By Shannon Youell
“Seriously, me, a brand new believer with next to no church exposure, a discipler!”
Two weeks ago, I made this comment in our blog article “The Discipler’s Journey.” It seemed somehow wrong to me as a new believer that my teachers and mentors would say we disciple one another. I didn’t know anything! I had no understanding of how to read the Bible as narrative; what hermeneutics was; why it was important to always, always understand the context in which a particular verse was in; no clue as to whether I was pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, does-it-really-matter-trib, or will I be one of the surprised “left-behinders” (which gives you a bit of a clue in which decade I became a Christian)!
But then last week, Cailey, who works with me in Church Planting, read me something that caught my attention: “We must be disciples who make disciples.”
Fake it Til you Make it?
Years ago while in a doctor’s waiting room, I picked up a business magazine and was reading an article on the art of schmoozing. The author suggested that the way to get people’s attention in various fields is to have some sense of the ‘cultural’ language of the crowd: learn everything you can in a few hours about architecture for example. Not that you’d know how to draw, plan or design the Coliseum, but just enough language to sound like you do.
This idea of being a disciple who is able to make disciples made me think of that article. Often we use the correct language of how to make disciples without ever really being one ourselves.
So then I have to ask myself: Am I a disciple?
Here are some postures I believe I need to take to journey as a disciple of Jesus.
1: Am I a Learner?
“The illiterate of the 21st century are not those who can’t read and write but those who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn” (Alvin Toffler).
The Greek word translated “disciple” is mathetes and means “a committed learner.”
When I was growing up, my dad’s goal was to make me a committed learner, a life-long learner. He was and I am. Committed learners recognize there is always something to learn, something to unlearn and something to relearn. Indeed when Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be ‘reborn’, he was not, as Nicodemus questioned, suggesting he climb back in! It was a euphemism suggesting that he needed to unlearn what he was so sure he knew and relearn it by the Spirit and the waters of dying to self and emerging as learners of Christ.
The first thing we need to ask ourselves is are we learners? Are we willing to have what we think challenged, deconstructed and reframed? Sadly, often we are not. Those followers that eventually abandoned Jesus along the way usually fled because He challenged something in their understanding of God and His Kingdom—they weren’t willing to allow their thinking to stand the test of deconstruction and reframing. And to their loss, because the journey with Jesus is an unending unfolding of revelation, truth and wisdom.
Being a learner also means being humble enough and gracious enough to believe that every person I encounter has something to teach me, regardless of their status or education or tenure in the faith. That’s what my first disciplers and mentors were open to….they could say we discipled one another because they were willing to not be teachers who lord it over people but servants who journey alongside in the everydayness of ordinary life.
2: Am I a Follower?
It may seem nitpicky to ask this. Some Christians equate being a convert to Christianity with being a follower of Jesus. Although that is part of our response to Jesus’ call to come and follow Hm, and is our entry point for sure, they are not exactly equatable.
Jesus’ call to follow Him had nothing to do with following Him to a church service. Jesus’ call to follow Him meant following Him as Rabbi/Teacher in every area of life and giving Him access to every area of life. As well as being a person who is willing to unlearn what I feel sure I already know, and be teachable, I also need to be a person who actually follows Jesus–meaning I am continually submitting to Him as not just Saviour but also Lord of my life and I am increasingly representing Him in my attitudes, behaviors and actions.
I once heard a speaker on discipleship who said that being a disciple meant that we look more and more like Jesus while still being ourselves.
The lyric that is running through my brain right now is from the musical Godspell:
Oh dear Lord three things I pray/to see you more clearly/to love you more dearly/to follow you more nearly/day by day
The nearer I am to Jesus in my following, the more I will understand His Kingdom vision and my place in it .
3. Am I Accountable?
The discipleship model we attribute to Jesus was the common means in the Jewish-Rabbinic tradition of training, preparing and shaping people to continue living life in the Jewish-faith-way. He was not doing anything radical when He called people to follow Him and be His disciples. He wasn’t doing anything new and improved by spending most of His time with them, living among them, eating and drinking with them. Discipleship was done life on life. This means the good, the bad and the ugly; not the me that I present to others.
Disciples recognize the journey of sanctification is just that: a lifelong journey. Discipleship means an ongoing tension between the person we want to be and the person we are. Character needs to be shaped and developed over time by people who care deeply for us. Most people tend to shy away from that type of character development. And in our world today, it is very easy to dismiss those we trust and have walked with when they lovingly confront our own character weaknesses.
Jesus worked with His own disciples to shape and develop their character. Because they knew He loved them, they were able to get beyond what felt like criticism and see themselves through the lens of others; they were accountable. And they allowed the Spirit to do the work necessary for them to begin to form character that produces fruitfulness.
When I ask myself, am I a disciple, I must also ask myself if I am willing to be open, truthful and vulnerable with the people discipling me? Am I willing to allow them to speak into my life in the hard things, the closely-held convictions and seeming-absolute things, the fears and assumptions and worldview things, the not-quite-sin-but-not-good-for-me habits and the “you’ve got potential for bigger things” things?
I love King David’s prayer in Psalm 139 as a heart prayer of a disciple:
Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life (Psalm 139:23-24, The Message).
Discipleship, then is as much a matter of the heart as it is knowing the Scriptures, praying and participating in church gatherings. These three questions test my heart, my character, and my understanding. Next time we will look at three more positions that grow us in our competency as co-workers with Christ.