What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? How do we live as disciples who make disciples? What is discipleship anyway? Discipleship is not a programme or a short course for new Christians: it is a way of life that begins before we are followers of Jesus and continues throughout life.
Dallas Willard says, “Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be, if He were you.”
Jesus commissions us in Matthew 28:18 to: “… go and make disciples…”
How do we do that? How do we create a culture where disciple making can flourish and becomes the norm?
It seems to me that the best ever disciple maker was Jesus. We are His followers, so if we look at how He made disciples – His ‘words’, ‘works’ ‘ways’ and ‘wounds’ – then we can learn some vital lessons. Let’s allow our view of Jesus to shape how we engage with His mission and how we live as His church.
So, how did Jesus make disciples? How did He live out those three years of public and private ministry? He seemed to have three clear priorities:
UP – Jesus often withdrew to spend time with His Father and He lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.
IN – Jesus did not live in isolation but lived in a network of real relationships. He had three very close friends, Peter, James and John, who were part of the twelve disciples. These twelve were part of a network of seventy-two other disciples. They would walk, travel, eat, attend celebrations and in fact share life together.
OUT – Jesus came to seek and save the lost and so He lived with a clear sense of mission.
In one of His early conversations with Peter, Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19 NKJV) In this sentence we see two of the key components of a discipleship culture: invitation – “Follow me” is an invitation into relationship, and challenge – “I will make you” is a challenge to take up responsibility.
As we create a discipleship culture, we get to help people to realise that they are loved by God. They have a relationship with Him that is secure. There is nothing that they could do that would make God love them more and there is nothing that they could do that would make God love them less. From that solid foundation of knowing who God is, and who we are, we get to help people to take up their responsibility of being and sharing Good News with those around them. By doing this, we engage with the process of being disciples who make disciples.
Throughout the gospels, again and again, we see Jesus calibrating invitation and challenge in the disciple making process. He knows when to emphasise relationship and when to focus on responsibility. His aim is always to make disciples who make disciples. We get to do the same. We get to share life with people who are on different orbits in our lives – some very close to us, others not so close. We get to lean into what the Holy Spirit wants to do in their lives. We can ask Him for wisdom to know how and when to emphasise relationship and responsibility.
Discipleship happens as we live life. We can’t make disciples simply by sitting in rows in a church service or by attending a midweek class. Discipleship happens as we choose to invite God into the whole of our life and live that life in connection with other people – like Jesus did.
“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?’” (Luke 9:23-25 NIV)
Living as a disciple who makes disciples involves the whole of our lives. We get to make space in life for the Kingdom of God to break into the lives of people. Of course, that involves organised church gatherings but also the organic run of life. How do we view our home – is it our castle to retreat into or a mission station to bring faith, hope and love to those around us? Are our meal times to simply refuel or are we intentional in sharing food with people and maybe asking everyone around the table what they are thankful for this week? It is amazing to see how many people, who are followers of Jesus and not followers of Jesus, will engage with this and the discipleship opportunities that flow form this.
We have twenty-one meals each week – who are we eating with?
What about how we use times of celebration? When we celebrate a birthday, Easter, Christmas, Halloween or going on holiday, do we have a break from God or with God? Jesus used parties and celebrations as places where He went to with His disciples and where He demonstrated, in word and deed, the Kingdom of God – we get to do the same.
Pass it on…
It seems to me that disciples are learners who pass on what they have learned. They look like followers from the front and leaders from the back.
Jesus spent three years making disciples and creating a discipleship culture and then, in Matthew 28:18, He tells us that it is our turn. The fruit of a disciple is more disciples – this is not just for the ‘Ninja Christians’ who have all of the answers, but for all of us. He empowers us and has shown us how to do it. Why would we try to do it any other way than the way that He showed us by His words, works and ways? After all, disciples of Jesus get to follow Him.