16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him. Mark 1:16-18
Over the past several weeks, we’ve defined discipleship as the process of helping people trust and follow Jesus. We drew that definition out of the great commission in Matthew 28, where Jesus instructed his disciples to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching to obey all that Jesus had taught. So as we looked at that passage, we came to the conclusion that discipleship is all about helping people trust and follow Jesus.
But now this morning, I want to give you another definition. We’ve defined: what is discipleship? But now I want to define: what is a disciple? And I realize there is certainly going to be come overlap in these two definitions – but I think this will help us gain a clearer picture of what a disciple actually is. And based on this passage that we just read, this is the definition I would give you.
“A disciple is following Jesus, is being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus.”
I think those three elements are key aspects of true discipleship.
- A disciple follows Jesus – we talked about that when we defined discipleship. It starts with trust – because only when we trust Him, that will we follow Him. That’s why discipleship is helping people trust and follow Jesus.
- A disciple is being changed by Jesus. In the NLT translation, Jesus says “I will show you how to fish for people” – but the more literal translations of that passage make it a bit clearer that Jesus is inviting them to be changed. The ESV says “I will make you fishers of men.” And the NET says “I will turn you into fishers of people.” So there’s clearly a process of change here. That’s important for us to remember as we think about out own discipleship today. We can’t stay the same as we follow Jesus. If we’re not changing, we’re probably not following.
- A disciple is committed to the mission of Jesus. Jesus is inviting us to do exactly what he is doing. Our mission is his mission – and that is to make fishers of men. To make disciples who will make disciple who will make disciples.
And so if we are a disciple of Jesus – those three things are happening. We are following Jesus, we are being changed by Jesus, and we are committed to the mission of Jesus.
Now I realize that I’ve pretty much just given you an entire sermon super condensed into one minute – I probably should have taken a whole message to work through all that – but I wanted to give you that definition as we begin to look at the next context of discipleship.
If you’re just joining us today, are a mid-way through a series of messages called “Discipleship that Fits”. We recognize that Jesus has called us to be disciples and to make disciples, but we’re not always sure exactly how to do that. And because our world and our culture and our circumstances are different from Jesus’ – we can’t mimic Jesus exactly in how he made disciples. We sure can’t walk on water or raise people from the dead or have 12 men follow us around everywhere. But we can certainly learn the patterns and and principles that Jesus used in the discipleship process and apply to them to our own unique situations today.
And so we’ve been looking at the five contexts where Jesus made disciples. These are the five kinds of relationships that Jesus had where discipleship happened.
So far we’ve looked a the public context and the social context. And now today, we’re going to look at the personal context.
So just to give you a quick recap – the public context is typically when we are gathered in groups of 100 or more. Examples of Jesus making disciples in this context would be when he preached to the crowds, or did miracles in the marketplaces or on the mountainside – or all the parables that Jesus told. Certainly that played a part in helping many people trust and follow Jesus. A good example of our modern equivalent would be the Sunday morning worship service where we gather to hear preaching and teaching as well as to share stories with one another of how God is at work in our lives. That too, helps people in a significant way to trust and follow Jesus.
Then last week we looked the social context – that’s more like a group of 20-70. We were reminded of all the dinner parties that Jesus attended and how he used that social context to live out the lessons that he wanted people to learn. If the public context is where Christianity is taught – the social context is where Christianity is caught. We’re not just hearing how to be a disciple – we’re seeing an example right in front of us – we might even be participating in that example. And so for a church, the social context includes everything from kids clubs to potlucks to helping at the Fall Festival to Survivor Parties – And in all these gatherings, we (and everyone else there) gets the opportunity to see how Christians live. We get to live out all those one another commandments – like “serve one another”, “have compassion on one another”, “forgive one another” – “encourage one another.” All of this helps us learn to do by doing. We get to participate in the lesson.
And now today, we’re going to take that one step further – one level deeper – as we look at the personal context.
As you might guess, discipleship in the personal context happens through personal relationships. We can be discipled by strangers in the public context, by acquaintances in the social context, but we are discipled by friends in the personal context.
The personal context is the place where we experience relational closeness, support and challenge. And this type of discipleship typically happens in groups of about 4 to 12 people.
And of course, Jesus and his 12 disciples are often considered to be the prime example of this type of discipleship in the personal context. Over the course of the 3½ years that they spent together, Jesus & the 12 developed a pretty close relationship with each other. In fact, in John 15:12, Jesus says to the disciples:
12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. John 15:12-15
Just in that passage alone, we can clearly those elements of relational closeness, support, and challenge. And I think we see that throughout Gospels as Jesus interacted with the 12. They had a unique relationship with Jesus – certainly they were often encouraged and spurred on – but they were also often challenged by Jesus, pushed out of their comfort zones and were even rebuked and corrected at times. He pushed them to act and think differently. Those sort of interactions were made possible and were very effective because of the relationship that Jesus had formed with them in the personal context.
