Monday, July 11, 2011

On Discipleship: The Ministry of God

“Faithfulness is multiplication; complacency is addition.”

The leaders of a church must lead, and that means there will be people in the church who are followers, not leaders. Consider a shepherd and sheep; the ratio is a few shepherds to many sheep. Without the sheep, the shepherds have no purpose or livelihood. Now while leadership comes with more responsibility than simply having people follow, every Christian is called to “Go make disciples.” Disciple-making, is something which transcends gifts and calling; it is the goal of every Christian.
Discipleship is clearly patterned for us in Scripture. The word “disciple” is better understood as apprentice/student, which implies there must be a master/teacher for the discipling relationship- discipleship- to occur. A disciple learns the ideas and skills of a discipline, in the case of Christianity, those ideas and skills are from the Gospel. The discipline is becoming like Jesus Christ.
In his “Great Commission,” Jesus says, “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.” So making a disciple means being a witness, baptizing and teaching somebody to know and obey God’s truths.
Shepherds choose to shepherd their sheep, and once they commit, they must be faithful even if it is hard or not immediately gratifying. They are responsible for accepting their sheepish disciples; for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training them in righteousness. However, a disciple should be:
Submissive, and
FAST for short. Jesus tells his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” In the same way, we must choose disciples who will be fruitful.
Now a relationship with a Christian peer is a good thing, and I know it is encouraged by Christ in Hebrews 10:24-25. But it is not discipleship. That peer, your fellow Christian, and yourself are in fellowship. But discipleship is shown in the Bible to be a more mature believer teaching a less mature one.
Some examples are Christ and his disciples, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, and of course, Paul and Timothy. As Paul tells Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to [faithful] men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
This is representative of the discipleship plan which God wants his church to implement. It is four generations of fruit. Paul teaches Timothy who teaches faithful men who go on to teach others.
What are “the things you have heard me say” Paul is referring to? They are the biblical teachings every Christian ought to know and practice including: Scripture reading, memorization, and meditation; proclaiming the gospel as witnesses in our daily lives; serving others in love; and, of course, making disciples ourselves. How can we make disciples until we first are disciples?

*This next bit gets a little mathy, but it makes a really cool point.
If Christianity were simply a numbers game (which I would contend it is not) which would work more effectively long term: 1 discipling relationship a year that resulted in 2 that resulted in 4 and so on for 5 years, or 1000 people saved daily for 5 years? The first would result in 32 disciples. The second would result in approximately 1.8 million believers. Apply these same concepts to 30 years, however, and discipleship results in 1.1 billion disciples where the other way is just under 11 million. Do you understand that long term, discipleship is more than 100 times as effective as any form of mass evangelism ever could be? Faithfulness is multiplication; complacency is addition. How should we grow God’s kingdom for him in a world where population is growing exponentially?

So how does one go about making a disciple?
Well, first, we have to acknowledge that the only perfect thing in existence is God, and so by no means is there an end all, be all way to make disciples. There may be, and I would say there is, a “most excellent way.” I do believe that God calls us to a spirit of excellence, and when faced with the options of good, better, and best it is our Christian duty to choose the best.

Secondly, we have to differentiate teaching and training.
Teaching- is sharing the knowledge of ideas and concepts.
Training- is the transmission of skills and abilities.
Discipleship integrates the teacher/student relationship with the master/apprentice relationship to help younger or less mature Christians understand both the intellectual and practical applications of the Gospel in our lives.
Now while some of these following things are not necessities, they may prove useful for making discipleship easy to duplicate.
1. Relationships are not always and do not need to always be completely organic. Having a discipleship coordinator within the church is a great way to help those who ought to be discipling find someone who needs to be discipled.
2. The more mature the person being discipled is, the less structured the relationship can be while still remaining fruitful. Not everybody needs a curriculum to teach or a covenant to sign, but we should not be afraid to use tools to help us organize and maintain healthy discipling relationships.
3. These are some things which a disciple should get from what they learn in the discipling relationship: assurance of salvation, consistent “quiet time” (prayer and bible study), the basics of Christian living (tithing, serving, being in community, knowing God’s word, etc), a feeling that they are connected to a local body of believers, a desire to share their faith as a witness and as a disciple-maker themselves.
A way you can tell that a discipling relationship was a fruitful investment of your time and energy (beyond the fact that God rewards faithfulness) is that your disciple is making disciples who make disciples.
My greatest hope is that through Christ, many believers would take this vision from Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 and discipleship would have an exponential effect on this exponentially growing world.
So as I wrap this up, ask yourself, “Am I willing to re-evaluate my priorities, the things which I value and invest my time in, and shift my priorities toward Christ and making disciples even at the expense of old, less valuable activities?” If there has been a better way to do this, don’t you think Jesus would have done it? So let’s have the hard conversations, and let’s go make some disciples.

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