I’ve had the most interesting conversation in the past week. It’s one that I truly believe needs to be looked at more closely, not just by those whom I’ve had the privilege of speaking with, but the entire body of Christ as a whole. In our conversation, the question was raised as to whether it was true that there is an increase among the Body in the making of disciples. Apparently, Bill Hull who is considered an authority on discipleship in the Church was quoted as having said that, “For the first time in my adult life I see where the church is entering into a stage of really making disciples.” So, one of the people I was speaking to wanted to know if this really was the case and if anyone had truly seen this as a trend.
My initial and immediate response to this question was sadly no. Before I go into the reasoning as to why I responded so quickly to this and with such conviction, I must first point out that I am not an authority, but as a Christian and one who does look not necessarily at statistical data, I do however consider the physical observations of what I see both in my travels and conversations.
I first take into account that when the bible speaks of disciples, it is not equated with church membership, or some sort of bible study group. If that were the case, then yes, you could make the case for great advances in disciple making; and in fact you could also say therefore that this has been an increasing trend since the days of Jesus, and not just in recent years. However, if we simply look to the examples that are scattered throughout the bible, not just in Jesus’ days, but even as far back as the word’s first use in scripture, you’ll see that what is deemed as discipleship goes far beyond what we see taking place in the Church.
One of the things that I note in discipleship, at least in the case of Christ, is that he chose his disciples. This isn’t just a matter of evangelism to win them into the Kingdom of Heaven, although that did happen as a result of time. What I find of greater significance with Christ is that in discipling those whom he chose, it was that he would teach them a different way from what they had known as good Jewish boys and girls. In fact he tells Peter and those that we with him at the time, “I will make you fishers of men.”
This transformation from what they were before he met them into whom they became after his time with them becomes the evidence that they had truly been to him disciples of his teachings. What they later taught others, what miracles they performed, and the influence and impact that they each made on the cities they inhabited were without question felt and recorded.
Paul at one point had to make note of the fact, that he was an imitator of Christ, and that we are to be likewise imitators, even as he was. To imitate, meant that you truly have to be a student of the teacher. too often I am seeing that people are not necessarily students/disciples of Christ, but readers of the bible. Reading the bible and church attendance does not equate to becoming a disciple as Peter, Paul and others of their day had been. It is literally time spent at his feet, hearing him, learning how he did what he did, understanding the what’s, why’s, and how’s of Jesus’s ways.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, it wasn’t because they didn’t know, it was because they saw a measurable difference in how he prayed in comparison to how they prayed. His prayers were answered. His prayers had power to change situations.
The original disciples spent a full 3 1/2 years with Christ. In that time of traveling with him, they not only watched and listened to him, they each were enabled by him to do as he had done. Disciples aren’t just consumers of the teachings, but they are dispensers of it, as well as reflections of it. Many in the church may very well be receiving teaching, but fewer are becoming teachers of others or displaying the power that comes from having been transformed by that teaching. The writer of Hebrews critiqued them as saying that they had been hearers for long enough time that they should have become teachers of what they had received.
This emphasizes the fact that it isn’t enough to go to church or a bible study to consider yourself a disciple. Disciples become dispensers of the very teachings they grasp an understanding of. This doesn’t mean that as a disciple you are being called to start a church either. Too many feel that as they have learned, that this means they have to become a preacher, bishop, pastor, evangelist, or missionary. A disciple disciples.
Jesus said he only did what he saw his Father in heaven do. His disciples did only what they saw him do. In fact, even though Jesus points out that greater things than he did would be done by his disciples, he reminds them that the disciples are not greater than the master who teaches them. They were greater in that there were more of them and they had more time to do more with what he taught. They had the commission to go further places than he had. They were greater because their influence would take the teachings beyond that of the Jews, but to the furthest reaches of the world.
If each of us could be as Christ, having chosen twelve people each, to strategically devote a 3 1/2 year period into them, that which we have gleaned from the teachings we have truly been transformed in, and then repeat the process again with a new twelve after that time; then I could agree that we truly are seeing an increase throughout the body in making disciples.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts? Do you think there is an increase in discipling? What do you consider the qualities of disciple making?