Discipleship. Being the right leader, having a personal touch. by Reach More Now staff writer Milton Gillie in Australia
Milton Gillie is the Reach More Now staff journalist in Australia. He has been a friend of Ray’s for many many years and was his administrator all during Ray’s nineteen ministry trips to the land down under. Milton’s Christian walk is exciting. He lives what he lips and he walks what he talks. I see two kinds of people who will most want to read this article. First, those Christians who are witnessing and leading people to Christ. Second, those who have stopped going to church altogether because they have felt that they didn’t fit in. Join Ray for this important Milton Gillie teaching
What is discipleship and how do we do it? What makes it work or fail?
Talk to any Christian and they will probably be familiar with the term “discipleship”.
Of course we all know that Jesus had 12 disciples, but do we really understand how that relates to us today?
If you have been around church for long enough, you will have most likely read some books on it,
heard a sermon or two about it, or even attended classes in your local church called “discipleship classes”.
My own church is at the moment experimenting with a different church program structure to enable a greater level of discipleship within the members of our congregation.
If the term discipleship is not one you are familiar with, the more common term “mentoring” is closest to it in meaning.
Before taking a look at what biblical discipleship is, first a description of what it is not.
Some will remember certain discipleship movements from a few decades ago that went way off the rails and turned into a type of cult where in the name of “discipleship” members had to submit their whole life decisions to their spiritual leadership.
Women had to phone their leader and ask if they could go shopping. If the leader said no, they stayed home.
Husbands had to ask their leader if they could take their own wife out for an evening. If the leader said no, the couple stayed home.
In short, all final decisions, however mundane, were made only by the leaders in the name of Christianity.
Sadly, the leaders were some of the best-known world-class Bible teachers of that day.
This was abuse and wasn’t “Christian” or Christlike at all. Instead of people being set free by the truth, they were being held in bondage by lies.
It had the exact opposite effect on those who came under its influence. Instead of maturing in Christ, the so-called “disciples” were being kept as spiritual infants.
Discerning people had nothing to do with this movement and got out of it as quickly as they woke up to what was being done to them.
Ever since this group disbanded many years ago, many Christians have shunned any form of discipleship or even the mention of the word.
This is unfortunate because based on some peoples extremes they short-circuited what is possibly the most important command of Jesus to His Church.
Another thing that discipleship is not, is a form of cloning.
The goal of discipleship is not to make a “mini me” out of those we disciple, but rather to inspire them to grow into their own gifting and calling and become mature in their faith. If aspects of our own walk are imparted they need to be by being caught.
The problem that occurs when the goal is to reproduce a replica of the leader is that it never works.
It is also not scriptural.
The goal rather is to mentor, inspire, bring them to maturity in Christ.
I am reminded of the plot of the movie “Multiplicity” starring Michael Keaton.
His character gets cloned, but then the clones clone themselves.
The problem is that each new generation of clones become more defective.
We all need to be discipled into a first hand relationship with Christ.
My own journey in understanding discipleship began with my involvement as a university student with the Australian branch of Campus Crusade for Christ, called Student Life.
The group led by Bill Bright developed a great strategy of meeting in small groups to do Bible study, accompanied by a follow-up session by the leader with each group member one on one that would usually include a cold call witnessing segment – putting quote was can’t into practice.
Following my student days I worked for five years as a staff worker with a Students for Christ, a Pentecostal student ministry that began in the early 1980s.
While we had some doctrinal differences with Campus Crusade for Christ , we used an identical model in terms of discipleship. We became the most successful ministry in the state of Victoria.
I was later involved with a cell church that ran a very similar structure.
Cell churches and groups are the most successful by far in reaching people and having lasting fruit.
One of the things I learned from Campus Crusade for Christ that has stuck with me ever since is the biblical understanding of the importance of discipleship.
I haven’t heard it taught better than them.
Their main teaching comes from Matthew’s version of the Great Commission in 28:18-20.
In the Greek language there is a concept of different types of verbs.
Within this passage Matthew records first Jesus stating His authority to give the command, then the command itself, followed by His statement of assistance. The command part of the passage has four verbs in it.
You’ll remember from early schooling that a verb is a doing word.
These four verbs are what we are commanded to do as followers of Christ.
The four verbs in order are 1. Go into all the world, 2. Make disciples, 3. Teaching them and 4. Baptizing them.
When you read the passage in English the four verbs carry the same amount of weight, but not in the original Greek.
Greek has the concept of an imperative verb and a supportive verb.
The imperative verb, or primary verb as some refer to it, carries the main thought or action that the writer is expressing.
The supportive verb(s) carry a thought or action that enhance or assist the carrying out of the main thought or action.