But of course, that’s not the only example of discipleship in the personal context. I think of Daniel and his three friends – Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – or as you probably know them, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego. The four of those guys were taken from their homes in Judah – we don’t know if they knew each other before this or not – but it’s quite possible that they did. But they ended up together in Babylon as captives and in this little group they experienced relational closeness, support and challenge.
And together they went through some pretty trying circumstances.
The first was their request not to eat the King’s food because it went against what they believed as Jews. They didn’t want to defile themselves and sin against God, so together they took a risk and requested that they be fed a diet of water and vegetables – instead of eating the Kings’s food they were given. Well, God blessed them in that, and eventually, all four became very influential people in the Babylonian kingdom.
Later on, when the king has a dream that he can’t understand, he threatens to kill every wise man in Babylon if no one can tell him what his dream means. (Daniel and his friends would be part of those wise men.) So when Daniel hears about that – what does he do?
Then Daniel went home and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what had happened. 18 He urged them to ask the God of heaven to show them his mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon. Daniel 2:17-18
Again we see those elements of relational closeness, support, and challenge. These guys were Daniel’s ‘go-to’ group. When the tough stuff and the real stuff of life happened, these guys came together for support. They knew they could count on one another. And in going through that tough stuff of life together, they challenged each other to look to God. They didn’t just get together for a pity party – they challenged each other to trust in God alone! I think that’s such a great example for us.
Do you think that all contributed to their discipleship process? Do you think that helped these young men learn to trust and follow God? Absolutely. You know, it wasn’t long after this that Daniel was tossed in the lions den for not praying to the king and these other three guys got tossed into a fiery furnace for not bowing down to a statue of the king. And of course, we know how those stories turn out. But I wonder if that would have happened if they hadn’t previously connected with each other and supported one another and challenged one other in these other earlier circumstances?
And I think there are lots of other examples that we could look at too. We think we could see discipleship happening in the personal context with Jospeh and his brothers – particularly as Joseph tests them when they came to buy grain from him. Or perhaps even Noah and his family – The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of detail of family dynamics there, but I think we can safely assume after years of building a boat together and then surviving a year confined together in a floating zoo – that there would be some significant relational closeness, support, and challenge. And I’m sure that had an impact on how that family learned to trust and follow God.
Actually I think the family unit is probably the best example of this type of discipleship. In Deuteronomy six, Moses exhorts the Israelites to disciple their children. He says in verse 4:
4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9
This is exactly that discipleship looks like in the personal context.
In the book that I’ve been using for the framework of this series, the main expression they talk about for discipleship in the personal context is small groups. Everybody needs to be a part of a small group in your church. And certainly in the last 40 years, small groups have become “the thing” for true discipleship. Real disciples are in small groups.
And I agree that small groups can be really fantastic, and I certainly don’t want to discount them (in fact, I’m going to promote them here in just a minute) – but I think for a lot of us – we’re already in a small group called our family. If the personal context is defined by 4-12 people who experience relational closeness, support and challenge – I think that certainly fits the description of my family.
And I know we’re not all in that stage of life right now – but for those who are, living together as a family is an awesome opportunity to help your children trust and follow Jesus. There are so many teachable moments, so many opportunities for them see how Mom & Dad follow Jesus, so many ways for them to learn to do by doing. So I would encourage you to be really intentional about this time that you have with your kids. Like Moses instructed the Israelites, develop those habits of talking about the Bible and God and prayer and all that stuff with your kids all the time. Bring it up at bedtime and breakfast, when you go for road trips, or you’re at home doing laundry or the dishes.
No one will get to know your kids like you do. When they have struggles or tough times, no one is going to have the same opportunity to support them and encourage them and point them to Jesus like you can. And at the same time, no one else will be able to challenge them to grow and to change and to follow Jesus the way you can. You have a unique responsibility and opportunity to make disciples of your own kids. So take advantage of this small group that you get to lead for the next 18 or so years.
But on that same note, I also want to encourage you to be part of some sort of small group beyond just your family. As parents, we get to pour into our kids in this personal context, but we also need some others to pour into us.
We need a few adults in our lives with whom we can experience that relational closeness, support and challenge. In other words, we need a few good trusted friends that we like being around, that can support us as we go through hard times, and can challenge us to grow and to trust and follow Jesus.
Many people in our culture have never experienced close relationships. They don’t have those trusted friends with whom they can talk about their struggles or how they’re really feeling or what they hope & dream about. They never experience true Christian fellowship.
And that’s a tragedy! God designed us for fellowship. Yesterday at Lisa & Ryan’s wedding I mentioned how in Genesis 2:18, God declared,
“It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18
And of course, God was speaking particularly of Adam needing Eve – but I think that statement applies in a much broader sense as well. We’re designed to live in relationships. It is not good for man to be alone.
