How do you disciple?
This is an issue of methodology. Every church has their methodology. Some rely heavily on programs. Some rely heavily on hiring the right minister. What should our methodology be? How do we carry out discipleship in a church setting?
I think we need to start with the ministry of Jesus. Don’t you think that’s a good place to start? We don’t have to read a book about evangelistic techniques. Let’s study the life of the master evangelist and discipler who did evangelism and discipleship better than any of us ever could.
From my study of the life of Jesus Christ, a few things stand out in terms of the way that Christ modeled discipleship for us:
1) He went out to find disciples
2) He invested in a few disciples
3) He lived with his disciples
4) He ministered with his disciples
5) He released his disciples into the harvest field
1) JESUS WENT OUT TO FIND DISCIPLES: EVANGELISM
What did Jesus do first? Jesus went out and found disciples. We call this evangelism. He evangelized and called people to drop what they were doing and become disciples. Evangelism and discipleship are the same thing. You can’t have discipleship until you evangelize someone who agrees to be your disciple.
Jesus asks us to follow the same pattern in the Great Commission – go and make disciples. Go. It doesn’t say, wait until people come to us. Churches can’t sit back passively and wait for seekers to come and get saved and then ask to be disciples. We are to go.
As a church involved in college ministry, I have witnessed and been a part of 2 recurring patterns of evangelism. One is a pattern of doing local missions on various college campuses where the college staff and students are evangelistic at the start of a new year or the start of a new ministry. We go on prayer walks. We meet with strangers. We are active in sharing our faith because that’s our mindset. We are in evangelism mode. The second pattern that I have observed is going on a foreign missions trip, typically in the summer. You save up thousands of dollars and you fly to the other side of the world for a couple of weeks and you are in full swing evangelism mode. Everything you do is geared to evangelism. Every person you meet is a potential target to evangelize.
The hope is that the foreign missions will spark a desire to do local missions with an increased sense of urgency. But I have found in my own life, outside of these foreign mission trips and evangelistic events on local college campuses, for the majority of the year, I am not obeying this command to go and make disciples. For the students, when is the last time you shared your faith with a non-Christian? For the non-students, when is the last time you shared your faith? At our church, do we rely upon a few evangelistic students to do all the work of evangelism for the entire church and the rest of us sit around and disciple a handful of seekers who step foot into our church? If you are guilty like me, then we have to repent because we haven’t even reached first base. We have to go.
LA is a mission field. LA is home to people from more than 140 countries speaking over 220 different identified languages. There are millions of unreached people in our own backyard. I believe before we spend thousands of dollars to go overseas, we need to evangelize our own neighbors. A foreign mission trip will not adjust your pattern of life. You may be more evangelistic in the few weeks and months following a mission trip, but we are creatures of habit and so we will quickly revert back to whatever pattern we lived before. If we rarely shared the gospel before going to a mission trip, then, when the glow of missions fades, we will stop sharing the gospel.
How are we doing as a church on this first part of discipleship? Are we going? Are we engaging our community with the gospel? We are to go to all nations and proclaim Christ. The church doesn’t exist just for its own sake. We exist as God’s chosen instrument to reach the nations. May we never become a ghetto disconnected from the world around us. Before I became a pastor, I told God, in the first 3 years of my pastorate, if no one is saved, please shut down this church. God has been gracious in our early years, but the point being, if we ever get consumed with whatever we are doing here and we stop being salt and light, maybe it’s time to close up shop.
2) JESUS INVESTED IN A FEW DISCIPLES
Jesus did mass evangelism. He preached to the crowds. He fed the crowds. He healed the sick and performed other miracles. But where did Jesus spend the vast majority of his energy? The Twelve. The 12 disciples that Jesus himself went out and found. So Jesus went out, he obeyed his own Great Commission by going and he found 12 men.
What were these men like?
