By Matt Dabbs
By K Rex Butts
Discipleship is all the rage right now. Before discipleship it was missional church. Before that, it was the emerging church and before that it was spiritual formation, I think. That’s a lot of faddish issues.
Of course, that makes me wonder, is the focus on discipleship only here until something else grabs our attention or will this renewed interest stick with meaningful results? Time will answer that question but I hope for the later because it appears that discipleship, or the lack of, is a critical issue facing Christianity in America.
History is replete with examples of discipleship fail. Germany and Rwanda are notable national examples. However, at the risk of upsetting a few readers, I believe America is also an example of what happens when discipleship is trivialized. Regardless of whether or not America began as a Christian nation, Christianity has been the dominant religion of Americans. Yet events such as the Civil War to the oppression of minorities and Native Americans to the ever increasing secularism all point to a degree of discipleship fail. So rather than dismissing discipleship as the faddish trend of 2013, perhaps we might see this as an opportunity from God to (re)commit ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.
One of the problems I see as a minister is unclarity about what is meant when we speak of discipleship. If we don’t understand what discipleship is then how can we live as a disciples?
Understanding discipleship begins with the familiar call of Jesus, “follow me.” In the Gospel of Mark there are two words which have to do with following when it comes to discipleship.
1 – What Jesus is looking for is people who will follow behind him and learn from him the kingdom of God way of life that he lives. So Jesus says, “Come, follow me, …and I will send you out to fish for people.”
2< – As Jesus does, so his disciples must learn to do as well. We know this is easier said than done but that doesn’t change the demand Jesus makes invites us into.
Later on, Jesus speaks of his impending death on three occasions and each time, the disciples reveal their misunderstanding of what it means for their way of life as disciples and so their misunderstanding elicits a corrective teaching from Jesus (cf. 8:31-38; 9:30-37; 10:32-45). The more I preach and teach through these stories, the more I am impressed with the way that Jesus is forming the mindset of the disciples as much as he is forming their behavior. Yet that shouldn’t come as a surprise, for behavior always stems from the way people thinks (or fail to think).
So I have come to understand discipleship as learning to live in the way of
Jesus. That’s a pretty simple way of understanding what discipleship is. However, as simple as that is to understand, it is equally difficult to do. That’s because following Jesus as his disciples always takes us to that place where we are called to pick up our own cross and follow Jesus to a crucifixion in Jerusalem.
Is That Really So?
I am aware that in America our generation may never literally have to bear the cross for the sake of Jesus. Yet that doesn’t lessen the challenge. Learning to live our lives in the way of Jesus as those who carry our cross impacts the way we live as husbands and wives, parents, neighbors, co-workers, members of a local church, citizens of God’s kingdom among the nations of the world, etc… Learning to live our lives in the way of Jesus calls us not just to the cross (cf. Mark 8:34) but also becoming the last of all as a servant to all (cf. Mark 9:35) so that, like Jesus, we too become servants who give of ourselves for others (cf. Mark 10:45).
3 – That’s very easy to talk about but in a world where might is right and the strong are said to survive, accepting this Jesus way of life — a way of life where the humble and weak win through faith in God — seems very difficult. In fact, it’s easier to ignore it sometimes. And I can do that so long as I only believe in Jesus. However, in order to fully embrace the way of Jesus, we must also learn to believe Jesus, believing as Jesus believes about God and life. Then, and only then, does this difficult challenge make sense. When we learn to believe as Jesus believes, his way of life, his values, make sense.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Jim Elliot who wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Along with four other missionaries, Jim Elliot was murdered while attempting to evangelize the Waodani natives of Ecuador. His words are the expression of one who believes believes as Jesus, that God is the Sovereign Lord who answers the wretchedness of the cross with the glorious promise of resurrection.
Make Disciples or Churches?
The question which this edition of New Wineskins is asking is whether we should make disciples or make churches? Mike Breen writes, “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.”
4 – It’s hard to argue with such an observation.
Yet before making disciples we face another challenge. We cannot make disciples unless we are disciples, believers learning to live in the way of Jesus. As we do live in the way of Jesus, we’ll be the church Jesus has called us to be. That is, we’ll be that church living in the way of Jesus, forming others in the way of Jesus as they too become the church of Jesus Christ.<br><br>May God, by the power of the Spirit, give us the eyes and ears to see and hear Jesus clearly as we follow him!
1 The two words are opis (Mark 1:17; 8:34) which has to do with maintaining a position of following behind Jesus and akolouthe (1:18; 8:34) which has to do with following Jesus as a learner (disciple).
2 All scripture is taken from the New International Version, 2011.
3 In the Bible I preach and teach from, I have written on the top of the page this verse appears on, “How is God calling me to serve and give my life for the many?” Another way to ask the same question is “How is God calling me to serve and give my life away for others?” What would our life as disciples look like when we ask such questions in whatever circumstances we find ourselves?
4 Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture: How to Release A Missional Movement By Discipling People Like Jesus Did, 2d ed. (Pawleys, SC: 3 Dimension Ministries, 2011), 11-12.
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