I’ve been co-teaching a three-semester Systematic Theology class at my church for the last 18 months. (And it has been a BLAST! If you’re in the area, I highly recommend joining us the next time we teach it.) Our class is coming to an end in a couple of weeks, and one of our students asked, “So, what’s next?”
While we do have some ideas on classes we want to offer in January, my mind keeps coming back to discipleship.
Kandi Gallaty defines discipleship this way:
Discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.
The reason we teach scripture and theology (and are students of them ourselves) is not just so our students will know everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That’s not the Great Commission. We teach the Bible so our students will obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That is the Great Commission.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.Matthew 28:18-20
Specifically, we need to teach our students to obey Jesus’ command to go and make disciples (that’s the “replicate” part in the definition of discipleship).
Some of our students are already discipling others, praise the Lord! But some aren’t. For a myriad of reasons that no longer include, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to disciple someone else.”
It kills me that many of us teach the Word but never get around to lovingly, but insistently, pushing our people to obey it!
Sure, when we speak to a class of 30 or a group of 80 we hope they will take away a truth that they will then apply to their lives that week, but we can’t know that they do… Because groups that large don’t lend themselves to accountability.
In other words, we are only capable of partial discipleship in large group settings. We can intentionally equip believers with the Word of God in large groups…but we can’t have effective accountable relationships, without which our students might, but probably won’t, replicate faithful followers of Christ.
The essential accountability factor is only consistently possible in one-on-one or very small groups (3-5ish people). This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where we can teach them to obey all Jesus has commanded us. Including, but not limited to, them discipling others, eventually.
It’s not rocket science. But it’s also not easy.
Discipling and being discipled on a small scale require vulnerability, commitment, a teachable heart, dependence upon the Holy Spirit for direction and sanctification, and, oh, yeah, TIME.
These are all legitimate concerns people raise in the form of excuses for why they aren’t discipling others or being discipled by someone. (And I say that as someone who has used all of them on many occasions.)
The actual reasons we don’t participate in real discipleship are because we are afraid, and we are just a tad self-centered. (These are the same reasons we don’t evangelize.)
We don’t really want to spend our precious Netflix and Oreos time on other people! Especially if it is going to get uncomfortable.
But if we don’t prioritize discipling people who will disciple other people, we are in direct disobedience of Jesus Christ.
Let that sink in a minute.
The shock of that statement ought to make all of our excuses for not participating in discipleship fade away faster than I can eat ten Double Stuf Oreos (I don’t even know why they still make Single Stuf).
Are you scared? That’s fine, Jesus didn’t say you have to be fearless.
Do you not have time? Uh, yeah, you do. Find it. Start by looking in the Netflix directory.
Do you not know how? Ask someone who does. Read a book on the subject.
Do you not have anyone to disciple or to disciple you? Uh, yeah, you do. Ask God to bring you people. Sit back. Eat some Oreos. Pay attention.
Even if you’ve never read the Bible, you qualify to be discipled by someone. There are, in fact, no pre-requisites at all.
Even if you’ve never taken Systematic Theology, if you have a general grasp on the Bible and a general understanding that it’s better to obey God than to not obey God, you qualify to disciple someone.
Stop waiting. Start now.