What did Jesus’ style of discipleship look like? My simple definition of discipleship is, “Discipleship is a decision to follow Christ followed by a daily walk with Him.”
There are definitions that are longer and deeper but this for me is the bottom line for discipleship. That initial decision is a step of faith (salvation) and then the following (walk) continues each day as we grow in obedience in all areas of our life (growing in grace).
The “walk” word is throughout Scripture. Here are three examples:
- 1 John 2:6, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”
- 2 John 6, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”
- 3 John 3, “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth.”
Churches tend to view discipleship in two ways. The most prevalent one is the “teaching/instructing” view.
In this view, discipleship is simply courses or curriculum taught on a regular basis. Usually this teaching is done at church on a Sunday or Wednesday night. A teacher takes material such as Experiencing God or Mind of Christ or The Baptist Faith and Message and teaches for six, eight or thirteen weeks. This is a good thing. It is important to instruct believers in the faith. We should know what we believe and why we believe. The Bible says in 2 Tim 2:15 (NIV),
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
Believers need to know how to handle and use the Word of God. However, we presume that this instruction alone, using lots of knowledge and facts, will change behavior. Sometimes this discipleship view is centered more on a cerebral experience of knowing rather than a heart experience of doing. As people apply biblical truth that they have learned it will cause change but could we do more? Do we really challenge people to apply what they have learned? I believe we can be more intentional and more effective in making disciples as we go back to Jesus’ style which brings us to the second prevailing discipleship view.
Jesus’ Style of Discipleship
This second view of discipleship reflects how Jesus taught and trained His disciples. It incorporates not only truth taught but application that allows questions and thought and experience. It is both knowing and doing. This is Jesus’ small group method.
He spent time with His disciples and taught by example as they shared life together. I doubt if you will read this and then immediately go out and find 12 people who will leave their work and families and live with you, travel with you, eat with you for the next three years as you disciple them! So how do we accomplish discipleship in a local church setting without getting people to move in to a Christian commune?
As we said in a previous post, most churches offer different types of group experiences like; Sunday School classes, small groups, home groups, Discipleship groups, men and women’s groups, etc. The element that needs to be added is simply becoming more intentional as we place ourselves “in relationship” with some other people for the purpose of spiritual growth and accountability.
Take the excellent resource, Experiencing God. This study is usually done in about thirteen sessions lasting about an hour and a half. A small group could take this same material and decide to move much slower allowing more time for discussion, questions, and reflection. A group could take a half a year, 26 weeks, and share each week in their small group setting what God was teaching them personally as a result of the biblical truths taught in this resource. The group journeys together.
Discipleship happens best when we are intimately involved with other people, life on life.
Life change happens best in this small group context that encourages and builds people up in Christ. People learn from other people’s experiences. People grow as they make themselves accountable to others. People grow in Christ when they pray together and study God’s Word together. I first discovered this to be true while serving as a youth pastor which I did for about 20 years. We would do the big event stuff that attracted students but where students really told me that their lives changed was almost always related to some small group experience. I found this to be true with adults too.
Examine Your Method
So what will you do with this? Jesus’ method cannot be improved upon. It is perfect and complete.
Look at what you are presently doing in disciple making and ask yourself the question, “Are lives being changed?” If the answer is “no” look at your method. Are you using small groups in the same way Jesus did?
A question for Church Leaders… “Are we willing to take discipleship seriously and give the time, energy and budget, that is required to disciple people?” Has your church “stepped up” to discipleship?
A greater question… “What’s the consequence for our church and for the kingdom, if we don’t?”
Lately, how’s your walk been?