Saturday summary...of Myths about being and making disciples

Discipleship is...

Life-long learning not short term crash course

An appeal and a process

Obedience not religion

Community not individual


Being and making disciples - some myths 4

The fourth myth I would like to highlight is that discipleship is something we do on our own. There seems to be an idea that there exists the role of discipler and the role of disciple: a 1-2-1 relationship.

There are several reasons to dismiss this myth, the main one being that in Matthew 28:18-20 the disciples are told to "go and make disciples of all the nations". The word nation is the Greek word "ethne". It does not describe a nation state but rather an ethnolinguistic group. This concept has been used to organize missionary activity and is the concept behind the idea of the 10/40 window. I don't want to argue for or against this; maybe another time. What I want to demonstrate, however, that discipleship can only really be done in community.

If I am right that the purpose of discipleship is to "teach them to obey" then obedience is not a solitary activity; it is always in the context of relationships. We can only obey God in relationship with the other. Being a Christian disciple is to be in relationship; not only with God, but also with others.

In another context, Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians that they "may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Eph 3:18-19). It is only in community we can be disciples and make disciples and thereby experience his love.


Being and making disciples - some myths 3

The third myth I want to highlight is that the purpose of discipleship is to teach the new believer how to read the Bible, how to pray, how to fast, and to do all the "religious" elements of the faith. These are most certainly important but are a means to an end. I will come back to what I mean by that in a moment.

According to Matthew 28:20 the disciples were to teach the nations to obey everything Jesus commanded them. This is the purpose of discipleship, to teach us and our fellow believers together to obey Jesus' commands.

A good interpreter of the Bible will then ask the question, "what did Jesus command us to do"; first in Matthew's gospel and then in the other gospels and subsequently in the rest of the New Testament. Having studied Matthew's gospel in detail, I can tell you that there is enough to be getting on with in this gospel! The Sermon on the Mount alone gives enough grist for this particular mill!

So why do we do those "religious" elements I mentioned earlier? In the light of the previous paragraph, Bible reading is an obvious one: to find out how to obey. Prayer is important because in prayer we speak to God about our lives and struggles to obey Him. We articulate our care, fears, hopes and failures. In confession we renew our fellowship with God and others when we have failed to obey. Confession is cathartic in exposing what would otherwise remain hidden. Fasting focuses our minds and helps us to listen to God's voice. As we take time to reflection and meditate we remove other distractions and hear that still, small voice. The "religious" elements of our faith facilitate our obedience.

So, in conclusion the purpose of discipleship is to obey God. In that obedience we demonstrate to those around what it is to be in relationship to the living God, and is an invitation to those others to that same relationship. In that sense, discipleship ultimately is a missional concept.


Being and making disciples - some myths 2

Our second myth about being a disciple and making disciples is about the relationship between evangelism and discipleship. As Evangelicals we are very keen to emphasize the importance of evangelism; calling people to follow Jesus Christ. This highlights the difficulty in defining the difference between evangelism and discipleship.

Yesterday's myth-that discipleship only happens at the beginning of the Christian journey-further complicates things by almost dissolving evangelism into discipleship. When does evangelism stop and discipleship kick off? Is evangelism part of discipleship or does it have a completely separate life of its own?

A friend of may father's, Danut Manastireanu, said that "Evangelism is discipleship of the non-believer and discipleship is the evangelism of the believer". What do you think?


Being and making disciples - some myths 1

In the mission world, Matthew 28:18-20 has become the "go-to" passage to promote missions. William Carey used it in his snappily titled, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

I do think that there is a lot of misunderstanding about discipleship. Over the next few days I would like to explore and dispel some of these myths.

Myth 1

Discipleship, for a lot of Christians is a course that a new Christian does for a few weeks after conversion. It is perhaps a good idea for new believers to have an intensive time of learning and growing at the beginning of their spiritual journey but discipleship does not stop there. Matthew 28 seems to suggest it is more of a life-long journey. We continue to be disciples our whole life. As we encounter each new situation we learn what it is to "obey everything He commanded us". So even people who consider themselves "disciplers" are also still on that discipleship road.

Tomorrow: evangelism and discipleship