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Unschooled and ordinary. Why do you think a bulk of Jesus’ disciples were unschooled and ordinary? Why didn’t Jesus go to the Jewish upper class, or the Jewish elites? Why didn’t he go to the Jewish leaders because they already knew Scripture and they were at least motivated spiritually? Can you imagine Jesus being surrounded by Jewish religious leaders and he’s teaching them and every few minutes, he’s interrupted. Jesus, I’m not sure you are understanding the context correctly, or Jesus, I don’t know if I agree, or Jesus, did you think about this? Think of how slow his discipleship would have been had he been stuck with a bunch of know-it-alls.
For the most part, our church is well-educated, upper middle class so we just have to admit, we are high maintenance, right? We have our opinions, we have our preferences, we think we know how things should be done when it comes to church and Christian life. Because we live in a digital world, we are bombarded with idea after idea, strategy after strategy, opinion after opinion. That’s why we are high maintenance – we all think we know the best way to do everything. Right? You can disagree with me on a particular issue and find a dozen preachers out there on youtube and vimeo to support your view. Guaranteed.
What was so exceptional about these 12 disciples? They were unschooled and ordinary, most of them. But what else? They were teachable. Jesus was the Teacher and they were sponges who followed Jesus around town to soak up whatever he had to say. They were teachable and they were available. They left everything and followed Jesus. They left their jobs, their families. So that they could live with Jesus. They saw him everyday for 3 years.
Some of you, honestly, are not teachable because you have spiritual life all figured out in your own minds. You are already leading, you are already discipling others, but you have never been led yourself.
Some of you are not available. Your studies, your future vocation is more important than your calling to follow Jesus and make disciples. Be honest. Others of you have been burned by church so that you left everything before but now you’ve gone back to fishing. Instead of being fishers of men, your fishing poles and nets are back in your hands.
These first batch of disciples left everything. They made themselves available. And they gave Jesus their undivided attention. The disciples admitted that when it came to spiritual life, they were lost and they needed help. They needed personal attention. And they showed up to class by availing themselves to Jesus. Jesus was interested in teaching the masses, but Jesus focused on a few. Jesus did not shirk his responsibility to reach the nations. His goal all along was salvation of all nations, but his methodology was to focus on a few who were teachable and available.
3) JESUS LIVED WITH HIS DISCIPLES
Let’s break down his methodology a bit further. What was Jesus’ methodology of discipleship? So he had 12 who were enrolled in his school of discipleship. They set aside all other agendas. They were available for him to teach and mold. What did he do? It’s quite simple – he said, come, follow me. Let’s live together. Let’s do life together.
Earlier, I said that discipleship is where the Word of God meets your life. You can’t disciple someone unless you know them well and you know how they are living. We can see each other on Sundays week after week and just smile and speak pleasantries to one another and this can go on for decades. And we can remain as ladies and gentlemen and be complete strangers to one another. You may even ask me to disciple you, but we won’t be able to get very far with a Sunday only relationship.
You need proximity. You need regular contact, much more than once a week saying hi, how was your week over a meal of meatballs. Discipleship assumes relationship and proximity. If you are doing life together with the person you are discipling and you develop an intimate relationship where you can meet often, you will find plenty of teaching opportunities. That’s why this church began with 2 couples, Pastor James and Sister Grace from WLA and our couple drove out to Pasadena for a number of years from Culver City. Eventually, we had to move to be near the students and that’s how Pasadena church was birthed. We can’t do effective discipleship when we live an hour away from the people we are trying to disciple.
Jesus spent 3 years with 12 men and he saw them every single day. For us, discipleship will take longer. Why? First, I’m not Jesus, which is the most obvious statement I will ever make. I am not spiritual as Jesus and I am far inferior in my discipleship compared with him. And, if I am discipling you, discipleship will take longer simply because I don’t live with you. On top of that, most of us are busy with our lives. If you are a college student and you were being discipled all 4 years, I think after 4 years, if we are lucky, we are just starting to get to know one another.
In the Great Commission, it is not enough to teach Christ’s commands. We are called to teach others to OBEY Christ’s commands. It’s life on life. When you trust someone and you see how they live day to day for an extended period of time, there are countless teaching opportunities. You see how they spend their money and you see them going into debt and you can speak about being a proper steward of your finances and not allowing debt to enslave you. You see how they waste time and are bogged down by many distractions and you can speak to them about making the most of every opportunity in our choices. You see how they handle stress and what worries them and you can encourage them to cast their cares one by one to Jesus.
