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What is Discipleship?

This video was certainly made to make a point – but I like it mostly because it asks a really good question. They frame it in different ways, but really, the bottom line of what they’re asking is “What does it look like to make disciples?”

Does it look like a big building and lots of programs? Does it look like a soup kitchen or a Bible study? Are disciples made in a Sunday morning service or over coffee at Tim Hortons?

And furthermore, how are you and I supposed to be involved in the whole process? What is our own discipleship look like? Is it faithfully attending church every Sunday? Is it signing up for a small group Bible study? Is it going for coffee with a mentor every second Wednesday?

What does it look like to be a disciple? And what does it look like to make disciples?

Because that really is the core of what Jesus has called us to do. I think that’s the main reason why we are still on this planet. We are called both to be disciples and to make disciples.

So exactly what does that look like?

Two Sundays ago, we baptized Allison and Lisa – and they declared in front of all of us by being baptized, that they desire to be a disciple of Jesus. And I know that many of you have made that same declaration – either through public baptism or through just your own personal resolution.

So what do we need to do? What do Lisa and Allison need to do now – to be disciples of Jesus Christ? How does that actually play out in their lives? How does that all play out in our lives?

Well, it’s those questions that are exactly I want to explore in the next few weeks as we look at “Discipleship that Fits”. 

I think most of us would agree that Jesus calls us to make disciples. I think we’ve heard that often enough. But I think we struggle with figuring out exactly how we do that. In fact, I’d argue that many of us struggle just to understand what it really means to be a disciple.

So to help us work through all this, here’s my plan for the next several weeks. First of all, I want to bring some clarity to what it means to be a disciple – that’ll be my main focus for this week. But then, in the weeks to follow, I want to look at some practical ways for us to be discipled and to make disciples within five different contexts of life.

And I’ll explain all that a little later – but my framework for these messages is coming from a book I read some time ago called ‘Discipleship that Fits’ and I’ll be borrowing quite a bit of my content from those pages. Don’t worry – the Bible is still very much the foundation for everything I’m going to say, but this book has just helped me organize my presentation of those Biblical truths. You’re welcome to read the book yourself – it’s a pretty easy read and of course, is very Biblically based.

So in order to clarify exactly, what is a disciple, I think perhaps the best place to start is with the great commission. This is the passage where Jesus’ original disciples are directly commanded to go and make disciples. It’s found in Matthew 28 – starting at verse 18. To give you the context of this passage, Jesus has just risen from the dead, he has appeared to his disciples, and he’s about to return to his Father in Heaven. And so Matthew is about to conclude his whole account of Jesus’ life on earth with these final sentences from Jesus. This is what it says:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

In this passage we can find four key concepts that help us understand what this whole discipleship process is all about. In fact, you can summarize all four concepts in a simple, easy-to-remember statement: discipleship is about helping people trust and follow Jesus. That’s the phrase I want you to remember today: Helping people trust and follow Jesus.

I think that could very well be our church slogan – but before I get ahead of myself, let me explain the four concepts that we find in this simple statement based from what we just read here in the great commission.

The first element is found in verse 19 where we have the phrase “Go and make disciples.” This is clearly something that we are to do. Jesus intends for this to be a priority on our to-do list. This is something that we are to put effort into doing.

Now certainly God is ultimately the one who is at work in people’s lives, but he has invited and even commanded us to be part of the process. We are to “help people trust and follow Jesus.”

I think that word ‘help’ conveys that idea of balancing what we do and what God does. We are clearly not to throw our hands up and leave it all to God. Many Christians have done that and they simply don’t put any effort into reaching the lost or helping one another grow in our relationship with God. But that sure doesn’t sound like we’re fulfilling Jesus’ command to “Go and make disciples.” I think if Jesus wanted us to just throw our hands up, we would have said something like “Sit back and watch how I make disciples.” That’s not what Jesus said – He said “Go and make disciples.”

And at the same time, we need to be careful that we don’t take it all into our hands. I think the church has been guilty of that at times too, where we try leave God out of the equation and we try to coherce or even force people to trust and follow Jesus. The crusades might be an extreme example of that kind of approach. But that’s sure not what Jesus meant by “go and make disciples”.

And I think that’s why the second concept in this statement is so important to note.

Following Jesus requires trusting Jesus. We need to help people trust and follow Jesus. We get this idea from verse 19 which says… “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Baptism is a visual representation of our trust in Jesus. As we talked about two weeks ago with Lisa and Allison – baptism is a choice. It shows that they are willingly choosing to trust Jesus. To trust Him with their salvation. To trust him with their day to day lives. To trust him with their future. You can’t force trust. But you can sure help build it.

And that’s a major part of making disciples. It’s helping people see that they really can trust Jesus. And of course, there’s so many ways to help them do that.

Teaching the Bible is key. The stories in the Bible and the promises of God that we find in it’s pages are huge ways to help people learn to trust Jesus. That one of the reasons I love preaching through the stories of some of those Old Testament Kings and the judges and all those other great characters. They show us that we can trust God.

