[This post was first posted at my personal blog The Dreaming Revolutionary.]
Jesus said; “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (ethne).” This is our mandate known as the Great Commission. He went on to describe how that is done; “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Is that what we have done? If we have done discipleship at all, what do we do, and where do we start?
I have reviewed discipleship materials over the years, some good and some miss the mark altogether. What is usually missing is the part of making disciples that Jesus describes as “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Most discipleship is focused on what the believer needs to do. It becomes a list of tasks that the believer must do in order to be a growing disciple. As the believer progresses, he is then given a list of skills to learn to be an effective servant in the church, many times referred to as ministry skills. This leads to several problems that hinder growth and a healthy relationship with their heavenly Father.
When you disciple an individual focusing mainly on the development ministry skills, that disciple certainly knows what to do in service to the Lord. That is not where we should start; it is insufficient and builds the wrong foundation in the life of the disciple of Jesus. Instead, when you disciple an individual by using the daily life lesson the Lord brings to them in life, that disciple knows how to have a relationship with God and live life as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. This is where you should start and build from there.
The problem with skill based discipleship is that the Church is filled with people whose value is determined by what they do rather than who they are. Their identity is determined by a position in ministry rather than their position in Christ. Therefore you have a highly skilled church that has very little interaction with God and are susceptible to moral failure, chronic disappointment, and an inflated ego that serves self (“my ministry”) rather than others. The idea of a life based on the gospel of the Kingdom is considered to idealistic and unattainable.
The solution is to make disciples through relationships rather than academics; using their life experiences, tragedies, and victories of life. Life itself would serve as the lessons and the curriculum would be provided by searching the scriptures and determining what the Lord says regarding what is happening from day to day. By teaching the disciple to relate their situations to the Word of God and in the context of the gospel of the Kingdom, the disciple’s relationship to the Lord grows deeper and they are able to withstand life in this fallen world in victory and be an example of a disciple of Jesus.
Merely teaching skills such as how to pray, read the bible, conduct a bible study, and even to the level of skills required in most local church positions robs the disciple of the foundation needed to maintain a real relationship with the Lord. It causes whatever relationship that is developed with Jesus to be based on being a servant of God rather than a friend and child of God.
Training and preparing disciples in ministry skills is important and should not be neglected, but it should never be considered the goal of discipleship. Discipleship’s goal is to transform our lives so that we are like Jesus, imitators of Him, obedient to Him. This must be in the area of how we live, our character and how we respond to life and apply the truth of His Word to those situations. Therefore we must be able to hear the voice of our Lord.
Another mistake is creating a dependency on curriculum and other materials to make disciples or to be a disciple. There are thousands of workbooks, manuals, study guides that have been developed for the purpose of discipleship. Though the content of many of these books are sound and worth reading they can never replace the opportunity to fellowship with the Lord firsthand and go to his word and hear him speak to you and teach you his ways. When we depend on curriculum, the believer becomes dependent on external sources for guidance and teaching rather than developing the hearing ear that knows the voice of his shepherd. This is imperative to the new disciple and cannot be put off to a future time.
In discussing discipleship with leaders in the context of simple church, I am usually asked; “What curriculum do you use?” When I state that we do not use any curriculum except the Bible and the life of the believer I usually get that glazed over look of puzzlement. I usually remind them that the new believers in the book of Acts had no Navigators booklets, no Master Life, no Kay Arthur, and no Bill Bright; but they still made disciples! Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for all of these resources. All we need is a kitchen table, or couch or a local eating establishment and we are ready to grow together as we discuss our lives together and draw from the truths in God’s Word.
So what do we do? Start with the basics. What someone gives their life to the Lord – believe it! What I mean is, believe that the Lord is now over their life and what happens is the Lord’s. He IS governing their life and that life IS their schooling. By using the curriculum of their life and the resource that gives life – the Word of God, they have a foundation that can withstand whatever comes their way. Not only that, I doesn’t cost a cent! You don’t need to buy books, furnish a classroom, build and education wing or hire a professional Bible teacher. It is that simple.
Now let’s get started! Go and make disciples!