Friday, February 15, 2008

God's calling to the church Part 4

View part 1
View part 2
View part 3

The fourth calling for the church is to make disciples. I discuss this thoroughly in Organic Disciplemaking

Jesus called the church to go and make disciples of all the peoples. Mt. 28. A disciple is a student. Ancient rabbis spent years with their disciples, teaching their way of life, their understanding of scripture, and how to teach it to others. Like Jesus, they often lived with their disciples for extended periods. The process of discipleship was a complete shaping of a new rabbi—a passing on of everything the rabbi had; his character, his knowledge, his values, and his wisdom. Ancient Jewish discipleship was an educational process, but it contained much more than our modern concept of education. Rabbis transmitted biblical knowledge, but the close association in daily life also transmitted elements not found in books. The rabbi sought to transmit his outlook, wisdom, and character. This was personalized education where two men formed a close, trusting relationship. Within that relationship, the rabbi could sense inner spiritual needs in his disciple and minister to those. The idea was to produce a certain kind of person. The intensive personal attention in this style of training dictated that a rabbi focus on only a few disciples at a time.

Jesus apparently took this model and used it fully, even expanding on the norm. He lived and traveled with the twelve, and seems to have focused even more on the top three: James, John, and Peter. Although some New Testament authors refer to all Christians as disciples (in the sense that they are all followers of Christ), the majority use refers to those who were trainees of a specific teacher.

The same seems to be true of Paul (the only apostle for whom we have extensive biographical information). Right from the beginning, Paul worked at discipleship. After his three-year stay in Damascus, he had to escape by being lowered from the city walls. According to Acts 9:25 it was “his disciples” who lowered him in a basket.

Later, Paul lived and traveled with numerous young men and at least one married couple, teaching them his extraordinary body of knowledge, both in the Old Testament scriptures (where he was an expert) but also from the amazing revelations he had been given by God. They also got the chance to see Paul at work in the field, and no-doubt participated with him in actual ministry situations. This kind of field training could develop skills and understanding in a way no classroom could. Paul was in a position to see with his own eyes how younger workers ministered. That would lead to the best kind of coaching and feedback.

More than 30 men and women are mentioned by name as fellow-workers with Paul. It seems likely that many of these were discipled by Paul, and there may have been others not mentioned. In a ministry spanning roughly 30 years, Paul could easily have raised up 30 or more disciples.

In one famous passage, Paul instructs his favorite disciple, Timothy, to carry on the work of discipleship:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Tim. 2:2)

We can see Paul was concerned with duplicating disciples down through 4 generations: 1) himself 2) Timothy 3) “reliable men” and 4) “others.” From this single verse, we see clearly that Paul used personal discipleship as a conscious strategy for developing leadership in the early church. He also urged women to disciple other women (Tit. 2:3), a practice unknown in Judaism.

In the New Testament church, where there were no seminaries or graduate schools of theology, the church’s leadership was apparently all raised up by a process of personal discipleship. In the absence of any mention of other means for raising up leadership, we can only suppose that such discipleship was likely not just the main means, but the only means used. Apparently not only leaders, but most Christians were discipled at some level in the early church. Paul says, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” (Col. 1:28).


Anonymous said...

It's clear that discipleship is a key calling to the church. The question I have is how is it best done? During Jesus and Paul's time, their disciples devoted their lives to the ministry. They spent hours together every day. Today, the people we're asking to disciple work full time jobs, have spouses and children, etc. What is the best way to accomplish true discipleship in this situation?

Dennis said...

There's no reason Christians in today's world can't find time to have a lunch or weekend time with a young believer to read, share, and pray together. If we claim that we can't even find enough time for that, we might as well give up the idea of Christianity all together. Jesus is not going to fit into our world-centered lifestyle without any disruption.

Anonymous said...

My thought was never to claim there is no time. The issue is making the time. Jesus ans Paul were able to spend hours every day with their disciples and that's just not possible with people who are not full time church employees. I guess my point is that we have to be more diligent to make the time for discipleship, not less committed because we're busy. I'm looking for more creative ways to fit this in to our schedules.