The Importance of Discipleship

One of our Master’s Men members sent me this note a few weeks ago…

Let’s teach men to be disciples, who “were common men…… [who] were an ounce more devoted than they were afraid and, as a result, did some extraordinary things.” We need to be taught right now, so common men are equipped and less afraid to engage the world to say, “come with me.” M B

What a great point, what an inspiring way to put it the imperative, in our day, to make disciples – don’t you think?     

Well, before we get started on addressing the subject of discipleship, let me ask you a few questions.

When you think of the idea of discipleship – its processes and protocols, do you think of it as a program? Do you think it is a professional thing? Do you think it is an academic exercise or and intellectual pursuit? Is it a class you take with a book full of “fill in the blank” pages with verses that you look up, then answer the questions and bring them back to a class for review, next week?

What is discipleship to you and why should we make it a priority in our life?

May I answer the last question first and do so simply, so we can move on to the larger issue of what and how?

Discipleship is important because Jesus gave us only two new commandments. One was that we, believers, should love one another as He loved us (John 13:34). The second was that we were to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19)! Yes, Jesus quoted other “commandments” but they were just that; quoted commands from the Old Testament. In other words, they were already given, Jesus was simply reinforcing to us the fact that He subscribed to their authority and expected us to obey them.

It is to the second “new” commandment of Jesus that we now turn our attention – for it is important – just as all of God’s commandments are. Here are the passages we will use as our basis for understanding the simplicity, breadth and longevity of lifestyle that obeys Jesus and thereby makes disciples. They are:

1. Acts 9:1:1-30

2. Acts 15:36-16:10

3. Acts 28:14-31

First, however, a quick analogy…

This summer I have been speaking on a subject that is paramount to me and this mission. As I’ve explained to our men, “my primary reason for living, the purpose of my life, what makes me spring out of bed in the morning, is to announce to everyone who will listen, the value and significance of Ice Cream as well as how to make it”. I continue by saying that “it isn’t my purpose to address what the best flavor is, nor how you (the audience) ought to package and present it, but only to underscore its imperative and incomparable value and the basic components of construction”.

Most in the audience laugh and a few look confused, but when I apologize and say, “oops, I meant to say discipleship”, everyone gets the comparison.

There is plenty of confusion about this issue of discipleship, so this summer I’ve sought to defuse the argument while providing an undeniable truth – “we can all do this, we ought to and here’s the simplest most transferrable way.”

To begin, I have asked the men a series of yes-no questions, similar to what I asked you, above  – “what is discipleship; is it a program, is it professional, is it an intellectual exercise, an academic pursuit? Does it take a seminary degree; etc.?

The fact is, “discipleship” is no single one of the above, though it can have elements of many. In fact, discipleship is easy to define – it’s answering Saul’s question in Acts 9 “who are Thou Lord?” And it’s easy to frame – it’s a lifestyle of passing along to other people what you personally know of the person of Jesus Christ.

The hard part is getting close enough to someone to talk about Jesus and praying for them to get to a place where they ask the same question; “who is Jesus”. The other “hard part” is this truth – you can’t pass along knowledge of a person you know little about! So the crux of discipleship is to, personally, get as close to Jesus as possible – then go tell people, you know, what you know about Him.

When you get an interested prospect, you can then employ some of the factors of discipleship methodology I asked the men, in question form, above. For discipleship does involve learning, and that involves prayer, bible reading and a framework for discipling yourself (perhaps using a workbook or seeking out a mentor), to reach, share and develop other men as your disciples, disciples of Jesus.

There you have it. That is the first, beginning step, in discipleship it’s called the “learner stage” and it’s what Saul did, immediately upon receiving Jesus as His Savior – he went out and shared and made other disciples (Acts 9:1-30). Later Saul, renamed Paul, as he matured, became a “Leader” in the mission of disciple making (Acts15:36-16:10). And he continued to ‘make disciples’ well into his senior years, the “Legacy” years of one’s life.

May we all become “Ice Cream” connoisseurs, disciple makers, like Paul!

