The mandate for the Church is to “go into all the world and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:18-20). If we’re a part of a “church” and not doing that, and doing it effectively, we are hard-pressed to say we are a church. I think that we are to do this is hardly debated. HOW we do it is another story. Though I think there are many different “methods” utilized, I am convinced most (though, of course, not all) are overly complicated. Without desiring to come across either arrogant or critical, the following is a sneak-peak at an article I’ve written for an upcoming edition of RoadSigns, the monthly newsmag of The Gathering where I propose a simplified (not simplistic!) approach to this process. It’s the approach that I, personally, have adopted and found fruitful for myself and those I spend time with:
On Being A Disciple-Maker
I have been thinking a lot about discipleship lately. One of the things I’ve always said since I first came here nearly seven years ago was that I never want (nor expect) God to bring more people here than we can effectively disciple. I still mean that. Our primary calling is to make disciples to the glory of God. If we can’t do that, what’s the point?
So, I’ve been evaluating where we are and thinking through different aspects of discipleship and wanting to lead us into the most effective strategies in order for that to happen. I’ve read books on discipleship and looked at various programs for discipleship and, somehow, something always seems to be lacking. They all seem to leave me somewhat cold. That is not to say that all discipleship programs are bad or that there is no place for them. Rather, this is more about emphasis. Are we boxing up discipleship too neatly or is there more to it? Is it a little messier; a little more dynamic?
Over the course of a few weeks and a few different conversations I’ve had, I have done some re-thinking on the process of discipleship and moved in a direction I think is more reflective of a dynamic process of making disciples. I’ll start with some of the characteristics and go from there.
The one who first made disciples of Jesus was, well…Jesus. He’s the first one who called people to Himself. So, how did he do it? He quite simply said, “Follow me.” They did. That’s a pretty simple approach, right? He didn’t introduce them to a program. He didn’t hand out books or have them do homework. He just called them to follow Him, they did and they learned from Him.
I’m not sure that our approach to disciple-making should be any more complicated than that. These people stayed close to Him, listened to Him and grew in Him. The beauty of Jesus’ approach was that it was very relational, which is how they learned. Today, we can emulate that by building relationships with each other, doing life together and learning from Him through His Word where we focus on having gospel conversations together. We challenge each other in our attitudes, actions and words. We talk of what is really important and encourage each other during tough times. In this way, we very simply grow in our understanding of the comprehensive nature of following Jesus; that He is concerned and is to be included in every part of our lives.
Though we don’t know the criteria Jesus used to determine who He would call, we know He didn’t have an extensive sign up process or pre-screening for them. He very naturally entered into relationship with them and invited them to follow Him around and listen to how He handles things, what He prioritizes, how He deals with people and how He obediently walks with God. It was a living process rather than a stale, classroom relationship. Discipling others should focus on how a more mature Believer does life following after Christ so that those who are younger in the faith can learn what to (and not to) do. It’s being real, letting others inside your world, seeing your weaknesses, your strengths, your faith, your mistakes and how you work out sin through repentance. You may not feel comfortable being completely vulnerable, but discipleship is at least being open and honest enough to be able to wrestle through the issues of life together, growing in faith together and serving as iron sharpening one another to the glory of God.
This process doesn’t just happen. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it will ever happen accidentally. Just because it is to be organic and natural doesn’t mean that it isn’t intentional. We have to determine we’re going to pour our lives into someone else. We have to intentionally establish that relationship with an understanding of what is happening. Jesus did that. He made an intentional decision and then established the relationship with, “Follow me.” Jesus was very intentional about doing things in the presence of His disciples. He pulled in Peter, James and John, in particular, to share in some of the most intimate and amazing aspects of His life. As a result, they, being filled with the Holy Spirit and having lived with Him for three years, did some amazing things for God’s glory after Jesus had left.
Discipleship is a simple process, but I don’t want to make it simplistic. We have to care enough to get involved. We have to love enough to include. We have to trust enough to be real. None of that is easy…but it’s our purpose and the blessings on the other side are priceless. We are called to go into all the world and make disciples. You may not feel as though you are qualified. Fortunately, the requirements are not that extensive. Do you have a vibrant relationship with God? Have you been walking with Him through the seasons of life? Do you spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer. If not, you may not be ready to be a disciple-maker. You may need to be discipled. However, none of us are in the middle. We either need to be discipled or we need to be a disciple-maker.
I really believe God has grown The Gathering to the point where we should be ready for any number of people God brings through our doors. However, that will largely depend on whether or not YOU are taking discipleship seriously. Decide where you are in the process. Do you need that kind of mentoring relationship where you can grow in faith along with someone else who is a bit more mature in the faith or are you at a point where you could pour your life into another, ready to spend time with someone, walking through life together for a season? Once you’ve got that figured out, pray that God will hook you up with at least one other person to begin growing together. If you are unsure where you are or where or how to get started, find one of the Elders of The Gathering. It’s our job to help you move down the road to spiritual maturity. When this happens, we will accomplish our goal of being among the healthiest churches in Chattanooga!
After discussing this article with a trusted friend in the ministry, he pointed out this video on discipleship by D. A. Carson that had been shared this morning by Mark Dever. It articulates much of what I have proposed here.