To wrap up the blind man’s rambling on discipleship, I’ll take two common questions and throw some thoughts at them. This is a much shorter post than normal because these questions, although asked often and important to understand, aren’t difficult to answer. I take questions, comments, and concerns at email@example.com.
Question 1: Discipleship is only for Christians, right?
Discipleship is not exclusively post-salvation. The circle of Christian life does not read ‘saved, baptized, discipled, discipler, dead’ because in the real world the steps get all switched around— discipleship almost always begins before salvation, and the new believer can be nearly finished digesting their spiritual milk before they get baptized, and the new believer can even begin to disciple their non-believing friends before they get saved at all.
The gray areas are a reminder that it ain’t about us after all. The more confused you are about the life of a new believer, the more you understand God controls every emotion they experience, and the more you can trust Him to bring them to maturity.
So, in closing, a good portion of the discipleship I have done has been with people who came to know the Lord later, or, more regularly, still do not know Him. Discipling non-Christians is a necessity to any ministry.
Question 2: I meet with a guy once a week over coffee and we talk about deep things like Jesus and our lives. I’m discipling him, right?
Starbucks loves you. I’ll give you that. You’re helping the economy, but you’re not discipling anyone.
I’ll try to build the most biblical representation of discipleship that I can: Jesus drew a fairly large group of people, then weeded out all but twelve for His discipleship. After that, He cropped all but three for the intense stuff. Very rarely do we see Jesus speaking to His disciples alone or in private, although it did happen occasionally. Rather we see mistakes in the disciples’ behavior reprimanded publicly and used as teaching moments for the whole group, even if it embarrassed a particular disciple (keep in mind how warm and fuzzy Jesus got about sin). They lived together; they met many times during the week, and they had similar social circles, coworkers, etcetera. They were a family.
So in today’s era, this might look like the following: a group of young believers from a church sign up for discipleship, and they’re paired with an older dude named John. John gets about five or six disciples. They have two meetings a week for hanging out (one of which may be centered on building love in the core team and one of which on bringing non-believers so the group can labor together), one meeting for service to the community, one meeting for prayer, and they all go to church together on Sunday.
Throughout the week, John meets with them in pairs, triplets, or the occasional one-on-one to talk about scriptural issues or life issues or what have you. Sin issues are dealt with publicly and openly, as no man’s sin will be kept secret–maybe there’s a texting system or Facebook group where prayer requests are shared frequently.
John chooses one or two whom the Lord has selected to spend even more time with him, and they go deeper than the others into matters of theology and evangelism and discipleship. Finally, the social circles begin to converge, and the disciples only know each other’s friends well. At this point, things begin to snowball, and the discipleship reaches a critical mass (ie it begins to grow on its own).
But that would take so much time! I know. But nobody does it that way! I know, let’s fix it. But can we really learn all that much from just spending more time together? Jesus thought so. But soon I won’t have any nonbelieving friends! It’s your job to keep up with them while you aren’t in the group. But I have a life outside of this too! Do you? Is that what Jesus called you to? I seem to remember some instances of ‘leave your father and mother’ somewhere…
Of course, this model of discipleship will not draw many; the appeal of it is significantly less than the once-a-week Starbucks version. But, for those who DO feel God’s call to participate, I am convinced the benefits will remain throughout their life. As always, the call of God is not to numbers, but to spend every ounce of our energy in glorifying Him to the best of our ability.
Jesus’s model is not being practiced widely at all. It’s yet another tool I hope to see added to the global church before I kick the bucket. Until then, if you get the opportunity to disciple a new believer and you tell them no because there’s only one of them and you need at least three to do it right, ignore the confused looks. The Lord will make that seed grow in His time.
Father, thank You so much for all You have given me! Thank You for my friends who have come to know You and my friends who are still waiting for their harvest day—please work through me, God. I die to myself and seek to live through You alone. Give me wisdom in Your methods of discipleship and give me the resources to enact a discipling system which could have global implications. Lord, I submit all that I am to You, and I ask You to please work through my discipleship efforts for the glory of Your Name. In Christ’s name I pray,