In the passage the imperative verb is “Make disciples”.
In other words, everything that Jesus commands us to do should revolve around making disciples.
We do this by “Going into all the world”, by “Teaching” and by “Baptizing”.
Of course, there are many other scriptures that fill out how we do this.
2 Timothy 2:2 instructs us not only to “Make disciples” but to “Make disciplers”.
In other words train those that you disciple to make disciples of others.
The question is not should we be involved in discipleship, but “What is biblical discipleship”?
Along with many other doctrines and concepts from scripture, our concept of this has been shaped by our cultural.
Many churches only think in terms of having programs and meetings for any form of spiritual activity.
Discipleship is thought of in terms of running a class with the message on some scriptural concept.
And if it’s a small group, maybe some form of interaction between the members of the group.
But is that how Jesus taught His disciples?
I am not saying that all meetings big or small are wrong. In fact, we are told not to neglect our gathering together.
I myself attend a fabulous church with fantastic large meetings and also small group structures.
Jesus regularly taught large crowds, and in the synagogues as well as going in to people’s homes.
But those He called His disciples were the ones He did life with.
I recently caught up with a good friend of mine, Sarah Ardu, who has been a missionary in Cambodia for 18 years.
Sarah and I had both worked as staff workers with Students for Christ.
We discussed our journey of revelation in Christ that we have been on and found a lot of common ground.
We had both come to understand the pure grace message of the Bible, and how works had been subtly woven into the doctrine that we had been brought up with and that we had taught in the past.
Sarah shared how she had for 15 years been planting churches using traditional methods.
She would have been considered a successful long term missionary.
Then about three years ago she discovered a radical new way of sharing the gospel using Buddha’s four Noble Truths to relate the
message in concepts that they could understand.
The initial response has been a response rate to the gospel hardly seen in cultures that have an understanding of the Christian message let alone those with next to none.
Although it is too early to provide definitive statistics, Sarah estimates that as many as one in five or six will give their lives to Christ on the first hearing of the message, with further decisions from those who don’t respond on the spot if contact can be maintained with them.
Along with a change in the way she shares the gospel, Sarah also changed her emphasis from trying to plant churches to creating a groundswell of discipleship.
Instead of building a church from a program base and then trying to disciple the members, she builds a movement of disciples from which can meet in church fellowship.
In relation to a clip by Francis Chan entitled “how not to make disciples”, which is available on YouTube,
Sarah wrote the following: “I suspect part of the disconnect is that the main model that churches have used to make disciples is to run a class, which is not something that just anyone can do on their own initiative.
Jesus modeled a way of making disciples that even illiterate people in Cambodia can do – in a nutshell – get into people’s lives and teach them to obey Jesus as you walk along with them.”
I have several books in my bookshelf on the subject of discipleship that have been used in the various discipleship groups and classes that I have been involved with over the years.
All of them have good teaching from writers who were passionate about seeing believers discipled into mature Christians.
But somehow Sarah’s statement rings true for every one of them.
Well-intentioned as they are, and to give them due honor, using and studying them has produced the most fruitful results in the body of Christ in the Western World. But in our day they have had not carried Christ’s power of generational ongoing growth.
This is, of course, is a general statement as there are some great churches that have succeeded more than most in discipling their members with their own methods.
What then is the key to seeing true biblical discipleship where we really go into each other’s lives and walk together down the pathway to Christian maturity?
I believe there are several keys required for an individual or for a congregation to see an explosion of discipleship in their world.
1. A theology if pure grace. Most of us who have been in Church for any length of time have been brought up with a doctrine that is a mixture of grace and works.
The problem with this mixed approach is that it is unbiblical and creates a false halo around the leader that leaves no place for failure in the life of the believer.
When the leader who is discipling another person has a theology that says “I have to portray Christian perfection” it creates a mask of fakeness.
Not only does it cause the leader to be a hypocrite; it creates an unattainable destination for the one being discipled.
The leader will resist letting the disciple see the real them because they know they are not living up to what they teach.
The disciple either replicates the actions of the mentor and becomes a fake Christian too, or finds it too hard and drops out of being discipled.
A pure grace theology says my position is not based on my works but on Christ’s finished work on the cross.
Yes, He is working to bring me to perfection, but that is an ongoing outworking of what He has already made me.
I am free to share my faults and failures with those I am close to or working with.
The false doctrine of mixed grace has probably caused more people to leave the church than any other teaching.
2. Develop relationship-based, rather than performance-based, interactions with one another.
We live in a performance-based society in the west. Our whole economy runs on performance and interactions.
The majority of people exchange a fixed number of hours each week for a pay-check.
We go to a shop and exchange money for goods. This makes for an effective way to run an economy.
Our church services run with this time based pattern.