And that’s all the more true in the process of making disciples. So many people believe that their relationship with God is a personal thing. That simply can’t be true. Probably the biggest part about learning to follow Jesus is learning how to love people like he did.
We read in John 15:12 earlier:
12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. John 15:12
That’s discipleship. It’s learning to love each other. And by definition, we can only do that in relationships. You can’t love someone without some sort of relationship with them.
Bobby Harrington writes:
“Discipleship is about more than just learning facts and repeating information. It’s about learning to apply the Gospel to our lives and, along with others, working out the implications of Jesus’ teachings at a personal, practical level.” ~ Bobby Harrington: Discipleship that Fits
And I think that’s why families are the perfect context for this type of discipleship. Where else is a better place to learn forgiveness and mercy and patience and all that other stuff? If you can learn to love your brothers and sisters the way Jesus loves you – man, you can probably love anybody!
But we sure don’t want that learning process to stop once we’ve grown up and left the house. We need to find another context where we have that relational closeness, support, and challenge. And I don’t think we get that simply from showing up at church or even participating in potlucks.
We need to intentionally become part of a group where we can be discipled in the personal context. This aspect of our discipleship process is too important to leave to chance – and hope that, somewhere along the way, it happens. Because it won’t. As we’ve already mentioned, this is pretty counter-cultural. Most of us are much too busy to take the time necessary to develop those deep family-like relationships where we can be supported and challenged.
Yet, this is a necessary part of the discipleship process. We’ve got to make this a priority.
So what am I proposing? Well, I’m not sure yet. There are hundreds of books out there about small groups and how to start a small group program in your church. But I’m not fully convinced that that’s the answer for us. Maybe it is – but I’m not convinced yet.
As I’ve been working through this, the sense I get is that this is something that you guys need to take ownership of. I don’t think that you need me to announce some new fantastic small group program that you all need to sign up for.
But I would hope, that if there are a few of you here that have caught the vision for this and you’ve seen the importance of discipleship in the personal context, that you will take the initiative to maybe start your own small group of sorts – whatever that might look like.
Maybe you want to invite a few other moms over for coffee each Thursday morning. Or maybe you want to plan to meet with the guys for wings Wednesday nights. Maybe you just want to partner with another family and plan for supper together every second Sunday night. Or whatever else you dream up!
But don’t just make it a social event. I mean, even that would be something – but why waste the opportunity to make disciples and to be discipled?
At the very beginning of this message, we defined a disciple as one who:
“A disciple is following Jesus, is being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus.”
We’re certainly going to revisit that definition in the weeks to follow, but for today, what can you do, in the time you spend together in this personal context, to help one another be a disciple? Maybe it’s simply praying together? Can you imagine if the whole group of us met in small groups throughout the week and just prayed for each other and for our church and for our community? That would be awesome! Do you think that would change us? Do you think that would impact how we follow Jesus? Do you think that would keep us focused on the mission of Jesus? Absolutely!
Maybe you’ll get together for an hour to drink coffee or eat wings or whatever else you come up with – but if you just spent 10 minutes of that time each week praying for each other – what an impact that would make!
And maybe you want to take it even further. Maybe you want to base your group around a 45 minute Bible study or maybe you want to serve the community in some way – (maybe visiting the old folks home or shovelling snow or walking around town picking up garbage.)
The sky is the limit as to what you might want to do – but as you get together regularly and consitently, beginning to develop that family-like relational closeness with others where you can support and challenge one another – and if you’re doing it so that you can be changed by Jesus as you follow him and carry out his mission – this is going to have a dramatic impact on your relationship with Christ and with others. This is life-changing stuff.
Just the other day Heather was mentioning to me what an impact her ladies Bible study at the Innisfail Baptist Church made on her years ago. And it wasn’t so much the lessons learned in the study, but it was the lessons learned from the ladies as they learned together.
I know for myself, one of favourite experiences in life was hosting a weekly get-together for a bunch of the camp staff and campers. We played together, studied the Bible together, prayed together, and ate a lot of deep-fried food together. It was awesome! And those friendships that we made have followed us for years after we left the camp – in fact, many have followed us into this church today.
Those relationships have been a major part of our discipleship process and they really have impacted the entire course of our lives. Discipleship in the personal context is powerful stuff.
So if this sounds like something that you want to be part of, I’d say there are two things you could do.
#1. You can just take the initiative and start something. Invite a few people to join you and just start getting together with the purpose of developing those friendships and being discipled together.
or #2. If you’re not sure how to get going, come talk to me or send me a text. I’d be happy to either get you connected with an existing group or help you figure out how to start a group of your own.
But I’d just really encourage you to find a handful of people that you can begin to get to know in a deeper way and can help each other follow Jesus, be changed by Jesus, and to carry out his mission of making disciples.