A Discipleship Initiative
I wasn’t “discipled”
I have been incredibly blessed to have had several men speak into my life as spiritual shepherds. First was my dad who led our family to church without fail, week after week. Though my sister and I often hoped my parents would miraculously forget about church on Sunday nights (so we could stay home and watch The Wonderful World of Disney on TV), it was rare. I was brought up with the idea of church being non-negotiable and somewhere along the way, I discovered the blessing/benefit of it rather than just the obligation of it.
A few youth ministers, a man named Mike Compton who taught us about the importance of a “quiet time” in junior high, two college pastors and then Carolyn’s youth minister - all were men through whom God worked to shape me.
It’s been said that vision is more caught than taught,” and in my own life I would affirm that is partially true. I was accidentally discipled by the church and these men. Their proximity in my life helped me stay on course, and their godly lives were an example to me of emulation. However, I never had someone sit down one-on-one with me in a coffee shop, week after week, to “disciple” me.
My commitment to discipleship
I have spent more than 25 years engaged in intentional discipleship. Wherever I have served in ministry, I have sought to find a few teachable, hungry people and pour what I know into them. I believe that’s what Jesus urged in his Great Commission: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
I’ve used curriculum over the years - One on One with God was probably the most successful in reproducing disciples who reproduce disciples. It may not have been the material but my commitment to use it consistently over several years that produced several guys who used it in their discipling relationships as well.
Whether using material, reading through a book together or simply studying scripture, I have kept the foundation in sight: a love relationship with God. If I can help someone develop a deep, humble, joyful love relationship with Jesus, I can certainly be confident that they will continue to follow Him long after I fade from influence in their life. I am not, after all, developing disciples of Jeff.
Rethinking the model of discipleship
The predominant mode of western discipleship is content-heavy and often accompanied by “accountability.” Many have been blessed by this intentional form of passing on spiritual truths and practices. (I have.) However, the model itself lacks one significant, consistent component, without which it tends to produce methodolical Christians who struggle when the external influence/accountability of a “discipler” is not present in their life.
The model often lacks love.
I say that with humility. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that it is unloving or that those engaged in discipling another don’t love the people they’re meeting with. However, it is possible. It’s possible to disciple another from obligation or from commitment to pass on biblical truth. It’s possible for genuine love for the disciple to be lacking.
Anytime we focus on communicating truth, it tends toward increasing knowledge. The accumulation of knowledge, unfortunately (even “spiritual” knowledge) tends to increasing ego rather than humility.
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8.1)
As a result, even while we sincerely want to disciple someone, we may miss the bigger picture of love. Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all we are, that all other commandments hinge on this foundational anchor in relationship.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22.37)
The Discipleship Initiative
In January, I announced at our church's annual State of the Church message that 2019 would be devoted to discipleship. I outlined a plan:
On January 24, I began meeting with 18 men - staff guys, elders and a few randomly-selected men
On February 11, I began meeting with 20 ladies - staff ladies, wives of elders, and other randomly-selected ladies
My commitment to them is to teach them in six weeks what a disciple of Jesus looks like, practices and produces. The core of my true with them will be a laser-like focus on their love relationship with Jesus. Only a relationship based on intimacy and humility will produce long-term, joyful obedience and experience the profound blessing of influencing others.
I asked each initial participant to commit to leading a small group of 2-3 through the principles and practices I am teaching them later this year, focusing on the members of our church. The vision is to involve every single member in this intentional discipleship initiative by January 2020.
I committed to the guys that I would meet individually with every guy two times over the six weeks. (That’s 18 individual meetings every three weeks - whew!) I am training six ladies to be my coaches to do the same with the women.
I am using the graph at right to anchor this initiative in a LOVE RELATIONSHIP with God. Intimacy and humility come first. We love Him because He first loved us. We base all our life and approach to God on His love for us, and we learn to grow in our love for Him. That is what being a disciple of Jesus is about: loving Him with all that we are.
Time will tell whether this continued emphasis on loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength in intimacy and humility results in sustained, joyful obedience and increased influence. I am convinced, however, that disciples who walk in love with Jesus, who abide with Him, will produce more fruit than those who don’t. Loving God intimately results in experiencing an abundant life.
I hope you’ll be praying for these 38 people who are my discipleship guinea pigs. In the next few months, they will be embarking on their own journeys of leading others to love God with all that they are. My hope is that this simple return to the core of our relationship with Jesus will cease being an “initiative” and will transform into a movement that blesses a new generation of Jesus followers.