Christian Apologetics and Philosophy

An look into Christian Apologetics, Philosophy and other musings.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Discipleship: The Importance and Role of

Discipleship is a process involving relationships with people. Paul describes the process of discipleship as “be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). This process involves three people, a disciple, a mentor or teacher, and Christ. The disciple's job is to learn and grow in the Christian life. The mentor or teacher's job is to imitate Christ and teach others the Christian life. Both the disciple and the mentor are still disciple's of Jesus Christ. There must be all three involved in the process. A disciple and mentor without Christ leads to the problems in Corinthians where some follow Apollos, other Paul and others Peter. A disciple without a mentor, but with Christ, loses some of the instruction and application in our culture. He is stuck learning the hard way without getting guidance in his life. Finally a mentor without a disciple, loses the ability to reproduce spirituality and misses a major commandment of God.


In our Christian culture today, the term discipleship is used to describe the process of training someone to evangelize. Discipleship is not a rigorous study into the Bible, learning theology, proper methods of Bible study and the biblical languages. The process of discipleship is not simply for new believers to get them caught up to the rest of Christianity. Instead, biblical discipleship is could be best identified as an apprenticeship. It is a living and learning process.


We have a few electrician's at our church who I've had the pleasure to work with. I've had plenty of conversations with them about the process of learning the trade. All started at the bottom learning how electricity works and using that information to work. With time, they learned more and were able to do more. Over long periods of time, they moved from apprenticeship to journeyman to master electricians.


Biblical discipleship will involve a person's whole life. It is not simply following a set of rules, but a change of attitudes, beliefs and emotions. It may include rigorous study of the Bible and theology. Certainly, Christian education is important and beneficial to the church. It is for all believers young and old. We would expect as Christians get older in the faith that they may do more discipling than being discipled.


Of course as leaders you are all involved in the church. I'm certain you have roles and functions to keep the church and ministries in the church running. Those are all valuable and important things. However, Jesus command to us was never to build a church. Jesus command was to make disciples in Matthew 28:19. In that verse the verb in the imperative tense is to make disciples. The process is set out by baptism and teaching. The results is observation of the commands of God.


Never once was there a command in the Bible to build churches, to have large youth groups, to have Sunday School. Jesus spoke that he would build his church. Our job is to invest our time and energy into people.


Making disciples is not a fun or clean process. It may involve picking up the pieces after someone's sin has devastated them. It may mean walking with a person who seems to be stuck in sin. It may include dealing with people who are not always pleasant to be around. It also may mean you have to share your own mistakes and failures to help the person you are discipling.


Although everyone should be in the process of discipleship in one way or another, the type of people that often are looking for and need discipleship are not perfect Christians, as if there were such a thing.


The discipling process is modeled throughout scripture. Jesus demonstrates throughout the New Testament the type of relationships that will be produced with discipleship. In Mark 10:35, James and John ask Jesus for special favors. “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You." And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" They said to Him, "Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory." (Mar 10:35-37). We know from Matthew that James and John's mother was involved in the request and from the combination of the passages this was probably at their request. In this we note that James, John and their mother were in a position and had a relation such that this question was not utterly absurd. This passage also shows an utter failure in understanding what it is that Jesus was doing. Early in Matthew Jesus was speaking regarding his own death. This seems like it would have a profound effect on Jesus thinking. He had been talking about his death and the disciples want him to set up his kingdom. No doubt this type of statement would be hurtful to most men.


The result of Jesus' discipleship was obvious. Jesus lovingly walked with those men though their own statements could be hurtful. He was still close to those men as a part of the inner group. The results of walking with Jesus could be found


In a second case, Peter was discipled by Christ. He was given great opportunities to see great things, do great things and spend very close personal time with Jesus. Yet, Peter denied Christ three times during a time Jesus would have needed friends the most. Jesus reinstated Peter in John 21. Jesus was open and honest with Peter during that period of time. Never once did Jesus ask where were you or imply any extra guilt or burden upon Peter.


