Discipleship. A word flippantly tossed around our churches and congregations but rarely understood. Incredibly simple at its core, it befuddles us entirely with its application. We, the Church, have numerous programs, methods, and ideas about discipleship. We love the idea of it, but I believe we love only a partial idea of it. We aren’t willing to sacrifice our time, talents, money, or influence to truly disciple others. Discipleship does not happen within the confines of sterile hierarchy or appointed mentors. Discipleship happens in the dirty, messy, deep issues of life–when we take off the outer layers of appearance and begin to open our hearts to another person. With soul bared, we ask them to speak into our lives–to give us hope, to call something out of us that we can’t see. Discipleship is twofold. One, it replicates the spirit of Christ within another person. Two, it awakens things within them they didn’t know were there. In essence, it helps them become who they are supposed to be.
Jesus’ mandate was to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”1 Therefore, our disciple making must including replicating the teachings of Jesus. This seems easy enough, but Jesus’ teachings were always deeper than simple outward obedience. He examined their hearts. Jesus wasn’t concerned about someone’s behavior. He was concerned with the state of their heart, because he knew that all behaviors will flow from their heart. Our futile attempts at changing people through external emphasis will work temporarily, but won’t sustain long term change or growth. We too must work to change hearts.
This is where things get messy, because our lives are filled with tremendous pains, tragedies, and offenses. Slowly, as time marches on, we begin to be defined by those experiences–whether directly through our own vows (“I will never be like my mother!”) or indirectly through what others about us (“You deserve this abuse, because you’re such a bad person.”). In discipleship, we must learn to speak life over the wounds of our brothers and sisters. We must open our lives and allow others to help heal us of our pain. Christ did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but rather showed her mercy and love. If we are to replicate Christ in others, we must first deal with our own pain and learn our true identity, so that we too may show mercy and love. Jesus was confident in his identity and understood his purpose. Once people have been shown love and mercy, we can begin to help them become more like Christ and more like their true selves.
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,”2 God sets life and death before us. Just as in the garden, he has given us a choice–either to live in active, trusting relationship with him or a non-relational, legalistic code of right and wrong. Jesus spoke life over his disciples. He chose life with them through an active, living relationship not simply rules and laws. He chose them and called them out of their normal jobs. He saw something in them–something no one else had seen. He then helped them learn and grow. He both led and pushed them into new realms where their true selves could emerge. We must include this in our discipleship. Bonhoeffer states it in the context of community, but I believe it applies here also:
“But God has put his Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”3
Our discipleship must be so intimate and personal that we are able to speak truth and life into our brothers and sisters even when they can’t see it themselves. Jesus called things to life in his disciples that may have lain dead otherwise. Are you calling things to life in those around you? Do you tell them how much potential they have? Are you surrounded by others who do this for you? We must cultivate these environments in our homes and churches, so that we begin to live the lives and destinies God desires for us. Speak life!