Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: What’s the Big Deal?
Part 2: What Does It Look Like?
Part 3: The Early Church
Part 4: Oikos in the Bible
Part 5: Sociological Matters
Part 6: Being the “Right Size”
Part 7: Is Structure a Dirty Word?
Part 8: Making Disciples
My assertion is that making disciples is the foundational key to cultivating a multiplying movement of missional communities. In the last post I talked about a few things that discipleship is not, so let’s turn our attention to definitions today. What is discipleship? What does it look like to be a disciple? And how do we make disciples?
We start by looking at the way Jesus did it. He gathered 12 people to be with him. They watched what he did, they ate with him and one another, they talked together, played together, prayed together, worked together. Eventually Jesus sent them out to do some of the same things (Luke 9:1-6), and they do the things Jesus himself had been doing (healing the sick, driving out demons). They come back together, Jesus debriefs and coaches them (Luke 9:10), challenges them (Luke 9:13), encourages them (Luke 9:28-36), sends them out again, and when they return again he again debriefs, encourages, coaches, and rejoices with them (Luke 10:1-24).
In all of this Jesus is moving his disciples toward the goal of having the capacity to be the kind of person he is and do the kinds of things he does, of having the same kind of life withing themselves that Jesus had within himself. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus told them late in his ministry, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
Paul gives us indications of how this works itself out practically after Jesus ascends to the Father. “Imitate me,” he tells the Corinthians, sending Timothy to be an embodied reminder of Paul’s “way of life in Christ” (1 Cor 4:14-17). He offered himself to the Thessalonians as a “model to imitate” (2 Thess 3:7-9). The author of Hebrews urges her readers to “imitate” those who are further on in the journey of faith (Heb 6:12).
Discipleship, then, is being with Jesus to learn from Jesus how to be like Jesus. We do this best in community, in relationship with someone who is more like Jesus than we are, learning from them, observing them, doing life with them, being involved in a highly challenging, highly encouraging matrix of relationship where we learn how to do the things that Jesus did by imitating the “way of life in Christ” of someone else. And then we invite others to imitate us as we imitate Christ.
We’re not talking about copying someone in a legalistic, mindless way. This isn’t about “heavy shepherding” or bossing people around. We simply looking at someone we’d like to be more like, “considering the outcome of their way of life and imitating their faith” (Heb 13:7). The goal is learning to live our everyday lives like Jesus would if he were us.
Establishing a culture where this kind of process is normal and expected is the unavoidable first step, which leads to the development of an abundant supply of missional leaders, who, because they are living like Jesus and listening to the Spirit, are making more disciples and planting missional communities that contain the same DNA: a culture of discipleship.
It starts small and slow, because it takes awhile to really disciple people, and you can only do a few at a time (Jesus took three years to disciple twelve – humility dictates we ought to round down from him, I would think). But even though it starts small and slow, it grows exponentially, like the DNA in a virus that causes an epidemic, or like a tiny seed that eventually becomes a tree, or like the early Jesus movement that turned the ancient world upside-down without centralized leadership or a tactical plan.
At least, that’s what we’re praying for 😉
In the next (final?) post I’ll talk specifically about the practical steps we’re taking in order to establish a discipling culture.
Next post –> Part 10: Our Plan to Get There
I notice you used the pronoun "her" to refer to the author of Hebrews. That has my interest sparked. I'd be curious to know more about your authorship theory.
Ben Sternke says
No real authorship theory represented by the "her" (although I have heard Priscilla suggested as the author of Hebrews).
But since we don't know, I thought I'd throw in the universal "her" instead of the universal "him." That's all 😉