September 25, 2020

The Jesus Disconnect (5): The Processes of Discipleship

So how does the material in the “rest of the Gospels” come into the Christian life? What are the “processes of Discipleship” we see in the first half of the Gospels that should be integrated into faith in the crucified and risen one?

1. We should start with affirming the perspective we’ve gained. The Kingdom of God, which Jesus embodied, proclaimed, taught and practiced is only possible because Jesus is a mediator-King; a King who makes things right through death and resurrection, not through miracles and exorcisms. Hold these things together. See these two tracks in scripture: the establishment of God’s Kingdom and the victory of God’s messiah over evil, sin and death. Jesus death secures our place in his Kingdom, and his Kingdom insures his victory in the world.

2. Discipleship is a process (or processes), not a program. No matter what methodologies are used, the fact is that the entire life of grace and growth is discipleship. What processes are there for us to see in the ministry of Jesus? Mentoring. Community life. Ministry to others. Being a student. Healing. Spiritual warfare. Prayer. Missions. Evangelism. Communication. It’s a life more active than contemplative, at least as I read it, but it is a life where a lot of attention is paid to “seeing” the realities of the Kingdom. It is a full course and even with a sense of gifts and callings, there is much to be undertaken for Christ.

3. Jesus taught the Kingdom through almost every available means. It was a large subject, with different levels of implementation. Our lives and communities point to the Kingdom, even though we are never to mistake anything we do for the final Kingdom itself. At no point is the Christian life more of a stretch, than when we work toward the Kingdom of God and live in the Kingdom of God, yet all around us the Kingdom is as much “not yet” as it is “already.” Christian teaching and mentoring should have a constant focus on the values, practices, ethics and characteristics of the Kingdom of God. We will not finally or completely bring it, but our lives point to it and its reality will be found all around us and within us.

4. The healing ministries of Jesus remind us that we should be constantly about the work of healing. For us, this is compassionate concern, binding up wounds and reconciliation. It is bridging differences and being willing to suffer consequences. it is taking risks in order to show God’s care and compassion. It is standing with the work of healing by the love and Spirit of God. We should not mistake this for a political stance, though it has political implications, especially in some cultures.

5. The exorcisms of Jesus remind us that we are to be involved in Biblically sound spiritual warfare and always to seek the defeat of evil by the power of Christ. Neither the healings nor the exorcisms of Jesus are requiring us to imitate Jesus miracles and exorcisms, but to ask what they tell us about Jesus and about his Kingdom in the present. I do not believe we are given these portions of the Gospels in order to go and do the same things in the same way, but neither do I believe the Holy Spirit no longer equips the church with gifts of all kinds of healing and gifts focused on the defeat of particular kinds of evil. Both of these areas are subject to much abuse. Stay close to the scriptures, but don’t quench the spirit.

6. Jesus was constantly traveling to do what we would call missionally compassionate evangelism. At no point are we given a clearer example. Disciples should be busy doing good in the name of Jesus. They should network with other ministries and churches. They should use their resources to do all the good they can in Jesus’ name. In all of this, they should seek the evangelistic goal of the Great Commission. A disciple without a missional and ministering focus has strayed far from what is most important to a disciple’s mission: going as He commanded. This, by the way, is not an invitation to churches to engage in dozens of programs, but it is an invitation of churches to develop, train and equip as many disciples as possible doing as many ministries as possible. A community of Christian disciples should be light and love in the places God has put them.

7. Jesus models a deep devotional experience. This is not optional for disciples. We need to, with sensitivity to our varying contexts, personalities and backgrounds, constantly be seeking to teach the life of prayer and devotional reading, especially of scripture. We should oppose the imbalanced life of the mind we often see on the internet, with a constant business and shallowness leaving little time or need for prayer, and a fan-club concern for books rather than an openness to what many different authors can teach. Teaching the devotional life should be an ongoing work in discipling/mentoring relationships.

8. Jesus uses preaching, teaching and conversation to communicate the gospel. Discipleship should develop the ability to listen, study AND communicate, especially in conversation and teaching. All are not teachers, but in the individual relationships disciples will encounter, all will “preach” to someone in simple conversation.

9. Disciples are learners and students. This may be obvious, but it is easily lost with a bit of pride and arrogance. Be teachable and find good teachers.

In the final consideration, discipleship is an accumulation of experiences that should be build into the lives of individuals, but should be the great concern of Christian communities and their leaders.

