“Tis but a scratch.”
“A scratch? Your arm’s off!”
“No it isn’t.”
“Well, what’s that then?”
In this famous scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur fights the knight who will not let him pass. It’s a humorous example of denial and a lack of self-awareness. The knight was unwilling to admit his arm was missing!
The scene spirals from there as the knight loses the rest of his limbs and yet is still disinclined to acknowledge his ailments. I’m suggesting that this knight thinks about his former limbs much like many in the church think about discipleship. They are in denial and reluctant to acknowledge their need for it.
This reluctant crowd is not primarily made up of new believers, but rather mature ones. There is a temptation to become set in our Christian ways, even when some of those ways could use further growth in grace. One of the areas mature believers can do this is discipleship.
If asked about discipleship, some believers might answer, “I was discipled. I’m good.” The issue comes in that pesky past tense. It is not as if we can’t talk about discipleship as having happened, but as Christians, we must not only talk about it being in the past. If we see discipleship as something that has ended at some point in our Christian lives, then we are in trouble.
All new believers must be taught about the faith and helped in their discovery of reading the Bible. Simon the Magician needed some extended teaching on the Holy Spirit after having believed the gospel and being baptized (Acts 8:9-24).
Even someone like Apollos, who was teaching others, needed some extra help in better understanding the things of the gospel (Acts 18:26). New believers require assistance in understanding the things of God, just like kids need help in understanding and navigating the world as they grow.
However, at some point, kids usually don’t need explanations about what a bird is and why it flies or how to use a spoon. They have enough information to be able to push forward on their own. However, it would be to their detriment if they stopped seeking wise counsel and advice. Just because they know how to use a spoon doesn’t mean they will know how to balance a checkbook, buy a car, or get a job.
If people need ongoing help discovering basic life knowledge, why would it be any different for our Christian lives? A Christian cannot only talk about discipleship as a past event. It should be a continuous growth throughout all our lives.
But what if the people we are given the opportunity of discipling are not convinced that they need what we are calling them to? What if our “flock” lacks the temporary self-awareness to be able to see their need for discipleship?
What if that person that God has put on our heart to help grow up in the Lord is not interested in the concentrated time of study, prayer, and fellowship? I think there are few things that we can do to help turn this ship.
1. We Live It
Are we involved in regular discipleship relationships? This is the place to start if we desire to point others to this life-giving practice. We can be as convicted about the importance of discipleship as the next person, but if we are not ourselves living per our convictions, we cannot expect to have any success in calling others to have convictions we do not even live out.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a case for regular confession between Christians in Life Together, but he warns that those who hear the confessions of others, must also be in the regular practice of confessing as well
“It is not a good thing for one person to be the confessor for all the others. All too easily this individual will become overburdened, one for whom confession becomes an empty routine, giving rise to the unholy misuse of confession for the exercise of spiritual tyranny over souls. Those who do not practice confession themselves should be careful not to hear the confession of other Christians, lest they succumb to this most frightening danger for confession,” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p 116).
This same danger is inherent for those that do not themselves take part in regular discipleship but expect it of others around them or those that they lead. Bonhoeffer’s application of this warning as it relates to confession is just as relevant to the practice of discipleship.
Others will likely see a person who calls others to discipleship but does not practice it as upholding an empty routine. Therefore, we begin to make an impact with discipleship by being discipled.
2. We Model It
We need to show them what discipleship looks like. This doesn’t happen quickly. One of the most helpful ways to start this is to essentially disciple them without them knowing we are discipling them. Invite them into a group of people with whom we already meet for discipleship.
Another option is to ask them to coffee and talk about the Bible, prayer, and growth in Christ. We can spend time with them and intentionally ask them about their lives and pour into them. Their past experiences with discipleship have likely told them that when discipleship happens, there is an official start date, bugle sounds, and flags wave. They are most likely used to programmatic discipleship, which is where we can show them that it is not a program.
3. We Reinforce It
In our covert coffee meetings, we start to talk about biblical examples of discipleship. We can talk about informational discipleship scenarios like Simon the Magician and Apollos. We can talk about overarching examples of discipleship like Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35).
We can point to Paul and his relationship with Timothy (Acts 16:1-3; 1 Tim.; 2 Tim.). We can share examples how this process has been lived out in our own lives. By reinforcing this changeover in thinking about discipleship, we want to show that its biblical and we want to make them want it.
A more programmatic type of discipleship focuses on a short period meant to acclimate people to Scripture. It achieves this, rightfully so, through calling people to the need for understanding the basics of the faith.
However, if that is the only way we understand discipleship, we miss the blessings that this lifelong pattern produces. People that have only gone through this type of discipleship may be prone to thinking that discipleship is something they have to do instead of something they get to do.
I would call the “have to” discipleship, law discipleship, and the “get to” discipleship, gospel discipleship. A law commands something, the gospel fulfills and provides the desire to follow the law. Jesus does call us to follow him and to do so with our whole lives (Lk. 9:62).
If we work on promoting gospel discipleship, we point people to the power the gospel has in causing us to want to follow Christ with our lives. This way we don’t weigh them down with commands to discipleship, but point them to the blessings of discipleship.
4. We Multiply It
Once just one other person seems to get it, then we can encourage them to do just what we did. We can help them locate someone in their sphere of influence with whom they can spend intentional time. We can help them biblically reinforce discipleship as a lifelong pattern.
The lifestyle of discipleship continues for them because we are continuing to pour into them as they pour into others. This process of discipleship transformation in the life of a person, a group of people, or a congregation begins with someone taking the first step turning the ship.
Our efforts in changing the view of discipleship in those around us are well worth our time. Most likely, our first attempts at trying to right the outlook on discipleship in our environment may revolve around teaching.
If we serve as a pastor, small group leader, Sunday school teacher, deacon, elder, friend, or coworker, we may be tempted to think that this will all be changed by simply teaching about what discipleship should be.
However, I would argue that unless it is modeled before it is taught in an informational sense, it will be rejected. It is true that the Bible comes to us with propositional truth that we are called to heed, but those truths are meant to shape our living.
This is a blind spot we can have without proper discipleship happening in our lives. If people can see the biblical vision of discipleship as a lifelong process rather than a programmatic system, it can also help with their regular consumption of the Bible.
If we can see God’s Word as already relevant to the small details of our lives and not just a list of truths we espouse, our communion with Christ will be all the more blessed. That, in fact, is the real payoff of the biblical model of lifelong discipleship. Our time with people, growing together in our knowledge of the Word and growing together in prayer, will only further develop our relationship with Christ.
Nick Abraham (DMin student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) lives in Navarre, OH with his wife and daughter. He serves as an Associate Pastor at Alpine Bible Church in Sugarcreek, OH. He is a contributor to Make, Mature, Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus and blogs at Like Living Stones.