The last two Gospel Rants have been pretty heavy on theology. In the interest of keeping everything practical, I want to get things back down to earth this week. Now almost as much as I love evangelism, I love discipleship, and I think it’s just as important for the common Christian to have an understanding of it. I know only what the Lord has given me (and that’s only shreds, certainly), but I hope what little I have can help you.
A Joe Blow’s Definition: “Discipleship”
In high school, I was in the leadership of our marching band, and one year we had a leadership tech by the name of Joe Ferarro come out to train us. The guy had a voice like gravel in a tin can, a flat delivery fit for slapping a kid in the chest with a sharp word—he was a drill sergeant. I still remember his motto, spoken forty times a meeting: Always take time out for training.
One of my friends got the guts to ask him why, and Mr. Ferarro looked at him like he’d killed his kitten, as always. “Because training makes you who you are. You think marines were born thinking the way they do? No. They were brainwashed. They were trained—really, really well. You want this band to smoke cigars over folks—shut up and train ‘em.” Then he would curse randomly and spit tobacco juice.
After a few years have cut the mystique away from his persona I think what he wanted us to see was a Ferarro version of Matthew 7:24, where Jesus mentions building on the rock. Because that’s discipleship: building. Training. If we want our band to go smoke cigars on folks, they’d better be trained. If we want our Christians to be half-decent in the face of pride, lust, manipulation, dishonesty, treachery, and (oh yeah) Satan, they’d better be trained really, really well.
Step One: Stop It
So where does it begin? Not with you. Pray. Discipleship is raising a child, whether he is four months or forty years—all are children to the Lord, and all need growth. But remember: to raise a child takes a village. Pray that the Lord will put other believers in the disciple’s life, because the Bible is clear that our friends have a drastic impact on our behavior.
To be frank, the brainwashing that Ferarro mentioned isn’t wrong. When a man has a hundred influences in his ears leaning him toward one decision and one leaning him toward another, he’ll make the first almost guaranteed. Along the same bent, when a man has a hundred Christian friends, he’s in a position to make more godly decisions.
Step Two: The Spirit
Similarly, another critical facet is getting the disciple to read the Bible. I haven’t figured out why, but this is often the hardest; for now I’ve chalked it up to fear. But it is crucial to understand that this is more than just a voice in the ear of the disciple.
This is God speaking to him directly—this is the purpose of all our evangelism and discipleship: to allow another person the opportunity to come face to face with God. Of course, many will run. If many don’t run, there’s something wrong. Don’t lose heart when a disciple hits the road. You were never the one who showed him the way anyway.
Step Three: Stop it. Really.
Finally, we’ve reached our first subject’s climax: You can’t make them understand anything. No, really. Read it again. Now go back and read it again. Now go do it again. Now here it is again:
They won’t get it until God reveals it.
God reveals everything through the power of His Spirit; therefore, until the Spirit gives them ears to hear, you can talk yourself blue in the face, but your disciple will still believe works are the only way for God to be satisfied with his life (many people reject this philosophy, but accept this belief in their heart, and their actions follow suit).
Your disciple will still use strategies to evangelize, trying to find ‘the best way’ to ‘break’ the Gospel to his friends rather than just telling them the truth, even if he expounds on the virtues of simple Gospelling when he’s with you alone. Your disciple will still work fourteen-hour days trying to put himself in the best position to see a salvation rather than just trusting the Lord with his ministry, even while smacking his lips at the joys of a life based thoroughly in trust.
Are we better Christians than them? Are these disciples bad people? Are they dense? Are we bad teachers? What can we do to help them? My answers: stop it, yes (but now they have the Holy Spirit, so there’s a bit of perfect goodness roaming around), yes, yes, and nothing. All that we can teach is only what the Lord has given us to teach, and all that we can do is to trust that God will finish His work.
Isn’t it interesting that God gave us a verse specifically for that in Philippians 1:6? Paul, as he’s writing to one of his most beloved churches, declares this sentiment exactly in the Scripture (although of course the verse can be applied to many situations).
That’s it, folks—that’s discipleship as the blind man sees it. If you read this Gospel Rant, please note that it isn’t finished. Part II will be critical to a biblical understanding of discipleship because it will deal with discipleship’s relationship with evangelism and fancy things like that. If now (I hope) you understand more fully what discipleship is, it is critical to understand next how the process may be enacted for its full effect to be realized.
Father, thank you for the relationships you’ve given me! Thank You for my friends and for those who have come to me to seek You through our friendship. Please give me wisdom for them and wisdom in my relationship with them. Help me not to speak quickly when I give them advice, and show me what the course of action will be which most aligns with Your will in every situation. Lord, I give everything about this relationship over to You; if it succeeds, it will be of none of my work, just as the Sun rising takes none of my energy. Father, take my life, and everything in it—may I be submitted to You completely. In Jesus’ name,