Another great way we learn to trust Jesus is by seeing and hearing the answers to prayer. When we see God’s involvement and his care and his provision in our lives – all of that leads us to trust him more. That’s one of the reason why I love hearing people share their testimonies – those stories from people right here in our church show and reinforce in our minds just how trustworthy God is.

And actually, even our own trustworthiness as we grow to be like Jesus gives evidence to the people around us of God’s trustworthiness. If our neighbours see that we, as followers of Jesus, are trustworthy – then maybe Jesus is trustworthy too. So that’s all a part of discipleship.

It’s so important that we help people trust Jesus. Because only when they trust him, will they follow him.

And that’s the third concept in this passage. Verse 20 tells us to “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

Trusting Jesus paves the way for us to follow Him. And we follow him by obeying him. It’s listening to what He says and going where he directs and doing what he asks us to do. If we’re not obeying Jesus, we’re not his disciples. We can’t say that we are followers of Jesus if we’re not following his instructions.

And so a big part of being a disciple is discovering what Jesus wants us to do – and then doing it. And there’s many ways that we can discover what God wants us to do.

Coming to church to hear God’s Word. Listening to podcasts or radio programs. Being a part of Sunday school. Reading and studying the Bible personally or in a group. Spending regular time in prayer alone and with others.

Those are all fantastic ways for us to learn what Jesus wants us to do – but it’ll all be useless if we don’t then act on what we’ve learned – if we don’t obey and follow what He’s asked us to do.

We need to help people (ourselves included) to trust and follow Jesus.

And maybe that’s the part of the message today that has a little bite. Do you actually follow Jesus? I know a lot you guys have read a lot of the Bible and heard a lot of sermons – I know I have – but am I following Jesus? Am I following his instructions as I’ve been discovering them? Am I obeying his commands that are clearly laid out in His Word? If I’m not following Jesus’ instructions – I’m not really following Jesus, am I?

But on that same token, I don’t what you to think that being a disciple is simply about following the rules. We follow the rules because we trust the rule-maker. Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” Discipleship is much more about a relationship than about the rules.

And that takes us to our fourth concept in this passage – and that is that discipleship revolves around being with Jesus.

In verse 20, Jesus says “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

I find it interesting that Matthew concludes his Gospel – his account of Jesus’ life – in the same way that he started it – and that is by declaring that God will be with us.

If you were to flip your Bibles back to the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, back to chapter 1, verse 23, you would read:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!

    She will give birth to a son,

and they will call him Immanuel,

    which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23

That’s how Matthew begins the story of Jesus and that’s how Matthew concludes the story of Jesus. “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

That’s really the central theme of the Bible, and so that’s most certainly the central focus of discipleship. It’s being with God. Learning from Jesus.

And I wonder how often we undertake these different ‘Christian activities’ that with goal in mind?

    • Did you come to church this morning to be with God? To learn from Jesus?
    • When you read your Bible last night, did you do it so that you could be with God and learn from Jesus?
    • When you met with your mentor for your bi-weekly meeting, did you do it so that you could be with God and learn from Jesus?
    • When you went to youth group or Bible study or Justified or any of these other church programs, did you do it so that you could be with God and learn from Jesus?

That needs to be our goal in all of these activities. I’ve mentioned before that discipleship is like apprenticeship cuz I think we tend to wrap out heads around apprenticeship a bit better than discipleship.

But if we want to become an expert plumber or electrician or whatever, we find and learn from a journeyman – someone who is an expert. And the process is pretty simple. We see what they do – and then we try it ourselves. And once we’ve given it a try under their supervision, the master can then critique and give us pointers and corrections and then we try it again. We keep doing that for years until we become as skilled as our teacher.

That’s exactly what happens in discipleship. Jesus is our journeyman – he’s our master. The author of “Discipleship that Fits” writes this:

“Being a disciple means that I model my life around that of my master. I take note of how he lives, what he says, how he says it. I tease out his motivations and values so that when I encounter new situations, I can attempt to represent him faithfully. After each new experience, I discuss with him what went on and listen to his feedback, both on what went well and what could be improved next time. And then I try it out again.” pg 21

That’s the life of a disciple. It’s constantly being with Jesus – learning from him – and then trying to live as he does. And we certainly won’t get it right every time, but that’s part of the process. When we make those mistakes, we go back to Jesus, and we ask him, “How do I do better next time?” And over time, we get it right more and more often as we become more and more like our master.

And that’s really the basic idea of what it means to be a disciple.

So I think we’ve accomplished the first two of our three goals this morning.

  • First of all, I think we have a bit more clarity on what it means to be a disciple – it’s constantly being with Jesus and learning from him. It’s apprenticeship.
  • Secondly, I think we have a better understand of the main concepts behind making disciples – that is we are to help people trust and follow Jesus.

But our big question remains: What does that look like in real life? How do we actually do this?

Well, we’re going to work through the practical side of all this in the weeks to come, but for today, I just want to briefly show you the framework by which Jesus did this.

Let me ask you a question: During Jesus’ time on earth, who did Jesus disciple? Who was it that Jesus helped to trust and follow Jesus? 

Lots of people. Not just the 12. There were hundreds – thousands even. For example, when Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish – do you think that played a part in helping anyone trust and follow him? Sure! Probably not all of them – but many of them.

