Pure and simple. Discipleship. Or is it? I think I’ve been whacking on about discipleship in my whole 4 years here at Trinity. In fact, when I was in my previous role, it was the largest bit of my working profile. Still, although the job has shifted a bit, discipleship is high on the agenda. We cannot, however, become complacent and think that the message is getting through 100%. This came to my attention yesterday in conversation, talking to a few members of Trinity, when one of them said ‘what do you mean by discipleship?’
My initial [internal] reaction was one of those *facepalm* *ohdear* reactions, but then I thought…this is fine. I am thoroughly content that people are asking the question and considering its implications. My one liner response was simply ‘working out what it means to follow Jesus’, and I think that made sense, but got me thinking as to what I really mean by discipleship.
1. Disciples follow Jesus. I think this is where it starts and finishes. There is no graduation from discipleship. No arrival point. It is a continual process of both learning and walking in his ways. When we get the elementary things (if we ever do), we are then led into deeper things and our stride in discipleship strengthens. Conversely, if you’re not following Jesus, you are not a disciple…you are something else. But in fact, you are a disciple of something…probably something else which is shaping you more than Jesus is.
2. Disciples make disciples. It doesn’t just happen, disciples are made. And, they are not made by osmosis, by a zap from Heaven or any such thing. The Way of Jesus is passed on follower to follower, disciple to disciple. The best modern term usage for this is apprenticeship. A learner walking in the steps of someone who is walking in the steps of Jesus and seeing how it might be done. There is no get out clause here for any Christian. This is our fundamental calling. It is also a key element of why the church is in demise in places. No discipleship = no church.
3. Discipleship happens best in community. I’ve heard it said by folks who should know better, but sermons don’t really disciple people. Sure, they can be helps on the journey, but you can’t expect to disciple lots of people through simply imput. People, generally, learn by doing stuff, working stuff out. With something like discipleship, the theory is not enough. You don’t want a surgeon who has just studied surgery, you want someone with experience. You don’t want a pilot who has studied aviation, you want someone who has clocked up the hours. Until the church moves the chairs out of rows, where you look at the bald patch of the person in front, and moves them round the table and the coffee pot, there is less chance of that happening. And unless the people, having been inspired round the table, stand up and walk out what they’ve spoken about, discipleship isn’t happening. We see Jesus sending out his disciples in twos in Luke 10, etc. The idea is ‘here is what we’re supposed to do’ followed closely by ‘ok, off you go and do it.’
4. Discipleship and Evangelism are one in the same thing. They shouldn’t really be separated, and one certainly doesn’t follow the other in clear cut terms. At some point in the whole process, ‘evangelism’ will take place…there will be a point of good news sharing, response, repentence, allegiance. But it is an interesting question to ask ‘when did the apostle Peter get ‘saved’?’ Was it when he responded to the call of Jesus? Was it when he got out the boat? Was it when he confessed Jesus as Christ? Was it at his restoration after he denied Jesus? Was it on the day of Pentecost when he received the Holy Spirit? The answer, I believe, to all those questions is: yes. Peter was discipled by Jesus. The discipleship WAS the evangelism. It was a process. There was a discipleship in place that helped Peter come to the realisation of Jesus identity and Lordship, but Peter’s discipleship continued much longer after Jesus ascended into Heaven. Evangelism happened, but discipleship is the process. That’s not to say that evangelism is never the beginning of discipleship, but its not as clear cut as we think. I think when we look at our current church scenarios, there will be many ‘churchgoers’ who will now becoming followers of Jesus through the process of discipleship.
The questions are: are you a disciple? who are you discipling? who are you being discipled by and with?
As Neil Cole, author, pastor and church planter says, ‘we must lower the bar of church and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.’ In other words, stop the churchy games and all the trappings and get engaged in following Jesus as a priority. Pure and simple? Should be, but massive shifts needed in many places. Fire up, tool up, shape up and lets go.