In the church world, the word discipleship is used a lot. When it is used, it typically refers to the process of making Christians stronger in their faith, but it actually encompasses much more than that. The concept of making disciples is a huge theme in the New Testament and modern Christians in America are doing their best to take it seriously. However, it is not always done biblically, if it is done at all.
Americans are very good at professionalizing just about anything they like. We have degrees, leagues, training, and literature on just about everything. You can pick any topic or issue and there will be a book about it by an “expert.” If you like baseball, join a big league, get trained and go pro. If you like getting good grades, get a PhD. If you like riding horses, you can now major in Equestrianism (what?). You’re not allowed to just like something in this country; it has to get laminated. In some ways this can helpful, but in other ways not so much.
The tendency to professionalize in American culture has made a huge impact on making disciples. In a lot of ways, being a pastor has become less of a calling and more of a career attained by a degree. In even more ways, discipleship has become a specialty field someone is trained for and is, therefore, qualified to do. However, making disciples is meant to be done by all Christians, not just highly educated ones.
A couple years ago I decided to go in a different direction with my ministry time. As a part-time youth pastor, it was hard for me to have enough time for my event planning and administrative tasks, so I wasn’t always available for my students outside program times. I decided that if I wanted to follow Jesus’s model for ministry, this would have to change. So I began to shift my priorities.
I began to meet with two of my seniors every week. For two months I taught them Hermeneutics and challenged them to begin reading scripture intensively on their own. I began preparing my sermon series for the youth group with them. Finding them to be gifted teachers, I began assigning them Wednesday nights to teach the youth group. The response from their younger peers was tremendous. The other two seniors in their class began to follow suit and become something of shepherds for the rest of the youth group. Six months into the year, two freshmen had given their lives to Christ. Not being able to devote myself to all their needs, I asked two of these seniors to meet with them and disciple them in their baby faith. They brought back excited reports every Sunday of two hour video chats talking about everything about living a life for Jesus.
Simultaneously, my wife and I began meeting with a group of young women in our membership. We all had the same Bible reading plan, we memorized scripture together, and talked about how to better mentor younger girls. It became one of the most important things I did with my time as I saw how many women in my ministry did not have the same access to theology and accountability. The trickle down to the younger girls in my youth group has been phenomenal. A mother of ten just recited 31 verses from Revelation for our last discipleship meeting. You don't think her confidence in scipture will pay dividends for her children?
In the same way, I began meeting with a group of older men, fathers of the youth and college groups. We shared the same Bible reading plan and memory verses. Every week, we would talk about what God was saying to us through His Word, recite our memory verses, challenge each other to be healthier church members, and talk about how to be better husbands and fathers. I still think about two men in their 40s painfully confessing they had been Christians for decades, but had never been discipled. Most of the men in these groups now lead their own meetings with family members and work colleagues.
The following are four notes from these discipleship anecdotes:
1. These meetings that took place were not Bible studies, which we all already attended and even taught, in that someone came with a prepared curriculum from a study book. We just came together to talk about life and what we read in God’s Word.
2. These meetings discussing what we read in the Bible can be done by new Christians, mature Christians, and even interesting non-Christians for a time.
3. These meetings could be done in any place, culture, or people group on earth as long as there are interested people. The members of my church could leave my church and do the same thing at any church they joined next.
4. If any of us were not reading the Bible on our own, it was pretty obvious. Nobody could be going through a slump or falling into sin without something being off. We were instantly accountable to each other, especially me.
5. These meetings put a great deal of power and responsbility in everyday members. I was no longer the hero. They were.
To this day, my discipleship groups are the single greatest tool for me to actually shepherd my people. We still have activities. We still have services and kids programs. However, we are more healthier in our work now that we are not replacing actual discipleship for busy-ness and work.
If you are a Christian, you were not called to get a degree in Christianity and make it your full-time job. To be clear, I love what I do as well as the seminary education I am pursuing (at the world’s greatest seminary, by the way). But being a disciple and making disciples is more than a diploma. Discipleship is not something you can just professionalize and hire. It is a lifestyle. It is every worshipper of Jesus coming alongside another worshipper of Jesus and walking them through what a Godly life in Christ looks like. If we take Matthew 28:18 seriously, discipleship is a command, not a profession.
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