Even casual conversations with fellow pastors inevitably turn to the increasingly crucial topic of discipleship. While engaged in one of these with a fellow pastor of a larger church, he spoke about how he was indeed personally discipling a group of men in his church, but beyond that, church wide disciple-making was non-existent. His executive pastor then added his understanding of how to go about making disciples as well: “Discipleship should be organic and not intentional. It should not be planned or prepared.” The Executive pastor served previously at a church where the Senior pastor adopted the concrete stance: “If you get people to church, then I will disciple them.”
“Unfortunately, Jesus never left discipleship to chance,” was my simple reply. “He was intentional and calculative from the beginning.” Moreover, Jesus’s disciple-making ministry was five things: Intentional, Size-Specific, Transparent, Accountable, and Reproducible.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be examining the life of John Wesley in order to further shed light on this undeniably crucial element of disciple-making. It’s our desire at Replicate to not just establish the need for discipleship, but to offer examples of disciple-making lifestyles and to deliver effective, practical methods for living such a lifestyle yourself.
This pastor’s point in stating, “I will disciple them” was not one of arrogance, but one founded on an old Church precedent that the Word disciples the people. However, this mentality infects believers with laziness and serves to widen the chasm between the clergy and the laity. Perhaps more frighteningly, it cripples believers from taking responsibility for their relationship with Christ. Discipleship empowers the saints to partake in the work of the ministry, the most crucial step in aptly carrying out the Great Commission.
The Master certainly put into practice a method for discipling the twelve men who would change the world. In fact, He gradually released them into ministry through a definitive four-step process:
First, Jesus ministered while the disciples watched. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught God’s truths while the disciples observed, listened, and learned as part of the crowd (Matthew 5–7). When Jesus went into the synagogue and healed the lame, cleansed the lepers, and gave hearing to the deaf, the disciples were simply to watch (Mark 1).
Second, Jesus allowed the disciples to assist him in ministry. When Jesus fed the multitude, it was He who broke the bread and performed the miracle, but it was the disciples who distributed the supernatural meal to the hungry crowd and collected the surplus (John 6:1–13).
Third, the disciples ministered with Jesus’ assistance. After His glorious transfiguration, Jesus came down from the mountain and walked into an uproar (Mark 9). The disciples were attempting to cast out a demon from a possessed boy, and they were failing miserably. In utter frustration and desperation, the boy’s father turned to Jesus and asked Him to intervene. “I brought my son to your disciples, but they could do nothing!” the despondent man cried. Jesus stepped in, cast out the demon, and made the boy whole. Later, Jesus rebuked the disciples, powerless on their own, instructing them that “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29).
Finally, Jesus observed as the disciples ministered to others. Jesus sent them out with the instruction to go into the world, cast out demons, and preach the gospel. And they came back saying, “Jesus, it was just like you said. We cast out demons and we preached the good news. God miraculously worked through us” (Luke 10:1–17).
This was Jesus’ model for discipleship then and it continues to be His plan for discipleship today. Since Jesus had a model, shouldn’t we?
Next week, we examine the journey of John Wesley, one of the most prolific preachers in Church history, and see just how important even he found the intentional, prescriptive process of discipleship to be.