ESSENTIALS OF DISCIPLESHIP
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,* baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” Matthew 28
I have had to do some reading over the last week about discipleship which is the “hot” topic among those interested in mission at the moment. There is a great deal of incredibly helpful, inspiring and challenging material being written both at the theological level and in terms of practical application ( how did we ever separate those two? ) and this is a vital topic for the church right now.
I am slightly wary of courses and books that say something along the lines of THE JESUS WAY of discipleship etc. What i mean is that they imply that a single universal methodology for discipleship can be distilled from the NT and simply applied to the contemporary church. No such methodology exists or can be found anymore than a single style of church government or leadership with universal validity can be found in the NT either.
So what I have been thinking about is, are there some fundamentals to discipleship which need to be expressed in any process of discipleship despite the fact that how they are expressed might vary from context to context?
Well here is my thoughts on what those essentials would be and what books I have found helpful in thinking about each aspect.
INTENTIONAL …. Discipleship is essential to any authentic expression of the church and experience of the Christian life not some optional extra to them. Jesus commands, not suggests, that we follow Him and make disciples. So every church must have an intentional strategy for how discipleship will take place and every Christ follower must take intentional steps to grow as a disciple. Discipleship doesn’t happen accidentally simply because people meet together on a Sunday for an hour or so. ( DISCIPLESHIP by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
RELATIONAL … The twelve original disciples learned to be disciples through their relationship with Jesus and each other. Discipleship is irreducibly and intrinsically relational. Disciples can’t be lone rangers and disciple making requires a community context. So involvement in social contexts of different sizes which foster authentic and accountable relationships have to be present in the Body of Christ in order to make disciples. I suspect Wesley’s genius at doing this is what made early Methodism one of the most powerful discipleship movements the church has ever seen. ( DISCIPLESHIP THAT FITS by Harrington and Absalom )
MISSIONAL …. Disciples I believe can’t be formed in an introverted holy huddle. Jesus involved his first followers in mission and He still forms disciples by inviting them to be involved in his mission to alert people to GOD’S reign. Discipleship is never developed through divorcing oneself or a community from the world but rather by being involved in what Jesus is doing redemptively in the world. Discipleship is missional, that is, it’s shaped by the mission of God or it’s not discipleship, it’s a form of self focused spirituality. I also take this to mean that it is focused on Jesus. ( FIVE HABITS OF HIGHLY MISSIONAL PEOPLE by Mike Frost)
HABITUAL …. The words disciple and discipline are closely related in English and in genuine discipleship. We grow in discipleship through the shaping influence of disciplined practise of spiritual disciplines, practices like prayer, meditation on God’s Word, worship etc In the same way we need a regular regime of physical exercises to become physically fit, we need habitual repetition of spiritual disciplines to become a spiritual fit, maturing disciple ( SOUL SHAPING by John Ortberg)
SPIRITUAL … The paradox of discipleship is that it is our responsibility and requires our human effort and discipline yet cannot be accomplished through our human effort and discipline. Our human effort must be empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit for discipleship to exert it’s transforming power in us and through us. The first generation of believers were warned of “having a form of religion but denying it’s power” that is exactly what will come about by trying to follow Jesus without relying on the Holy Spirit. ( HOLINESS FOR ORDINARY PEOPLE by Keith Drury)
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? …. Have I missed out anything that is essential to discipleship ?