conflict and family trouble imaginable happen, often just when it comes to meeting or study or prayer. While we must remain loving and understanding, it is imperative we also build into our relationship from the beginning how very important this is, and how Christ will call us to leave nets along the way. Often what we do with our time, what entertains us, our habits, even our diet changes as we grow deeply together in a discipleship relationship. Being clear about this up front and intentionally asking for seasonal commitments is not untoward. I often ask to meet 12 weeks in a row, set a time for each meeting, and choose the topic for the next season’s study.
Some final thoughts:
Many people have turned me down as I offered to make a disciple. I don’t love them any less. Often I circle around later and it works out; sometimes when someone says “I am too busy,” they actually were too busy and it wasn’t an insult or excuse.
Is there a seminary or Bible college nearby? Have you met the homiletics professor? Have you employed students to pulpit supply? Have you bought them a burrito and asked them how it is going? Have you heard about their call to ministry? Or maybe you don’t have that nearby. Do you have college students or high school students in your church? If you are a senior pastor, are you above discipling them somehow? If you are a younger pastor, do you see older men in your congregation as an opportunity or an intimidation?
Finally, the most obvious question. Have you prayed and asked God for a disciple you can make? A healthy disciple-relationship is like a great friendship or marriage: it only comes by God’s appointment, and lasts a lifetime.
Discipleship is important, few are making disciples, but it doesn’t mean different things to different people. Jesus showed us exactly what He meant. Follow Him.
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Appreciate the simplicity of your words. But what you are reminding us of, and Jesus is inviting us to, is not simplistic but life altering. Thank you!