OK, let’s be clear from the outset.
To be a disciple is to be a student of a teacher.
To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn from Him.
This learning and growing process is known as discipleship.
I imagine for the majority of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, discipleship involves some or all of the following – meeting with other believers, reading the Bible regularly, praying, going to church, meeting with a mentor, doing a short-course on an aspect of the Christian faith, listening to podcasting preachers, reading Christian books, talking about spiritual things with Christian friends, being involved in a small group, volunteering in a ministry at church and maybe even using Christian buzz words like ‘journey’, ‘organic’, ‘missional’ and ‘emerging’.
Most of these are excellent. They’re great and important. They help us grow in our faith. They allow us to gain a better understanding of the nature of God and the power and presence of Jesus. They help to build real and authentic (OK… another buzz word) community and inspire us into a deeper faith.
Yet, when I look at the discipleship ‘journey’ that Jesus took with 12 young guys, I wonder if we’re missing something in the discipleship package we’re sold today. Yes they prayed together, ate together, were part of a mentoring relationship and listened to cracker sermons (from Jesus Himself!). But all of this happened within the context of a much larger picture. There was a purpose that led to something greater than their own faith development: the faith of others. AKA Mission.
From the outset Jesus equipped, prepared, challenged and released His followers into mission.
It was mission-focused discipleship.
A discipleship that was geared more towards the needs of others than their own. It was a kind of discipleship that required them to be active and to work out their faith in the daily grind. It was this kind of discipleship that grew some uneducated country fishermen into ‘missionaries’ committed to spreading the Good News to people who hadn’t heard it. Mission was not an added, optional, “Would you like fries with that?”’ extra. Rather, it was completely integrated into their discipleship. Just like your veggie patch needs light, food and water to survive, our discipleship is nurtured, fed and grown by engagement with others in mission.
Discipleship is the vital activity of believers around the world. In fact, it’s the model of mission Jesus has given us from the start. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 emphasises the making of disciples as the primary activity for believers. Jesus Himself showed us the way as He led His disciples, while in Acts and throughout the rest of the New Testament believers continued to grow their faith in all the different places and cultures they lived in.
I wonder what part mission plays in your understanding and experience of discipleship? It may mean joining a new sporting team or club or being more intentional with your time, resources and language at uni, work or mother’s group or engaging with other cultures to see where God is already working and how you might be able to join Him.
If the job that Jesus left us with is really about being disciples who make disciples, then it applies whether we are here in Australia or in a far corner of the world. If we follow Jesus’ model of discipleship, then no matter the number of books we read, sermons we listen to or mentoring sessions we slot into our week, something will always be missing if it isn’t wrapped up in mission. And while this can seem impossibly daunting, even simple things like starting a soccer match or joining a Tai Chi class can be used by God not only to make more disciples but to help deepen our own experience as disciples as well.
Originally published in Resonate (ed. 20), a publication of Global Interaction.