If there is a conflict between two sisters in Christ, you can deal with it because you know both parties. You can ask each side to reconcile. Have you been praying for the other sister? Have you talked with so and so? If not, you can show them Scripture. Sister, you got to forgive. Forgive as the Lord forgave you – Col 3. You can show them that verse.
If you only see someone on Sundays and have no idea how they are living Monday through Saturday, you are very limited in your discipleship. You might be able to provide some basic accountability, but that’s not discipleship. Discipleship goes much deeper. If you only see someone once a week, you can give insights, you can teach principles but you’d be hard pressed to help someone actually obey God’s Word in the trenches of daily life. To overcome an addiction. Or to surrender an idol. Or to forgive someone from their past.
4) JESUS MINISTERED WITH HIS DISCIPLES
Life together leads to ministry together. Jesus and the 12 ministered together, or rather, the Twelve learned how to minister to others by observing how Jesus ministered. Ministry became another teaching opportunity. Remember how Jesus approached the religious leaders? And how different his approach with them was compared to the woman caught in adultery. By observing Jesus, the disciples learned how to approach each person differently. How to ask the right questions. How to be compassionate. How to be flexible and open to all kinds of people while not compromising on the truth. Jesus gave the 12 a backstage view into the heart of God for all kinds of people.
There is so much learning that happens when you minister together with the person you are discipling. It’s one thing to teach about sacrifice and putting the needs of another ahead of your own in a sermon or Bible study. It’s quite another thing altogether to demonstrate what that looks like in real life as you minister together. You learn by listening, as a student listens to a professor in lecture. You learn better by teaching others. You might be able to get a problem correct, but if the teacher asks you to get in front of the class and explain how to do it, you need to know the material far better. Discipleship takes it a step further. Not only do we learn for ourselves, not only do we teach others, but we are called to show others. It is good to tell people what we mean, but it is infinitely better to show them. People are looking for a demonstration, not an explanation.
How did I learn? Teaching, yes. I heard many sermons and sat through many Bible studies. But also, mentors came into my life and discipled me. They invested in me and showed me, this is what it means to pray. I learned prayer because we actually prayed together. Or someone took me along with them and I was able to listen and observe how he shared the gospel tactfully with a non-believer. Evangelism – not just teaching about techniques but someone took me along to evangelize and we reached out together. We cooked a meal together and invited someone over and after that person left, we prayed together for his soul. Not just teaching about serving the body of Christ, but taking that person with you to set up chairs or to buy snacks for fellowship. Demonstration and modeling are integral parts of discipleship.
For Jesus and the 12, teaching, discipleship, community, ministry, it was all one in the same. It was the first church. Every part flowed into the rest in this 13 member church. They did everything together, they prioritized one another, they limited themselves from pursuing other interests and joining other Rabbinic schools. Were they being snobbish or elitist? No, they were just following Jesus’ methodology of discipleship for the time being while they were still being trained for a finite period of time. So that eventually they could love others the way Jesus would have.
For the members here, you’ve prioritized this church. You come on Sundays. You come to prayer meetings and lift up the needs of this body. You came to this member’s bible study. The next step would be to ask for discipleship. We have limited resources so we are not going to chase you down and ask each of you if you want to be discipled. We will only disciple those who express a desire for it. Unless you are leading in any capacity, then I think discipleship is no longer an option. Discipleship can take various forms. We can do one on one or a small group. We can go over a book of the Bible or review the Sunday sermon in more depth.
The point is that in discipleship we are using the Word of God and connecting it to your life in an intentional, concrete way. And if you are in a discipleship relationship, like Jesus and the 12, it’s going to blend into ministry. It would be weird to be discipled here at LBC and then to serve or minister elsewhere, right? It can happen, but the ideal picture is where relationship, discipleship, ministry all blend together. Because this is how Jesus did it.