Now, back to the biblical narrative…

In the passages above (Acts 9, Acts 15/16 and Acts 28) we see the Apostle Paul move through the three main stages of the discipleship lifestyle. The first passage, Acts 9; shows the salvation experience of the Apostle before his name change. Here, Saul, meets Jesus personally, is baptized by a ‘Christian brother” (a more mature believer), then Paul’s included into the Christian community of Damascus. Next, the text shows us how Saul immediately begins to tell other people about Jesus; explaining how Jesus is the Christ. This is the Learner stage.

In the learner stage we see these specific steps of faith that Saul takes as a new believer and a new disciple.

Acts 9:1-30 – The beginning stage; learner.

  • Paul’s conversion; a supernatural work of God v1-9
  • His Discipler: Individual who provides the initiation into the body, formally with baptism v10-18
  • His initial progress; moving from initiation to demonstration to replication v19-22
  • His first disciples; engaged in the fruitful process of reproduction v23-25
  • His broadening experience; moving on, out and beyond as he goes and grows v26-30

The second passage (Acts 15/16) shows Paul well into his ministry and how he moves forward on the great adventure of sharing Christ and making disciples. Here we see how he invites other men to join him on this journey – the lifestyle of discipleship –  as he makes his way across Asia, mentoring his men as he goes. This is the mature, leader stage of a Discipler’s life.

Here the biblical narrative shows us three specific decisions, Paul, the discipler/leader, made in order to ensure the success of his venture, his lifestyle of making disciples.

Acts 15-16:10 – The mature stage; leader.

  • Disagreement –Drops his disagreeing partner,  picks a seasoned veteran and keeps going
  • procedures/personnel; better to split the team than lose workers and momentum 15:36-41
  • Recruiting the next generation – picks a younger believer, to groom, and keeps going
  • respecting customs rather than jeopardize the mission 16:1-5
  • Pushing the mission boundaries – goes until he forced to stop
  • Sensitive to God’s leading, he leads his men and mission by the direction of The Holy Spirit 16:6-10

Finally the book of Acts concludes in chapter 28, showing us how the senior disciple-maker, Paul, uses his final years to continue his ministry, though he is house bound. This is the Legacy stage of a discipler.

Note that the Apostle never gives up. Though his health, location and circumstances change and weigh against him, he finds a way to connect with men and ways to continue to share his faith and build into those who will listen. We should all be so forthright and determined. I reckon, this man show us, there is no such thing as retiring out of disciple making, of obeying the commission Jesus gave to us, His final day on earth (Matthew 28:18-20).

Acts 28 – The latter stage; legacy.

  • The mission destination is met – Paul makes it to Rome (Acts 19:21;23:11) v14-16
  • Formal efforts to reach more men v17-22
  • Formal audience to explain his mission; Jesus v23
  • Varying responses to his message v24
  • Final offer to his audience v25-29
  • Informal efforts to extend his mission v30-31

As we finish this brief overview of the subject of making disciples, I would like to highlight some observations I saw from this study then close with a few concluding thoughts. Here are the observations.

Observations…

This lifestyle mission begins at initiation into the body of Christ.

  • It starts with an older believer teaches the younger the basics of the faith – which includes sharing it
  • It continues as we learn how to interact with the variety of relationships we’ll meet in the variety of venues we will travel – seeking to reach out to others and invite them to follow us as we follow Jesus!
  • It matures into a confident methodology that is fully integrated into your lifestyle
  • It continues as long as we have life, lungs and opportunity to express our faith to others
  • And it always involves taking others “WITH” us!

And my conclusions:

Conclusions…

  • Discipleship isn’t a class though it involves education.
  • It isn’t a program though it involves an organized set of procedures that are tailored to your lifestyle.
  • It isn’t static but dynamic as you go as the Spirit leads.
  • It isn’t just a sermon though it involves cognitive information.
  • Discipleship is a lifestyle as it involves those 2 ingredients – you share the life of Christ and the life He gave you, and will give others of faith, with a style that expresses your personhood most genuinely.

I hope this has been helpful. By the way, what stage are you currently in – Learner, Leader, Legacy?

Jim Cote