Or a few weeks ago we talked about the parable of the Rich Fool. When Jesus told that parable, he was surrounded by thousands of people. Remember, there was so many they were stepping on each other. But they all heard the story and the lesson about having a rich relationship with God. Do you think that had any impact on those people? Did that play a part in helping them trust and follow Jesus? I’m sure it did. Otherwise, I’m not sure Jesus would have bothered saying anything.

So I think it’s fair to say that Jesus discipled thousands of people.

Now did he disciple them all the same way? Absolutely not.

For the crowds, he preached and told stories and did miracles – and that certainly had an impact on them. But that’s certainly not the only way that Jesus interacted with everyone. For example there was a group of about 70 people that kinda faithfully followed him around. He certainly invested more into those 70 then he did with the crowds of thousands. In fact, at one point he sent those 70 out as short term missionaries. You can read about that in Luke 10. He gave them some further training and instructions and then sent them out to all the towns that he was going to visit later. And then they came back and he debriefed with them about what happened. So this was clearly a different context for discipling these 70 than how he discipled the crowds.

And then of course, within that 70 was the 12 disciples. These are the 12 guys that Jesus really poured into. He lived life with these guys for three years. That was a very different context than with the crowds or with the 70. These guys got to know Jesus as a close friend and they learned from him in a very different ways.

And even within the 12, Jesus had three that were like the inner circle. Peter, James & John were present when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. It was those three that he invited to come pray with him in the garden before he was arrested and crucified. These guys got to see Jesus like no one else did.

So there were at least four different contexts – four different types of relationships that Jesus had by which he helped people trust and follow Him. But there is also one other type of relationship that Jesus had – and that was his relationship with his Father. Jesus spent much time alone in prayer with God. We see those little verse scattered throughout the Gospels that say things like:

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” Mark 1:35

“One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.” Luke 6:12

Clearly his relationship with his Heavenly Father was another key relationship – a key context. It was really the foundation for all of his other relationships.

So here’s what we end up with. I don’t know if this will show up on the powerpoint very well, but for those who are visual learners, here’s what it looks like. 

  • We have Jesus and the crowds – that’s the public context.
  • We have Jesus and the 70 – that’s the social context.
  • We have Jesus and the 12 – that’s the personal context.
  • We have Jesus and the 3 – that’s the transparent context.
  • And finally, we have Jesus and the Father – that’s the divine context.

And we’re going to get into more detail in the weeks to come about each of those different contexts and what they may look like for us, but everyone of us has those same contexts in our life. We have those same types of relationships.

And the final point that I want to leave you with today is that God uses every single context in our discipleship process. Each one of those five are important.

We talked earlier a bit about the apprenticeship process. Well, imagine if someone wanted to learn to be a carpenter, but they only attend the classroom sessions. You know when you go into a carpentry apprenticeship, you have those 10 weeks of classes, and then 40 weeks of on the job experience? Well, imagine if someone only ever went to the classes. They never swing a hammer, they never put up a wall, they never use a table saw. Do you think they’d really understand carpentry? Would you ever consider them to be a skilled carpenter, ready to teach the next generation of carpenters? I doubt it.

But now imagine a who person had a dad who was a carpenter. And even as a kid, that person got to try to hit the nail with the hammer or cut up bits of wood with his little saw? And then what if that person took a woodworking course in high school – built a little bird house or a little wooden car? And then what if that person enrolled in that carpentry apprenticeship and those those weeks of class, and then they went out and spend the next 40 weeks working with a house builder. And then after four years of that, what if that guy got a job working with a cabinet maker and started building those really fine fancy cabinets.

Do you think that guy would now be a skilled carpenter – would he be ready to teach the next generation of carpenters?

Well, the same principle applies to discipleship. We can’t just rely on one context for all our discipleship needs. For example, if your are relying on your Sunday morning church service to be the sole source of spiritual growth – and you neglect your personal time with God and you neglect having those mentor-type people in your life…. If Sunday morning is the only context where you learn to trust and follow Jesus…. Do you think you fully understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Do you think you’re really ready to teach the next generation of disciples?

God wants to use every one of these contexts for helping us learn from him, to be grow in our understanding and our ability to follow him. And at the same time, he also wants to use each one of those context for us to help others trust and follow Jesus.

We started off this morning with the question:

“What does it look like to make disciples?”

Does it look like a big building and lots of programs? Does it look like a soup kitchen or a Bible study? Are disciples made in a Sunday morning service or over coffee at Tim Hortons?

Is it faithfully attending church every Sunday? Is it signing up for a small group Bible study? Is it going for coffee with a mentor every second Wednesday?

And the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. God uses all of those things in all those different context help us grow in our relationship with him as well as helping others do likewise. Each context is important.

So next Sunday we are going to start looking at the first context – the Public context to see how God uses that in our lives and how we have a responsibility in that context to help others trust and follow Jesus.

So I hope you’re excited about all this – I know I am. I think we all want to be people who make disciples – we want to be faithful to what God has called us to do – we want to be a church that helps people trust and follow Jesus. And I think these next few week will really help us learn how to do that.

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