If you have been in church for any length of time or if you are a new believer, you have probably heard the word discipleship. Most likely you have been encouraged to participate in some sort of Discipleship process. That is because discipleship is important. It is what helps us to grow as believers. But do we get discipleship wrong? I believe we often do. I believe this because we limit the scope of what we believe discipleship is.
What might we believe discipleship is, but isn’t?
(3) We might believe discipleship is an easy thing that doesn’t take any effort.
But if we believe that, we are wrong. While salvation is free, discipleship takes work. Jesus puts it bluntly in Luke 9:23:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23)
And Paul in Philippians 2:12 tells us to:
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12b)
So we can’t grow to be more like Christ without putting forth effort.
When I was in seminary, I had to take two language classes — Greek and Hebrew. The first language class I took was turbo Greek. They call it turbo Greek because they squish two semesters worth of Greek into two months. I took these two classes over the summer and they were the only classes I took.
One thing I realized quickly was that if I was going to learn this language, I had to put in the effort and that required me to do more than just show up for class. So that summer I spent hours flipping through vocabulary cards, doing practice exercises, and memorizing charts. Any chance I got I worked on Greek. I even downloaded an app to my phone so I could work on it while Jen and I were out shopping or I had a spare moment. While it was a lot of work, it paid off. I ended up doing pretty well in the class.
Just as learning a foreign language doesn’t happen just by showing up to class, becoming a fully mature disciple of Jesus doesn’t happen just by showing up to church once a week. It takes effort and time, it’s not an easy thing, so our discipleship process has to involve more than just showing up to church once a week.
(4) We might believe discipleship can be programmed.
Before I surrendered to full-time ministry, I worked in sales. My first sales job was at CBeyond. It’s a telecommunications company that sells Voice Over IP systems. I worked for them in Atlanta.
One of the things that initially drew me to this company was their training program. It was one of the better programs in the industry for new sales associates. And since this was my first sales job, I thought it would be good to go to a company that had a good training program.
When I started for the first 2 to 3 weeks all I did was classroom training. Everyday I came in we would learn something new about the company. We would practice some sales tactics, we would do mock cold calls. All kinds of stuff that was supposed to get us ready to go out into the field.
While the training was good and necessary, when I finished that training I wasn’t a mature sales associate because I hadn’t had real world experience. I knew about the company, I knew some sales tactics, I went through their training program, but I hadn’t put any of this stuff into practice yet.
Similarly, we can’t become fully mature disciple of Jesus just by going through a 6 week class, reading a book, or attending a Bible study once a week. It doesn’t work that way because discipleship can’t be programmed. It requires us to get some real world experience.
Real world experience is required because discipleship involves your whole life and it takes a lifetime.
I was reading a magazine recently put out by The Navigators — They are a missions organization. In that magazine, I came across a story about the community of Bukhalu, which is in Uganda.
The community in Bukhalu had been formed by former criminals who were run out of town, which meant Bukhalu was not your ideal place to live. It was primarily made up of witches, murderers, and other criminal types. But the mission’s team highlighted in the magazine felt God calling them to go work with this community.
After working with them for two years — explaining the gospel to them and urging them to repent and believe in Jesus — these folks started seeing some remarkable transformations in the community.
One guy in particular who came to faith was Stephen. Stephen is a local government leader, who when asked about the Bible and the transformation it brought to the community said,
“The Bible has told us about our sin and how we can receive Christ… We’ve learned that drunkenness wastes time and money and if we stop we find better lives. We’re also learning how to love our wives.”
That last piece was very important to this community. Stephen told them that domestic disputes were common. As a government official he would have to step in and help settle these disputes often. Something he used to have to do several times a week before this team brought the gospel to their city. Now, he said, he only had to help settle disputes maybe once or twice a month.
On top of these moral changes the community also saw numerous day-to-day lifestyle changes. Instead of leaving their compound dirty and getting water from the river, they started cleaning up and getting fresh water from a bore hole which helped to improve the health of their children.
All these things happened because of the gospel.
So you can see that being a disciple is more than just gaining information. It is more than just a six week study or a program we go through. It’s more than just you and Jesus getting alone somewhere. Discipleship involves others, it involves our whole life. It changes our whole way of thinking and how we do things. And these changes don’t just occur in a couple of weeks. They occur over a lifetime of effort.
Question for Reflection
- What would you add to this list?
Post adapted from the sermon: A Discipleship Process for the Church