by Phillip Mutzelburg
This article continues the series on the distinctives of A2A. They represent what the National Leadership Team believes the Holy Spirit confirmed to us with our spouses early in 2017. It is arguably the most difficult to make comment on without including models and examples. The purpose of these articles is not tell you how to do it, but to provide enough material for thought to allow each leader to arrive at the conclusion that best fits their church.
Usually any discussion on discipleship includes a model, but my experience is that as soon as a model is presented, many leaders stop thinking and fall into “copy-cat” mode. This rarely works, so these short comments will hopefully give you enough to catch the principle, and the inspiration to work out how it can look in your church community.
To help with continuity of thought, I include again the six distinctives we sincerely hope and pray will gain traction throughout the churches of the movement.
Defining "Disciple Making"
In my opinion, the very unique Christian term “disciple” has taken on a number of different meanings over time which have significantly changed the original understanding of what Jesus meant to convey when he said in Matthew 28:19 “Go and make disciples…..”
Perhaps the simplest definition of discipleship is someone who follows what Jesus said to do, and actually does it.
I will say little about the variations of meanings that have minimised the effectiveness of the intent of Jesus other than this. It is my observation that when many Christians think discipleship they immediately think teaching in the sense of classroom activity. The end result is endless “discipleship classes” which often get little adhesion in the life of a Christian. There seems to be a presumption that if you sit in a classroom you will naturally go out and do what has been taught. This is not the case in the majority of cases. Classrooms are comfortable, discipleship is not.
The Challenge of Discipleship
Even a casual read of scripture will make it clear that the greatest challenge for the Christian is to be a true disciple of Jesus. It is not comfortable.
Matthew 8:18-22, Matthew 16:24-26, and Luke 9:57-62 each highlight the challenge of discipleship. Jesus said it would be hard. It is recorded in John 6:66 that when Jesus dialled down on what discipleship really meant, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him”.
The Main Thing is still the Main Thing
Regardless of how hard it is to be a disciple, there is something vitally important about what Jesus said that we should not overlook. “Go and make disciples” was something Jesus intentionally integrated into the very last words he spoke on planet earth before He ascended back into heaven. Matthew records them as the absolute last words He spoke. This is worth contemplating.
If you knew this was your last day on earth, what would be the main thing be that you wanted to say to your loved ones? You would chose to say something that would have lasting impact on them. I am certain you would choose to say something that would ultimately maximise their potential to live a happy and fulfilled life.
Jesus gave us a life mission with these last words he spoke. If you “greek” this out, you will see that while Jesus intended for there to be teaching, he also intended that what was taught was something that we actually did. His emphasis was on what we did as a result of being taught.
He commissioned us to “make disciples”. If you want to make a cake you do not sit in a classroom and learn about how to make a cake, or simply read a cook book. You have to do something before the cake is made. Disciple making is about doing something. You are not a true “Christ follower” until you are doing what Jesus has taught us to do.
The disciples of Jesus listened to his teaching but then got on the road and did what he taught them to do. They made what Jesus taught them to do the first priority in their life.
What Does Making Disciples Look Like?
Again, I want to resist the temptation of describing a model of what I think disciple making looks like, but I can give a general overview of what I think Jesus meant it to look like.
Making disciples does not begin after someone makes a decision for Christ. Our tradition leans heavily into this perspective, and it is for this reason that I think most of our endeavours, as well meaning as they have been, have not been effective.
Our potential to make a disciple begins the first time you engage with someone who is not a follower of Christ. By your lifestyle and demonstration of Christlikeness, you gain favour over time with a new friend, earn the right to share your faith and tell some personal life transformational stories. Either in the process towards a faith decision, or after they make a decision to follow Christ you teach them from scripture about what kingdom living is, or you connect them with someone else who can teach. This can take the form of formal classes. The end result is that they then go and engage with someone who is not a follower of Christ.
This is how Jesus made disciples. Jesus engaged with the fisherman and the tax collector before they were followers. He shared his life with them, and taught them, and overtime they became his followers who did what he did. They changed the world. This is what true disciples of Jesus do.
It is worthwhile making this clarifying comment. While I firmly believe that making a disciple begins as soon as you engage with someone far from God, that person’s journey to becoming an authentic disciple of Jesus does not get traction until they make a faith decision which includes Jesus as Lord of their life.
As I often say, “it is not rocket science”.
A disciple of Jesus goes into the community they live in and look for someone to engage with so that they can develop a relationship that gives them the right to share their faith. They then walk with them on their journey of discovering a relationship with Jesus, and teach them or place them in a teaching environment where the values of the kingdom of God are presented so that they can in turn go out and make disciples. True disciples of Jesus change their communities.
What to do Next?Steve Addison has contributed significantly to this subject of disciple making. He has presented at A2A events in the past, and will be taking two sessions at the coming annual conference in 2018. Get out your notes, or search for them in A2A archives and look again at what he has taught.
As suggested in previous articles, gather with your pastor friends in your geographical area over a cup of coffee, and share how each of you are addressing the issue. Be authentic and share the successes and failures of your discipleship programme. Ask lots of questions of each other so that you can arrive at a place where making disciples is a joy for your church community.
These prompters may help in a discussion:
Some further prompters on this:
Over to you.