Finally Timothy traveled with Paul and was like a son to him. Though we have no record of Timothy denying the faith or asking absurd and possibly hurtful questions, we see a time in which Paul gives guidance to Timothy. 1st and 2nd Timothy are both letters to encourage, correct and disciple Timothy. Paul writes to Timothy that he needs to not let others look down on him for his age (1 Timothy 4:12). Paul is encouraging a man and knew of his uncertainties and fears.


The problem occurs, when we look to implement this in our lives. Church's looking for discipleship often implement programs to disciple others. These can be wonderful programs and things, but in many cases fail to truly disciple. First, this is scripturally backwards. The church should be already discipling to create the church. Also it often fails to build true relationships with people. In discipleship we need to find people that we can be open and transparent with. That type of relationship takes time and energy. In many cases it fails to bring the right people together. Certain people need others who might be more confrontational, while others might need someone who lovingly encourages. The failure arise in producing a program in the church that should be an attitude or lifestyle. If discipleship is one of our commandments, this should become something internal to us, like the other commandments are. Christians don't establish programs to keep us from lying, stealing or loving others. Finally, in church instituted discipleship programs, there is often the person who wants to be “discipled” because it will make him appear more spiritual.


What shall we do then? First find godly men and women who can disciple us. We need to actively look for those Christians in our path who have demonstrated a stable and steady walk with the Lord. We need to develop relationships with those people so that they have the ability to speak into our lives. We need to be able to listen to their concerns and insight in their life. In the course of time, we need to have the ability to be accountable to them, being able to share our sins, failures and problems with them. We must turn off the spiritual image that we often try to present at church and believers.


In my own life, there have been times when I am facing a situation that is difficult. Sometimes, I think I am right and think that someone else is wrong. These types of situations are especially difficult when dealing with believers. In these situations, I need to be able to go to someone and honestly explain the situation and ask them am I wrong. In many cases, I trust that they will tell me that I'm wrong or that I'm right and give insight in how to deal with this situation.


The second aspect of this, is we need to find others who we can disciple. We need to actively seek people who we can invest our time, energy, passions to develop them into godly men and women. First this comes through relationships. Jesus felt is necessary to develop relationships with us and he came to the earth to do so. He walked with the 12 disciples for 3 years. There are lots of ways to develop relationships with people. Some ways, are to invited people to dinner, lunch, activities as often as you can. In our home we have a open door policy. Basically, the door is open and you are welcome to come over at any time for any reason. You may be put to work, when there is work to be done, but people are always welcome.


Discipling others means walking with people dealing with their sin, their failures, and the difficulties of their life. It means encouraging them when, praying with them and counseling them. One of my close friends who shares this same idea spent 1 hour a day on the phone with a man who was having HUGE marital problems. He didn't do it so he could walk around getting everyone to see how spiritual he is. Rather he knew that this man's marriage was in trouble and knew that he could give advice, pray and listen to this man as he is dealing with this problem. To this day, this man is married is still having huge problems, but is much better at understanding marriage biblically and how to treat his wife.


In the process of discipling we need to be honest with others. There are times in which you give advice even when the advice is not wanted. The advice may mean you tell the person that they are wrong, that they need to change. You will not be the friend that they want, but the friend that they need.


Challenging people's perspective and thinking is another process in which discipleship takes place. This is the process of learning. There can be nothing learned without a challenge. This can done by challenging people to Bible Memorization, challenging their worldview in relationship to fundamental question or challenge their beliefs. It is not necessarily an issue in which you disagree with the person, but use it as an opportunity to help them grow intellectually in the faith.


Point people to Christ. The whole goal of discipleship is to move people closer to Christ. There can be no biblical discipleship if we are simply moving people closer to our own pet theology, views and beliefs. The whole focus of discipleship is moving people to the person we ourselves are trying to imitate.

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