The current belief that disciples will be developed via sentimentalism, advanced theology, worship music and trendy routes of relevance will prove to be ineffective. We can see what Jesus is doing. We can understand what he is saying. We can say “yes,” and we can, with the help of a community of other disciples, follow him.

In my next and final post, I’ll say a bit about the kind of communities that develop disciples, and those that do not.

Comments

  1. sue kephart says

    I would add to your list a healthy sense of humilty. Jesus humbled Himself and became man. Humilty is most certainly counter cultural today.

    I also think Jesus had a balance between his active ministry and His contemplative side. He got up early, went alone to a quite place. I speak from personal experience that if we don’t make the time to do this we will not be affective and may suffer burn out. The worst offenders in not doing this are pastors. Although I see more and more clergy of all types making time for solitude and retreat (meaning a time alone for prayer, maybe reading/nature and rest).

  2. Good stuff, imonk!
    You’re right on when you said that genuine discipleship is something that can’t be programmed for mass consumption. It’s a relationship and a full-time investment involving every aspect of life. Jesus spent a lot of time, effort, and energy pouring Himself into that motley crew of fishermen and social outcasts — and His methods were world-shaking in their effectiveness. Considering how effective it was, it just doesn’t make any sense how much effort and resource most modern churches and institutions put into trying to do discipleship and promote spiritual growth through programs. But, then again, personal relationships can be messy and unpredictable, while a well-designed, fine-tuned program can both boost attendance and raise the bottom line.
    One thing I would add about Jesus’s method of discipleship was the way he sent them out (both the 12 and then a larger group of 70) to get some dirt on their sandals doing the actual work of the kingdom. It was almost like a practice run for when He later turned them loose on the whole world after His ascension. And they came back from this experience totally jazzed and bursting to tell about what God had done through them. In my own experience, nothing makes Christ more real to me than doing something He leads me to do. Somehow, action adds a dimension to faith that can’t be accessed on a purely cerebral level.
    I think it’s important to note that Jesus did not accompany them, and, apart from some basic instructions, He made no effort to micro-manage the situation. He actually trusted these misfits to spread His message and demonstrate the reality of His kingdom to the world — not because of their merit as top notch disciples but because of the power of God to work through imperfect people. And I firmly believe that the same power, trust, and responsibility has been handed down to us. If we fail to invest in others what has been invested in us — if we leave the matter of discipleship to the clergy or to church programs — then we’ve both robbed ourselves of a real spiritual legacy in Christ and short-changed the One who bought us with His own blood.

  3. as far as Jesus’ contemplative life compared to active life is concerned, i have found that work comes out of rest and rest comes out of work. Jesus worked when it was time to work and rested when it was time to rest.

  4. im –“It’s a life more active than contemplative, at least as I read it, but it is a life where a lot of attention is paid to “seeing” the realities of the Kingdom.”

    I have to disagree — it is a life that is entirely contemplative — but entirely directed outward — to God and neighbor. By inferring that contemplation is not this outward action and that the “active” Christian life is not contemplative is missing the point of the Gospels entirely, I believe.

    “Neither the healings nor the exorcisms of Jesus are requiring us to imitate Jesus miracles and exorcisms, but to ask what they tell us about Jesus and about his Kingdom in the present.”

    Not only were the miraculous works directed to everyone He came in contact with a sign of the intrinsic outwardly loving and kind nature of God and His Christ, but were the signification of Jesus authority. The religious “authorities” and “scholars” of His time and place could not jive what He taught with their take on Scripture and so they refused to believe the import of the miracles. Before I finish I will clarify — I see miraculous healings and exorcisms all the time. You have to know what to look for. Depressed, addicted and neurotic people were believed to have demons in Jesus day — and it is probably true. I find it absolutely the case that when two or more people are gathered truly in the “Spirit and Truth” of God He is there among them and miracles happen.

    A church without miracles is not a church.

  5. Thomas D. says

    When you put it this way, Jesus sounds kind of like Amway or something. I’d rather be a Pharisee.

  6. You state that “all are not teachers”, but would you say that part of discipleship is training all disciples to teach others to obey Christ? Based on the Great Commission passage (and others) we focus on the evangelistic and missional aspect rightly, but is not Jesus also and explicitly calling all disciples to teach others to obey Him too?

  7. All of this is quite a lot to digest. I guess it shows that discipleship isn’t a small thing.