When I returned to my home culture after fifteen years overseas, I knew something was missing. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew a significant shift took place.
It wasn't one specific thing, but an accumulative process that brought this shift. "What happened," I wondered?
It wasn't so much what happened as what didn't happen—personal, intentional discipleship within the church.
My first indicator was a general biblical ignorance. This was puzzling. More biblical teaching was available, in more ways than when I moved overseas (1990).
Resources for biblical studies had multiplied, through books, audio, video, and online products. There was plenty to choose from and yet, the consumer-oriented American Christian wanted more of it.
But with all that was available, something was missing.
Was it a lack of community? Leadership? Commitment? Yes to all the above and more. But why?
It finally dawned on me that what was common in the '70's and 80's was lacking in the new millennium.
Intentional, relational discipleship was a primary element of the Jesus People Movement of the late '60's into the '70's. It was a natural, organic element embedded into the movement by God.
It didn't just happen by itself, but it wasn't a well-outlined curriculum or program. That came later.
This seems to be a pattern with us humans.
The wrong thing was replicated
God does something sovereign and dynamic, then we try to systematize it. We try to codify and quantify it—axioms, rules, and numbers—in order to replicate it. In doing this, we end up stifling whatever God did or is doing.
Discipleship, as Jesus modeled, is a process of replication that reproduces disciple-makers. It should never be reduced to a program.
The human effect turns a movement of God into an institution.
We try to organize the spiritual dynamic or life of the movement, which quenches the river of life God sets in motion, by attempting to channel or contain it.
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)
Not a spiritual growth program
Discipleship is not a spiritual growth program.
It's not a follow-up or aftercare program for those who've said the sinner's prayer.
Discipleship is the natural progression of evangelism. They aren't synonymous, but they aren't separate either. Robert Coleman's classic book, Master Plan of Evangelism, makes this clear.
This isn't rocket science, as they say. A person doesn't need a degree nor professional training to be a disciple-maker. Nor does a disciple-maker need a title or official role.
Yes, a disciple-maker needs to be grounded in the truth of God's Word and led by God's Spirit, but they don't need a certificate to make them an authorized disciple-maker.
3 simple observations
- Discipleship is not a cognitive skill to be learned or taught—it's a way of life.
- Discipleship is a life with purpose—that purpose is revealed in the process of discipleship.
- Discipleship requires some type of challenge to pursue the goal—the goal is following Jesus and being transformed by the Holy Spirit.
3 simple truths
- The Lord Jesus saw discipleship as an intentional, relational process. It's not a phase, but an integrated whole. Discipleship involves following Jesus with a community of believers—Matt 16:24; John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42-47.
- Discipleship is the pastoral responsibility of the church. Not the institution or corporation, but the community of believers under the Lordship of Jesus, as led by the Holy Spirit. This is made clear in Ezekiel 34:1-24, and by Jesus in John 10:7-16.
- Discipleship is a community-based process of sanctification. This is shared pastoral care among a community of believers. It's not relegated to one leader or a select group of leaders, although leadership is important. It is a shared commitment of each believer to one another—John 8:34-36; Acts 4:32-35; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.
This is not all that can be said about the subject, far from it!
Do you need more insight on any of the 3 observations or truth above? Let me know!
But, it's my hope these simple, brief observations and truths help confirm whatever God may be stirring in your own heart.
So... What is God stirring in your heart about discipleship and following Jesus?
Let me know, and thanks for reading and sharing this post!
This is an edited & updated version of an earlier post— 3 Simple Observations and Truths