Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Art of Discipleship

I was watching the Verge conference when one of the speakers reminded us that discipleship was more about imitation than information.  She explained that we in western culture tend to view discipleship as passing down information to a disciple instead of modeling our lives.  The art of discipleship according to Jesus was living, eating, and ministering together, not just passing along information.  

Today we default to sharing information because it is much easier to teach a Bible study than to take the time to model the life that you want your disciple to emulate.  And when we do imitate our mentors, the things we end up copying are usually not the most important characteristics of a believer. Instead of learning the daily routines of spiritual disciplines and reproducing the idea of service and dying to self, we mimic the outward appearances.  We think we are modeling by learning the motions in worship, how to "speak" the language of a true believer and how to look like one.  You find yourself surrounded by others who dress alike, worship, speak, pray and preach the same way. We feel comfortable in these surroundings but is this really the way it should be, the means to grow in Christ?

Didn't Jesus teach that it was not about the outward appearance but about the heart? Yet, as humans we so often imitate the wrong things, defaulting to the conduct and not the essence of the life of a believer.  Focusing on the outward appearances takes our eyes off of the real stuff of the life of a follower of Christ and on to actions that should not necessarily be copied.  

You see this occur in churches that become cookie-cutter images of other churches. Pastors preach exactly like the pastors of the church they grew up in or the ones they have watched on TV.  They have the same accent, the same mannerisms, and often the same sermons. For years the church taught that if you didn't worship our way, look a certain way, worship this way, you weren't a real Christian.  

Yet, shouldn't your setting, culture, abilities and unique calling as a believer, pastor or church determine your style and strategy. What you should be reproducing is your foundational theology, values, spiritual disciplines and the heart of how you live and go about the ministry. The form of how we do ministry should not be confined to just how we've always done it in the past. The Apostle Paul said "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some."  We need sound theology wrapped in new ideas and ways to reach people based on the culture of those we seek to reach. We don't need cookie cutter churches and Christians who look and sound alike and hang out only with people who look just like them.  

One of the pastors that I am coaching had an "aha" moment when he realized that the model he was trying to follow taught by his church planting organization wouldn't work in the inner city where he was planting.  He had become frustrated trying to follow a model that is great for a church plant in the suburbs where there are a lot of new homeowners and affluent believers looking for a church but doesn't fit so well when you plant in the inner city and reach mostly unbelievers.  He realized that his context required a unique strategy and he was "freed" to be different. He could take away basic principles but didn't have to follow the exact form.   

We often can limit our own potential when we compare ourselves with others and try to emulate the wrong characteristics.  Whether you are a believer searching for your God-given calling, or a pastor seeking to find God's direction for your church, seek to be unique.  Draw from others the more meaningful things but also develop your own style.

  • What aspects of the life of your mentor do you imitate?  
  • Is your life worth imitating, the true and important things?  
  • What exactly is it that you are passing on to your disciples?  
  • Do you feel free to be different as a Christian in the way you dress, worship and minister or do you feel bound by a standard imposed by the church or by other Christians?


Neil DeSiato said...

John I too agree with the Verge speaker,"...culture tend to view discipleship as passing down information to a disciple instead of modeling our lives. The art of discipleship according to Jesus was living, eating, and ministering together, not just passing along information." My question is what is the process of making disciples? It is more than just modeling, although godly character is a must. We follow a rational God that gave us a rational word to understand and to transform our thinking; so transferable knowledge must be a part of the process. Yet I agree it is not the "cookie cutter" approach to make people like ourselves. Nor is it a 1-2-3 method of some kind. There must be a personal connection between us and the Vine. Christ called this Abiding. Abiding is more than an emotional experience AND it must be transferable if we are to make disciples. Abiding includes our whole being of worship through thinking, doing and being as we allow the Holy Spirit to live and love through us. Paul wrote in Col.2 "...6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." We received Christ through the gospel which is by grace yet then we try to do the Christian life by human effort. (Galatians) Living through the gospel is the process of our humble acknowledgement that we can do nothing w/o Him (John 15), Seeking God through His word in meditative eating on the Word to receive God's thoughts (Isaiah 55)into our live so it can work through us that life is transfer from God to us. As the Holy Spirit reveals God's commands to us we are empowered to follow. John, I know this sounds too methodical for many, yet it is full of individual freedom and intercourse between us and God. This is a person fluid approach that requires a one on one with God. Yes there are common "steps" or process points mentioned but each one must be individualizes if they are to produce fruit. Just as God made various green plants some are flowers others are trees, yet they all follow similar process to grow and become the planting of the Lord. If this is not away to transfer the process of making Disciple then I humbly seek others to help me.

John Walters said...

Thanks for the comment. All so true. We don't just start abiding over night. It is a process. I wonder how many believers never experience "abiding" in Christ to the extent He has for us. I wonder myself how much I am missing out because I am still holding on to parts of my life that Jesus wants.

Neil DeSiato said...

Thanks for your amen. We have discerned how God made plants to grow may we discern and enhance the growth of one another to become the garden of God.

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