I have been in a time of extreme pursuit, for clarity of God’s plan for our church, Abundant Life Tabernacle, Mansfield, Ohio. I have prayed, searched the Word and looked deep within my heart to see what God was saying and what I was missing, or even resisting. I feel like I have heard some things. Some of them are hard to accept and some are pleasant. I am about to share many of these things during the next few Sundays (from the time of this writing), but you may or may not have heard the crux of them by the time of this printing so I want to share a few things here. What I am sharing today deals with Discipleship.
Biblical Discipleship has been so ignored in the modern Church that few even know what it is now. I recently saw a study that was done by the Barna Group and published by the Navigators. In the study, a host of things were explored but the question was also asked, “What is discipleship?” The researchers found that it was unclear, to much of the church, what a good definition of Discipleship is. Many disagreed upon the particulars, as we Christians so often do. It was found that most in the church didn’t particularly like the term either, preferring “Becoming Christ-like” or “Spiritual Growth” to the term “Discipleship.” And that’s okay, these are valuable terms, and the Bible doesn’t particularly use the term “Disipleship”. Still these terms fall somewhat short of the biblical idea of a disciple. Furthermore, the ‘principle of Discipleship’ is clearly biblical whether the exact term is found or not. Jesus called followers to himself and then told them that if they were not willing to forsake everything, they were unfit to be disciples. Certainly, He’s still looking for people who will put Him above all else! So, what is discipleship?
I’ve done my own inquiry into the subject and I’ve found that ‘it seems’ that Abundant Life has a little better understanding on the subject than most, but then again the Barna Study said that pastors often think that (lol). Our experience in understanding Discipleship, in general, has been that most people have understood it from the perspective of a weekly Bible Class, or a short term class on Christianity; the art of being Christian, if you will. Another very good thing, yet it falls short. Some will say that discipleship relates to progress in their own spiritual growth. Progress in spiritual growth is always a wonderful thing for a Christian, but it’s about half of what is Biblical Discipleship. Many people feel that discipleship is the same as evangelism; preaching and winning the lost to Christ. It can certainly be argued that it falls within the same category, but I don’t think they are the same. Discipleship is for already-believers of the Good News, while evangelism is to reach not-yet-believers with the Good News.
So what is discipleship? The study I’ve mentioned has said that from the results, “it’s unclear”. However, I think Jesus made it very clear. He exampled it boldly with His life and then He told His followers to go make other disciples (Matt. 28:19a), “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”(Matthew 28:20a). Jesus took twelve believers into a relationship with Him. He spent time with them. He ate with them. They did life together! He lived His life pointing consistently toward the Father. He corrected them, when they were wrong. He applauded them when they did well. He held them accountable and He taught them everything He could possibly teach them in the time they had together. He doubtless felt sorrow when Peter denied Him and I’m sure felt sadness when Judas betrayed Him, but He didn’t reject the remaining disciples. He kept on loving. He kept on pouring into them and He believed that they would accomplish even greater things than He had accomplished in ministry (John 14:11-13). Jesus lived it, He taught it, and that’s what discipleship looks like.
So, discipleship is not just about my OWN spiritual growth or just about ME becoming Christ-like. It’s ALSO about helping others do the same. There is a ‘revival’ of discipleship beginning to happen in the world. I am excited to see it! I believe that God is taking His church back to basics in many areas and again I’m glad to see it! There is also a new movement of discipleship about to happen here at ALT, and I’m thrilled. I am fully in favor of the disappearance of the 'missing link in modern Christianity', or I could say I'm excited for the return of biblical discipleship. Why am I so excited? Discipleship properly links members of the Body to one another, it links our past to our future, and it's a return of biblical doctrine to the modern church. I think we are going there! (Stay tuned…)