The service is scheduled for a set time each week where you come and invest your time in order to receive impartation and inspiration. And there is a practical reason for running them this way.
But the culture of the New Testament valued relationship far above performance or time-based activities.
Indeed many cultures still run this way.
When I traveled to the Australian outback some years ago, I learned that church services there start when the people finally turn up, if they turn up that week at all.
Until we learn to care more about people and the state of their inner health than care about what they do, we will not successfully disciple them.
The Christian disciplines of praying and reading the Bible can easily be reduced to daily performance instead of a living relationship.
In the church I was involved with that practiced discipleship, we had a scheduled one-on-one time which we called “accountability”.
The idea was that we would encourage each other and keep ourselves accountable to each other for our walk with God.
I am now convinced that the only question we should have asked each other in such a session is “How is your relation with God and with others going?”
3. Understand that people are different and what works for you may not work for them.
There have been thousands of books written by people with a “Do it my way, or emulate my success formula”.
Most discipleship classes and programs have a methodology which they try to get everyone to follow in order to become a “true” disciple.
But the most effective discipleship teaching teaches principles, not rules to follow.
I have heard some people teach that you must establish a morning time with God in order develop your personal walk with God.
That works fine for morning people, but for night people it can have them struggling to wake up, meaning they end up either doing it legalistically or giving up. Many a “Christian grouch” exists because someone got up too early!
Rather a better approach is to find a time that works for each of them. Understand what motivates each of them as individuals.
There is place for the Christian discipline of establishing good routines and spiritual practices, but unless it can become something each Christian really wants to do, they will always struggle with the unbiblical legalism involved in it.
4. Discipleship isn’t usually helped in large events.
Motivational speakers make a fortune speaking to large crowds, enthusiastically telling them how they can have the same kind of success the speaker has had by following the speaker’s methods, which of course requires you to buy their materials.
Yet statistically very few in the crowd apply the teaching and duplicate the success into their own life.
The church is no different.
Many churches continue to run conferences that are the Christian version of a motivational speaker. Providing those who attend with the speakers spiritual insights, motivation, and encouragement to become better Christians, everyone, of course, needs to buy the speaker’s books and audios to keep their momentum going.
This certainly guarantees the financial success of the speaker.
A couple of years ago I was sitting in a Masters of Wealth seminar with some friends.
All the teachers were excellent world class speakers providing first class information about building wealth.
One of the speakers made a point of stressing that before you invest in anything you should investigate it thoroughly.
But as one of my friends observed at the end of the session, the speaker said (as all of the teachers did) “Buy my materials now on special or you will miss out.”
Before you think I am against helpful conferences or reading books, I am not.
There can be lots of value in the excitement, motivation and learning in large events.
But unless any conference is used to bring you to involvement in real life, it will only bring a superficial non-lasting result.
I am stressing discipleship is not a mass activity, but an individually tailored learning done in small settings with flexible rather than rigid programming.
There may be a larger meeting such as a church service or a or a large class that delivers common teaching, but discipleship that lasts only really happens in small group discussions and one-on-one fellowship.
5. Informal learning is even more important than structured study.
Jesus taught His disciples through the normal course of their lives as they lived together for about three and a half years.
Everything that happened was an opportunity to teach a truth.
In fact the gospel writers wrote more about times of conflict and difficulty than they did about when life was smooth and
everything was rosy.
Jesus taught them when they were arguing among themselves (Luke 22:24-30).
He taught them when they were afraid of a storm (Luke 8:22-25) and when they didn’t have enough resources for the crowd (Luke 9:10-17).
Everything in normal life was teaching. Not lecturing but impartation. Truth is better caught than taught.
When Jesus taught them about servanthood He
did so by washing their feet John 13:4-17.
This point is probably the most crucial to the whole process of discipleship.
This is not an article about the best methodology for discipleship. You have to discern what is best for yourself.
There are many books detailing every methodology thought up.
The books I studied years ago all had great teaching and programs in them.
The point I want to emphasize is to get your principles right first.
In our western world the biggest threats to effective discipleship are first all the activities that get crammed into our time,
and secondly the shift from community to individualism, or thinking “me” instead of “we”.
Spending unstructured time with each other can be seen as non-profitable in our modern fast paced society, where often life is a series of meetings and appointments.
Taking time to chill out might not be seen as a spiritual discipline by some, but they seem to forget Jesus did it often.
In summary we know discipleship is a biblical mandate that obedience to Christ demands we engage in.
But what we need to concentrate on is not so much programs and structures, but doing life with one another in both highs and lows, success and failure.
I don’t think I can improve on Sarah’s definition “go into people’s lives and teach them to obey Jesus as you walk along with them”.