Rethinking Discipleship (Part I)

What is a disciple? Is it a person who simply goes to church every time the doors are open and  knows the Bible front and back? I hope not. Some of the meanest people I know go to church every time the doors are open and know their Bibles front and back!  In Jesus’ day, this posture, of course, described the Pharisees. They were very religious and very adamant about the laws of the Bible. However, Jesus always had his harshest words for these men. See, these men thought they were disciples of the coming Messiah. It turns out they weren’t.

The same thing can happen to us. If we don’t clearly understand what it means to be a disciple of our coming Messiah we can actually find ourselves doing more to harm the cause of Christ than help! A disciple is someone who learns from and seeks to emulate someone else. So everything about how we define discipleship must be based on the life of Jesus. When we want to understand what a disciple of Jesus looks like, we need look no further than Jesus.

When Jesus came into the world, He became God with skin on. He became God incarnate. I looked up the word incarnate in the dictionary. One definition reads: "Incarnate (v): To embody or represent in human form" (Dictionary.com).

Just as Jesus came two thousand years ago to show us what God was really like, today our call is now to be Jesus with skin on! We are to show the world what Jesus is really like. We are to live incarnationally: "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:6 (NIV)   

As church leaders, if we’re ever going to lead our churches to change the world the way Jesus did two thousand years ago, we’re going to have to re-examine what it means, not only to be a disciple, but to make disciples!  A disciple is not a person who simply goes to church, knows the Bible and follows rules. That is not the picture of Jesus! If we’re ever going to lead our churches to make Christ attractive once again, we’re going to need to rethink discipleship 

To make disciples that look like Jesus, we must help people think fruit, not meat.

John 15:8 (ESV) By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.     

We live in a consumer-oriented world, and the me-ism mentality has certainly infiltrated the American church. So many of us Christians these days take something as profound as following Jesus and serving him through the local church and turn it into something self-centered. The only interest many church go-ers have in the church these days is what it can offer them and/or  their children. They worship Jesus only for what they can get out of it, instead of seeking to serve. Contrast this with the attitude of Jesus: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28 (NLT)

If we want to make disciples that look like Jesus, we need to focus on service to God, the church, and others, as the best measurement, not knowledge of the Bible as the ultimate measurement what it means to be a disciple. As a Senior Pastor, I would always tell our congregation: “Loving God. Loving people. That’s as deep as it gets.  When we get these mastered, we will move on to something else.” James, the half brother of Jesus, inspired by the Holy Spirit once said: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” James 2:14 (NIV)

Church leaders, let me give you permission. Teach people to be do-ers of the Word, not hear-ers only.

How?

Balance our exposition with application.

Don't just tell people WHAT to do. Tell them HOW to do it and then hold them accountable. How can we do that?

Focus small group environments on application rather than more exposition.  

I am a big fan of Message based Curriculum where small groups gather together and ask: “How does this sermon move us to change? How does this sermon move us to serve? To love? To live differently because of the Gospel?

Fight to create a culture of service.

At Mountain Lake Church, where I served for seventeen years, we encouraged our small groups to have monthly or quarterly “Get off the couch” weeks where they didn;t meet for Bible Study and all, but went out into the community and served others somehow.  Other churches like Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL encourages every member to give on Saturday morning a month to serve their community. These types of events aren’t “fix all’s” for service, but can help expose Christ followers to a lifestyle of service.

Your ideas?

Drop me a line! I would love to hear how you are leading your church to think FRUIT not MEAT when it comes to discipleship! Comment now! What are your thoughts on this very important issue? I'll be checking comments...and responding! 

UPDATE: 

Part II now online! 

Part III now online!