Discipleship. Discipleshift. Disciple-Making Disciples. It’s all the rage right now to talk about discipleship and we must. The current state of the declining church is the fruit of our lack of engaging in discipleship in recent history. It’s so bad that few even know what this looks like and so we’re left with a dilemma.
How do we disciple all of these people who are in the church and have never been discipled?
In typical western and capitalistic fashion, we have tried to figure out how to mass produce discipleship. Websites, blogs, and discipleship pathways providing content have been developed. Programs and systems are in place to invite people to learn, know, and grow into a disciple, but have we missed the point altogether?
Jesus Could Have Mass Produced Discipleship. . . But He Didn’t
Jesus had the thousands waiting for his every word and the opportunity to mass produce discipleship was available. He could have told them to sit down; he would keep the food miraculously coming; he would download all the information they needed to become disciples and to go make disciples.
But he didn’t. Instead he gathered twelve men (Matt. 10:1-4) , three who were extra close to him (Matt. 26:36-46), seventy that hung around on the periphery and spent years with them (Lk. 10:1-12). He shared more than content, though he did teach them more than anyone else would know. He shared meals, laughter, probably made fun of Peter A LOT; he shared hurts, struggles, tears; he exhorted, encouraged, and modeled devotion; he performed miracles, taught them how, spoke vision into them, and rarely criticized.
He shared his heart, his doctrine, his every step of life, and his platform with them.
What were the results? A viral movement that changed the world.
In Acts, we see this personal viral approach spread beyond the original twelve. Thousands come to faith at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), yet the scriptures track the individuals who influenced and shaped the lives of others rather than the mass gatherings.
Pieces of discipleship happened (and continue to) in mass gatherings, house to house, and personal investment, but the development of individuals is the primary concern. As we enter into the letters, Paul references specific people by name (Rom. 16), faithful workers and he didn’t just impart his theology through sermons, mass classroom teaching, online discipleship pathways, and more! No, he gave them his life.
They knew him, his strengths and his weaknesses.
The disciples created a movement without making a movement their aim. They invested in people, discipling them into being like Jesus and sent them to repeat the pattern. It’s because their aim was bigger than themselves and they knew the movement of God did not depend on them.
Have a Long-Term View that is Beyond Yourself!
The innovation that is taking places is good and healthy. New contexts require new approaches, systems, and ideas. But discipleship is more simple than we make it and takes longer than we ever wish it would. It has massive setbacks, discouragements, and slow progress toward great victories. There’s nothing more sanctifying, challenging, and rewarding.
But it requires that we not be in a hurry to mass produce disciples and end up making Pharisees with a massive amount of knowledge, little intimacy, and no holiness. We are trying to reproduce Jesus in people and that takes time. It took the church decades of neglect to get us to this big need and it will take decades of engagement in discipleship to get us out.
Is your vision only for your ministry, your church, and your time on earth, or is it for the next generations?
Jesus’ Master Plan
Learn from the content that is produced out there, but gather four to six men or women near you, invite them into your life, open the scriptures with them to teach them scriptural systematic theology that is transferable, pray with them, and fast with them. Hurt with them, fight with them through their struggles, celebrate their small victories, and give them opportunities to succeed and fail. Speak vision into them.
Take the content and teach it through your own life. It has greater impact in those you are discipling than gathering them around a DVD, curriculum, or teacher they don’t know.
Practically, this looks like Barnabas and Paul, Barnabas and John Mark, Paul and Timothy, Timothy to faithful men, faithful men to others also, and the same goes for women.
This personal discipleship must be combined or supplemental to the engagement in the broader community aims of the local church so it fulfills God’s call for that specific church. It is not a separate system; it is personal, communal, and driven by vision.
We mass produce discipleship by discipling a few who then disciple more and it multiplies. If we try another way, we’re just gathering crowds and assuming that our different variations of sermons will do the trick–that hasn’t worked for decades.
The master, Jesus, has shown us the plan. Let’s follow Him.
Logan Gentry is the Pastor of Community and Equipping at Apostles Church in New York City. He blogs at Gentrified and has contributed to The Gospel Coalition. He is married to Amber and they have three children. Follow him on Twitter: @logangentry.