Jesus’ last word to his followers was “make disciples.” Making disciples has got to be one of the fundamental criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of congregational programming and ministry, as well as its allocation of resources.
Healthy churches invite people to become disciples and begin the journey. They also encourage those already on the path to “press on.” Discipleship is an unending process of spiritual transformation. It includes many things, and may take advantage of several tools and methods.
One of the oldest methods of discipling is what we call today “mentoring.” In older terminology it may have been “spiritual friend,” or “soulmate.” Yet, what are we being transformed into? One New Testament image is “maturity in Christ.” That is pretty good shorthand; and resonates with Christian people. But how do you explain that to those who are not already on the path?
I would suggest at least seven things, taken from the Gospel of Matthew (a discipleship manual?). These are not exhaustive, nor are they in any particular order (just the order that Matthew presents them). And they were selected as passages that speak of “following.”
First, following entails becoming a fisher of others. Jesus’ first call of disciples (Matthew 4:18-20), bears with it the explicit expectation that these disciples find and nurture other disciples. There is a sense in which our own discipleship can never be complete until we have cared for disciples as an under-shepherd.
Second, following demands new perspectives and priorities (Matthew 8:18-22). This passage of three stories may not seem like a “unit,” but I believe it is. There is talk of “the dead” in the first story, and the third story is about a man who “lives among the dead” (live dead is an oxymoron isn’t it?!). In between the story of Jesus calming the stormy sea (power of death?) is a revelation (a new perspective) of “what kind of man Jesus is.” It seems that all three stories deal with changes in perspectives and priorities. The first story presents common wisdom, challenged in Jesus’ teaching. The second story presents the Lord of the Sea as worthy of our changed perspective and priorities. And the third story illustrates a man having experienced changed perspectives and priorities.
Third, following involves a change in lifestyle (Matthew 9:9-13). This change does not precede the call, but it is a consequence of responding to the call. None of us lives a lifestyle that is above changing. The assertion of such privilege for any lifestyle is arrogant self-centeredness.
Fourth, following brings healing (Matthew 12:15-21).. In Greek, the play on “healing” and “salvation” cannot be ignored. Jesus promises healing, not just a friendly ear or a co-dependent relationship. Not only do followers experience healing, they are to become healers. Certainly, we are always just conduits for the power of Christ, which actually does any healing. But we are called to be willing conduits.
Fifth, following brings freedom from materialism (Matthew 19:16-22). This is the familiar story of the rich young man. He has done all the things, and followed all the rules, but still senses a lack. Jesus invites him to “give up” his possessions, and “follow” him. Materialism is not the exclusive property of the rich. Rich, poor, and in-between are all susceptible to the siren call of materialism. However, it does seem to be an epidemic problem in the United States.
Sixth, following involves a cross (Matthew 16:21-28). This is not an inconvenience or a thorn-in-the-side, it is a cross—an instrument of death. Certainly, self must be put on the cross. That is part of the transformation experience. In addition, the cross as indicative of outside threats which must be borne seems real.
Finally, following results in a place in the Kingdom (Matthew 19:28-30). The story is set in a dispute among the disciples, but Jesus undercuts their ambition by promising that they do have a place in the Kingdom, but it is a place based on service.
Discipleship is certainly more complex than this. But it is also more complex than the programming in most churches suggests. Effective discipling involves several things—not just a Sunday School, or an active youth program. At the very least, discipling involves a community of individuals journeying together, challenging, encouraging, and upholding one another in the process. All the time, remembering that following Christ is really what it is all about.
Books: Six Best of 1999
At the end of each year, I share my reading list with the other regional staff as an exercise in accountability. Reviewing that list for 1999, I found six books that I would especially recommend to Pastors. Think about putting them on your reading list for 2000. I would be glad to talk with you about them.
Leading the Team-Based Church by George Cladis from Jossey-Bass.
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala from Zondervan.
The In-Between Church by Alice Mann from Alban.
Walking Through the Valley by Robert Randall from Abingdon.
Jesus on Leadership by Gene Wilkes from Tyndale.
The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard from Harper. today.
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