point of no return in discipleship | Jesus’ Creed

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The point of no return

Discipleship.

If you’ve been in church for as long as I have, hearing or seeing the word “disciple” can almost put you in a coma. The image that comes to my mind is almost universal: a group of people – it can be students or adults (the program is the same numbing), sitting in uncomfortable chairs arranged in a circle, listening to a teacher talking endlessly of the life and teachings of Jesus.

The success of a discipleship program is measured by attendance and remembering Bible stories. Can you name the village near the well where Jesus spoke to the woman drawing water? How many times did Joshua tell the Israelites to go around Jericho? If you can answer these questions correctly, you are considered a “spiritual person”.

For most of us, we’ll stay engaged for a while, but then we’ll get bored or busy and give up. From time to time we will complain about the superficiality of the sermons we hear every Sunday, but few of us will put any real energy into digging deeper into the scriptures. Life is complex and difficult, and we fail to see how a 2000 year old book with words can help us overcome our modern challenges.

How did the word “disciple” get from being someone we are to something we are doing to something to master, like getting a college degree? On Jesus’ day, a disciple moved in with his rabbi. They would be with the teacher 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Of course, the student wanted to learn what the teacher knew, but they also wanted to learn how the rabbi lived. When Jesus asked if the disciples wanted to leave, Peter responded by saying that only Jesus had the words of life. I find Peter’s answer interesting. Notice, he didn’t say that Jesus had the words of righteousness, or the way to heaven. Peter said that Jesus had the words of life. More than having a lot of good knowledge, Jesus knew how to live.

It was this life that Peter and his friends wanted from Jesus. You have learned to live life by living with Jesus.

Needless to say, Jesus had a very different model of discipleship training than our typical discipleship program. Most churches model their Christian education programs on the learning models found in universities. Students attend classes where smarter people teach them about the subject.

Jesus never sat in a classroom. He walked around. His lessons – so deep in their sense that we are still captivated 2000 years later – were learned from the events unfolding around Him. He told stories of merchants and farmers, of planting and reaping, times in life that all the disciples could see and remember.

After teaching, Jesus sent them on short-term missions to apply what they had learned from him. After a period of time away from Jesus, they would return to Jesus and break down what they had learned during their mission. Then Jesus would start teaching again, this time on a deeper level. Once again, Jesus would send them away, and this time the task and the mission would be harder and longer. The process would continue for three years until the last time they were together. This time when Jesus sent them away, they didn’t come back.

Instead of measuring the success of those who returned, Jesus measured his success by the number of disciples he sent.

What if we modeled our discipleship processes on those of Jesus? What if at first we told our disciples, in three years you will be alone and we fully expect you to duplicate this ministry wherever Jesus sends you? What if we celebrated pastors for the number of disciples they sent into communities rather than the size of the congregation that met on Sunday morning?

The First Reformation returned the Bible to the people. The second Reformation, in which we are now, is to minister to the people. These are the people who have been identified and called by other disciples of Christ, trained and sent until they no longer have to return.

The world would be different if we did this. The church would be different if we did that. We would be different if we did this. We would live better lives instead of just being experts on Jesus stories.


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