I have been saying for the last couple of week that the primary calling of a Christian is to be a disciple who makes disciples wherever they are. Last week I posed this question: if the primary measure of our legacy as Christians or a church is the number of people we have discipled to become disciple-makers? Let me tell you two things that compelled me to preach that message:
(1) Jesus’ model of discipleship was 3, 12, and the crowd – I have realised how seriously it has effected ECCC that I have ignored that model. In effect I was saying: thanks Jesus for the model but I will try do it in reverse! And it never works out well when you say, “Thanks Jesus but…”
(2) At the end of first and third year of studying engineering you do 6 weeks of vac-work at an engineering firm. I worked at a company in Diepriver. The day I arrived the mostly unfriendly boss told me his Telkom phone system wasn’t working and that I should fix it. I said I had no idea about how a PABX exchange worked. He got cross with me and sent me upstairs to work with another engineer who had been ejected from the main office. In retrospect I could have tried. But here was the problem, the boss went straight from direct to delegate. We have structured much of the teaching ministry of the church as if Jesus said, “teach them everything I have commanded you” and not “teach them to obey everything…”. I have knowingly led you in this direction. And it creates a situation where there are disillusioned learners and disappointed teachers. The “teach to obey” is the journey of discipleship.
A. The everyday commission
Matthew 28: 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We know the end of Matthew 28 as The Great Commission. But is could better be called The Everyday Commission. It is not as if it is for those who are great or who can do great things. It is for ordinary Christians to live out every day.
In this passage Jesus is calling his disciples to make disciples – which is the process of discipleship. A disciple is simply a person who has entered into an eternal relationship with God in which they trust and follow Christ. All Christians are disciples.
Discipleship is the process of Christian growth for all disciples. All of us are somewhere between ‘freshly born again’ and ‘mature and equipped’. It is certainly true you never arrive at a point where you are perfectly discipled – no more growing to do.
However, the other half of the story is that, although you never stop growing, you can and should reach a point where you start reproducing too. If we are to obey Jesus’ call, every Christian should grow sufficiently so that they are able to reproduce the work that was done for them. How long does that take? Jesus did it on three years, I think we can use that as a ball park figure.
B. Example of Paul
You can see this in the way in which Paul viewed his ministry:
- God to Paul: “…the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me” (1Tim 1:11)
- Paul to Timothy: “You, however, know all about (to follow one as to be always at his side / examine thoroughly, investigate) my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. (2 Tim 3:10-11)
- Timothy to others: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Tim 4:12) “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2Tim 2:2)
What Paul received from God he passed on to Timothy who passed it on to other disciples. Paul did this for Titus, Epahroditus, and many others. It is not without reason that Paul records all those lists of names at the ends of the books. Those were people with whom he had share his life and faith.
2. Teaching, baptizing, going
There are three qualifying terms that Jesus gives to the pattern of discipleship: while you are teaching, baptising and going, make disciples.
A. Teaching to obey
These are the teachings of the Bible that God has revealed for us to know, understand and obey. Truth is the foundation of good discipleship so that life-change can happen in the right direction. Truth can come in a bible study, personal devotions, a book, in a sermon or some other teaching. It is indispensable to good discipleship but as I noted, Jesus says “teach them to obey”.
Let’s say your son comes to you and says, “will you teach me to play cricket?”. Of course, you go outside with a bat and ball, get and old bin and get ready to bowl a couple of balls. But first you tell him sand with your feet about 30cm apart, hold the bat with your hands together, stand side on, and as I am about to bowl lift your bat. What happens? It’s a mess. You take the bat… “show me”, not “teach me…”
Teach to obey is about modelling:
4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. (1 Thes 1:4-7)
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Phil 3:17)
It is about time, relationship and being ready to journey with them
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. (1Thes 2:8)
It is about getting involved in the messiness of someone’s life – which is hard work (great pain and great joy).
To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (Col 1:29)
God’s truth needs to be massage until it becomes understandable and usable. And we all know this is difficult: for example when in a Bible Study group leader asks: What did Jesus mean when he said to the rich young ruler, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”. And so we discuss him. But then the leader asks: what does that mean for you? Silence! What do you love more than Jesus? Are you willing to give it up? The truth has not yet become useable until we can answer that kind of question.
When we see then need for change I our own lives, we need brothers or sisters who will help us to move towards godly living. Not simply be challenging our behaviour, but by challenging our heart motivations and desire; looking for the sin beneath the sin, not just what need to change but what makes it so hard to change.
And that is messy. It is the kind of mess that we tend to want to avoid. But that is where the real growth happens.
- Who have you modelled your Christian life on?
- Could you encourage someone else to model their life on you?
- Are you willing to get into the mess of someone else’s struggle over sin to help them grow?
- Do you let others into the mess of your sin so that they can help you grow?
I am suggesting that this is what it looked like when Paul put Jesus’ pattern into practice.
B. Baptising in the Trinity
Baptism is about two things: Identity – you are not a child of God the Father, sent by God the Son on and empowered by God the Holy Spirit. But baptism is also about the family of faith into been baptised (1Cor 12:13).
14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Cor. 4:14-17)
In the matter of discipleship, Paul see himself as father. That is a helpful picture. Good parents want their children to grow and flourish, reaching independence and maturity. They show long-term love in correcting and reprimanding, encouraging and boosting. They love not because of performance but because they are their children. And the hope is that someday they will be able to have their own children whom they will raise in a similar manner.
But we all know that much of what is learnt by children is not taught but caught. Children resemble their parents in remarkable ways – they often use the same string of words, or have the same opinions about subjects, or had the same habits.
There are some Bible that you can buy that have the all the words of Jesus are in red (red-letter bibles). At one stage it was a bit of a fad! I suppose that the intent was to draw attention to the importance of what Jesus said. But that is only half the story. The black letters record what he did – the way he lived. We need to learn from he did and from what he said. We need to learn from his words and his methods.
My fear is that we have allowed too much of our ministry as a church to become about giving direction and then sending people out to go and do it. And when they fail they get disillusioned, or when the preached doesn’t see a result or response he gets disappointed. True growth comes through time consuming, intimate, authentic, modelling
- Have you ever worked for a ‘bad boss’ (or been a bad boss!) where you were given direction but no support or coaching? How did it feel?
- Read 1Tim 1:11, 2 Tim 3:10-11, 1 Tim 4:12, 2Tim 2:2. What do these scriptures show about the way Paul passed the gospel on?
- Read Mark 3:14. What does this show about Jesus attitude towards discipleship?
- Read 1Thes 1:4-7, Phil 3:17, 1Thes 2:8, Col 1:29. What do these verses teach us about Paul’s attitude towards discipleship?
- Who have you modelled your Christian life on? Could you encourage someone else to model their life on you?
- In what other areas of life do people get mentored or coached?
- Do you think Christians engage in this idea of coaching/mentoring/discipleship?
- Why do you think this is so? (think along the lines of: exposing the heart / messiness / same reasons people avoid counselling / time commitment / unhealthy Christian culture)
- How could it be changed?
- Paul presents his ministry as a father (Paul) to a son (Timothy) Read 1 Cor. 4:14-17. What do we learn about discipleship through the lens of parenting?
- What would need to change for you to become a more mature disciple who is ready to make disciples? Go around the group and get each person to commit to at least one thing.