Friday, April 25, 2014

Rethinking Discipleship: You’re Simply Qualified!

What qualifies a person to make disciples? 
Depending on who you ask, you’re sure to get different answers. I tell my Perspective students all the time that only two things qualify us to “make disciples” – obedience and the Holy Spirit. That's my answer and I'm sticking to it.

If, plausibly, that is all that qualifies a person to make disciples, why don’t we see more Christians making disciples? 

If it was that simple, you would think that many more us who call ourselves Christ followers would be following Jesus instruction to “make disciples,” right? That is after all what Jesus did do and instructed us to do. But only 1 in 100 Christians have any meaningful role in disciple-making (see Jason Mandryk - The State of the Gospel)

If we just doubled the number of disciples being made each year, we would quickly see the world transformed, the Great Commission completed and the “end” come (Matthew 24:14), just like he wanted – simple. 

The good news is that it is really is that simple. 

It was that simple for the woman at the well. Many Samaritans came to faith due to the simple testimony of a scorned woman who had an encounter with Jesus. Many more came to faith after meeting Jesus (John 4:39-41). 

It was that simple for the demoniac who had a transformational encounter with Jesus. After meeting Jesus, he simply went and told others about whom he had met and “all the people were amazed.” (Mark 5:20). While we don’t know how many came to faith, we do know this newly transformed man was widely admired (the Greek sense of the word amazed). 

It wasn’t who these people were that made the difference, which made them qualified. It was who Jesus is that makes all the difference in the world! 

Allow me to suggest some reasons why many Christians are not making disciples today. It’s really not very complicated. 

First, many Christians have not had a power encounter with the Living Lord, like the above two accounts. That’s not their fault. Millions are born into a “Christian” home and enculturated into a Christian faith, taught to follow a Christian ethic and perform Christian duties – daily Bible reading, a quiet time with the Lord, go to church on Sunday, pray and live a godly life. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of those things, in and of themselves - unless we're content with that.

Second, the ecclesiological model of the last 150 years short-circuited missional potential. Why do only 1 out of 100 Christians have meaningful role in making disciples? Could it be that the top down approach toward discipleship, the distinction between clergy and laity, the professionalization of the Gospel, placed limits, whether real or perceived, on what it meant to be a disciple and make disciples? The expectation for going and sharing became “bring a friend to church.” If and when that instruction was followed, the non-reproducing pattern would simply repeat itself. 

Third, systematic theology largely replaced a compelling love (2 Corinthians 5:14) and passion for Jesus. This effected how evangelism was done. Evangelism,which should be considered the first step in discipleship, became a 13 week study program, replete with illustrations and memorized scriptures, taking an “unsaved” person from a question to a rational decision. Evangelism became other than simply focused on who Jesus is always and what he has done eternally and became a road to lead people to a guilt decision, which later became ineffective as the American culture changed from Christian to post-Christian. 

Evangelism, while it was believed necessary became little practiced, in our culture of 'tolerance' and enlightenment. Many felt inadequate in their apologetic, so they remained silent. In his article entitled, Bad Reasons Not to Evangelize, Stephen Matteson points out that “Since spirituality is often considered private and personal, such discussions are avoided at all costs—especially with those who don’t share our beliefs and worldviews.” Many chose to listen to the culture rather than obey Jesus.

Then, it became more about service projects, with the unspoken idea that people will ask us why we are doing the things we are doing, which too often turned out to be short-sighted and not very helpful. This is not to devalue the important work of community development, there is much great work going on. But over this was laid the idea that we needed to earn the right to share a 'Gospel' message, which was then seldom done, instead of simply sharing Jesus naturally.

Somehow, over the past half century, discipleship then became an inwardly focused self-improvement program, for the best life now, instead of a joy-filled reality of living for a Person who defines everything and compels us to share his life with others. Is it any wonder than that so few, who said they were following Jesus, actually understood what it meant to “make disciples” – and even fewer actually obeyed? 

Matteson further suggests that, “In a society that revolves around logic, science and concrete data, and within a world that values wealth, power and fame, it’s often absurd to promote such a contradictory faith—it doesn’t make sense!” But that is the beauty and transforming power of simplicity – his ways are not our ways! 

Jesus’ final instruction was simple – “Listen guys, it’s really all dependent on me, so here is what I want you to do. As you continue to live your life tell others who I am, what I did for you, and teach them to do what I instructed you to do. And, not to worry, I got you covered and will take care of the rest, Okay? (Matthew 28:18-20 paraphrase mine). 

Jesus didn’t make his requirements complicated because he knew he was dealing with simple people – a scorned woman at a well, a very troubled soul, some fisherman, a tax collector and other “sinners.” 

What qualified any of these people to do what they did – lead a village to the Lord, go and share the Good News in 10 cities, become the leader of the first church of Jerusalem (Peter), write an account of all that Jesus started to do (Matthew)? One thing, one living person, the only one who can be trusted to get it right – Jesus! 

What qualifies anyone to make disciples today? Again, two things only: obedience to Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus taught that making disciples was about simple everyday life, empowered by him! 

What is fascinating and hopeful today, is that Jesus seems to be returning his Church back to this simple model of simply following him. He did say that he was going to build his Church and nothing could stand in its way. He may be simply simplifying things to remove the many spots and blemishes from his “Bride” (Ephesians 5:27).  

We have the instruction manual, the Word of God, to follow and that it is all many need around the world to make disciples. That’s not to say we need to look to the Bible for a complex theology, created by 16th Century men, to guide us. We have the simple parables and stories Jesus taught his disciples. We need to understand the letters Paul wrote not as doctrinal constructs but as from a missionary who was simply pointing people to Jesus. 

What many have already discovered is that by keeping it simple movements to Jesus grow quickly. Because the barriers to making disciples have been removed, organic movements just like what Jesus started are taking shape in many places, just like he promised (Acts 1:8). 

David Garrison, who has mapped many Christward movements in the Muslim world, said in a recent interview that his “sincere desire is that the body of Christ in the West would learn from the body of Christ in other parts of the world that has been effective.” Movements are growing because they are simply following Jesus. 

If you are not familiar with these movements, read Movements that Change the World by Steve Addison and visit 

It’s that simple! We are qualified to make disciples by our obedience and the Holy Spirit. It’s simply what living sent today is all about!

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