Note: I'm excited to announce that The Five Minute Discipleship Podcast will launch one month from today on August 17th! Each short episode (admittedly not always limited to five minutes) will include a story, a scripture, and a point of application. Thanks to everyone who has been so encouraging!
Growing up in church, becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus was more "caught than taught." I'm not sure our pastor had a "strategy" for discipleship other than to encourage and inspire people to make Jesus and His church the center of their lives.
Recently, I was reflecting with a friend I grew up with about our spiritual experiences as children. He noted that we attended church about six times each week: Sunday School, Sunday morning service, Sunday evening service, Wednesday evening service, Boys Club, and our church. We even had a Saturday evening service we were expected to attend. Yes, our lives were centered around the church.
Without a doubt, our culture has changed, even within the church. Today, a committed believer will attend church weekly on a Sunday morning, and perhaps a bible study or small group. Over the past five years, the frequency of church attendance has dropped significantly. Many Christians now attend only once or twice a month.
A leading pastor in America recently commented that if a person attended six times over a year, they considered them a regular attendee. We can imagine their attendance pattern follows holidays and significant events such as New Years, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Family Day, and Christmas Eve.
We have to ask the question, How does a person who places their faith in Jesus become a mature follower? What is required? What are the goals?
Jesus called his disciples to follow. He would take the lead, they would follow. He would teach by word and example. Over time, through this intimate relationship, this small group of men would learn to be like Jesus.
Author Dallas Willard states, "Discipleship is the church's great omission." I can't help but agree with his assessment. In the past generation, we have focused on reaching crowds, creating programs, and serving our communities through acts of compassion. How are we making disciples? Is it through preaching alone? Is it through serving? Is it a combination of things? These are the questions with which we wrestle.
Jesus made disciples through an intentional investment of time. He didn't disciple crowds. He discipled a small group.
I love author Greg Ogden's definition of discipleship - "An intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples to encourage, equip, and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well."
Notice four critical parts of the process, and we'll see how Jesus made disciples.
Spiritual maturity happens in the context of Godly relationships. The idea that a person could be a believer and not be a part of a Christian community would have been foreign to the New Testament writers.
Spiritual growth also requires intentionality. It doesn't happen by accident or coincidence. The discipleship process occurs by frequent interaction with at least one other spiritually mature believer.
Walk alongside other disciples.
There must be a mutual exchange of the scripture, how it is understood, believed, and applied. This "walking together" requires the journey to be encouraging, equipping, and challenging. It also invites accountability.
Grow toward maturity in Christ
The goal of discipleship is spiritual maturity in Christ. We never fully arrive. The Apostle Paul said in Philippians chapter three that he had not "arrived." He said his goal was to keep pressing forward. In the end, the goal is to be like Jesus.
Equipping to teach others
The objective is for the person being discipled is that eventually, they too will make disciples. We can't forget Paul's words in 2 Timothy 2:2 - "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others." The goal is reproduction.
In all of the excellent activity of the church, let us never forget our primary objective. In the Great Commission, Jesus calls us to "make disciples" that would "obey everything He taught."