By Tyler Edwards
All living things grow. It is a natural part of life. Think of a plant. When it grows to a point of maturity, it produces seeds, which spread out and grow into new plants. God’s natural design for growth is through the process of replication. When Jesus walked the earth, he didn’t do it alone. He called 12 “unschooled, ordinary” guys from the small area of Palestine to follow him—creating the world’s first disciple group. Those 12 guys were transformed into dynamic leaders who changed the world.
To create discipleship we look to Bible studies and life groups. We try to find people who think like us, share our hobbies, or are in our age group and form little church cliques. Affinity groups are nice. They are great tools for creating community. However, they are rarely an effective means for discipleship. It’s not that those types of assemblies can’t help us grow. They just have a different purpose. Community groups are naturally going to gravitate toward the social connection. Discipleship is not just about connecting; it’s about growing. Community is about growing old together. Discipleship is about growing up together.
The Watered-Down Gospel
To become a disciple you need more than just things in common. The disciples whom Jesus called were from different walks of life, professions, and backgrounds. They were diverse. He had a zealot and a tax collector in the same group. These two would have naturally hated each other. Somehow the mission of Jesus challenged them enough to put aside their differences and work together. Their diversity is what made them great.
Dissimilarities create obstacles that challenge us to see things from different perspectives; they force us to defend our positions; they create a tension that motivates us to grow. It’s easy to get lost in the choir, and without the challenge of facing others’ objections, we have little motivation to continue growing.
For a long time the church as a whole has neglected the concept of discipleship. We use the word regularly enough, but it is not really essential to what we do. We trade disciples for converts. Our goal often ends up being: Get ’em in, dunked, and in the pews (to boost our attendance numbers). And in order to get people to take that first step and accept Jesus, we water down the gospel. We remove certain demands and expectations so that Jesus will be easier to receive. We treat Jesus more like a topping to be added to the ice cream of our life rather than the essential ingredient of life. While getting people to accept Jesus is one of the worthiest goals the church can have, we need to remember that converts are not disciples, and Jesus never calls us to “win converts.”
Demands of Discipleship
Christians are not disciples by default. Discipleship doesn’t mean you believe in Jesus. It means you are completely and whole-heartedly surrendered to him. It means you give up your desires, wants, interests, and priorities and live your life in steadfast devotion to him. Discipleship doesn’t mean you go to church, it means you live as the church every day. It doesn’t mean you talk about Jesus, it means you can’t stop talking about him; his message, his mission, and his love are always on your lips. It is devotion to Christ in the truest sense of the word.
If you are holding back, you are not a disciple. If you have not fully surrendered all that you have and all that you are, you are not a disciple. Disciples are those who have given themselves wholly and completely to the cause of Christ.
Jesus set the example for us. He doesn’t just call us to accept him. He challenges us to follow him. In his calling, he tells us to come and die. For without death there can be no discipleship. There is no un-giving of this—there is no taking a life back once it has been given to him. You live, but your life is not your own. Jesus doesn’t demand that we change before we come to him. He calls us to come to him as we are, but fortunately he loves us too much to leave us that way.
Tools for Discipleship
There are two tools Jesus uses to make disciples: teaching and time. Jesus spent more than three years with his disciples. They ate together, travelled together, and worked together. They did life together. He invested his time and his life in them. In the Gospels, there are only two parables for which Jesus explains the meaning, and both were only explained to his disciples. He spent a great deal of time teaching them so that they would know the Word of God and would understand how to apply it. With these two tools Jesus turned societal nobodies into radical disciples.
The journey doesn’t end with training. Disciples aren’t truly disciples until they are making other disciples. Jesus made his disciples and then sent them out to make others. Jesus sent out the disciples three times. Twice he sent them out while he was with them. This served as a little “on-the-job training,” so he could help guide them afterward. The final time he sent them out, it was with the Great Commission; and the challenge he gave to them, he gives to all Christians. He wants to make us all into disciples.
Discipleship is not for an elite few. It is also not a special directive given at a certain point. Discipleship is not a calling; it’s a command for all who would follow after Jesus.
Disciples mature and produce seeds to create more disciples. Those who are transforming into the image of Jesus should teach those who are not as far along how to get where they are. Like plants, disciples grow through the process of replication. A disciple should teach what he or she knows about Jesus and show how to invest in a relationship with him. There are two things every disciple needs: to know Jesus and his Word and to spend time with him. This allows the replication to be of Jesus, not of the disciple maker.
Jesus said that a tree is judged by its fruit. What fruit do we produce? Do we encourage people to grow closer to God? To we help them along the way? Do we teach those who are less mature than ourselves? Do we learn from those who are further along in their walks with Christ? It’s easy to settle in and get comfortable; but discipleship isn’t about comfort. If we are not constantly seeking to grow in our relationship with Jesus, and if we are not pouring ourselves into his Word, how can we help others grow? You can’t lead someone to a place that you have not been.
Jesus isn’t looking for fans to fill the seats of Heaven. He is looking for men and women who will commit themselves completely to his cause—sharing his love with the world. Jesus summed up the law in a single command: love. Jesus made disciples by replicating himself. In order to live like Jesus, we need to love like Jesus. When we love like Jesus, we start to look like Jesus. It’s when we look like Jesus that we can begin to replicate him in the lives of those around us.
Tyler Edwards is a freelance writer in Ponte Vedra, Florida.
Diving into Discipleship
“The trouble with deep belief is that it costs something. And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them. It is so, so cumbersome to believe anything.”
―Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz
“Most people in America, when they are exposed to the Christian faith, are not being transformed. They take one step into the door, and the journey ends. They are not being allowed, encouraged, or equipped to love or to think like Christ. Yet in many ways a focus on spiritual formation fits what a new generation is really seeking. Transformation is a process, a journey, not a one-time decision.”
―David Kinnaman, unChristian
“When Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,’ He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.”
―Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
“Fortunately, God made all varieties of people with a wide variety of interests and abilities. He has called people of every race and color who have been hurt by life in every manner imaginable. Even the scars of past abuse and injury can be the means of bringing healing to another. What wonderful opportunities to make disciples!”
―Charles R. Swindoll
“It is instilled in us to think that we have to do exceptional things for God; we have not. We have to be exceptional in ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, surrounded by sordid sinners. That is not learned in five minutes.”