2 Peter 3:18 says, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." A great many churches are satisfied with drawing as many people as they can through the doors, typically appealing to the flesh rather than relying upon Christ. They are able to get a good amount to make some kind of profession to follow Christ at some point and in some way. Rarely, are many of those who profess Christ brought to any degree of Biblical maturity as far as knowing Christ. They may learn their spiritual gifts and join a particular ministry, but too often sound classes or studies with sound doctrine are not made a priority. Yet other churches rely solely on right doctrine to model growth and change. Is God’s Word sufficient to the task? Absolutely, it is, but we need to remember that Jesus’ discipleship involved both teaching and modeling. Jesus had the disciples observe His lifestyle, decisions, and actions. He picked opportune times to give direct instruction to them, making a point, rebuking them, or encouraging them. He also commissioned them to go out and witness for the kingdom of God and do the work of the ministry at various points. Often times, all three were incorporated into one activity. For example, when the multitudes were fed, Christ taught them about God’s providence and faith, He told them to go and pick up all the baskets, and He let them watch Him pray to the Father for provision. Observation, direct instruction, and commissioning for service followed by godly feedback are all essential parts of discipleship. Obviously in order for all of these to happen, time must be invested and hearts must be open to growth and to have fellowship with one another. Christ called His disciples friends. Yes, it is very possible, even desirable to be friends with those whom we are attempting to disciple.
The Bible teaches that the older men are to teach the younger men and older women to teach the younger women. Of course, all learn from the preaching of the Word. Other than my father, father-in-law, and grandfathers, I don’t know how much other older men have truly and positively influenced me for Christ. With these men, I had opportunities to observe, to hear teaching, and to be challenged to serve Christ. I could bounce ideas off of them, ask them how Scripture related to various situations, and hear how God has worked in the past. It is no wonder family has profound influence on the life of a young person. The other key influences in my life have been by observing men from a distance, whether listening to sermons of men of God or reading accounts of biographies of faithful men. Yet I feel a lot of the things that could have been taught to me I had to learn on my own. This was God’s sovereign plan for me, but I am not sure that it is what He would prefer, generally speaking. It has been only in rare instances that faithful men have taken some time to encourage me in my walk. But I am grateful to each one of them, even if we only had one conversation or served together in one ministry activity, because it made a difference.
Christ chose to invest in bringing twelve men to a place of spiritual maturity so that they could be pillars of the early church, with much thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit. He did not try to woo the thousands upon thousands who followed Him around, interested only from a distance or simply because of what they might selfishly gain. Jesus believed in developing quality. He had disciples, not just regular attenders. Interestingly, Jesus made additional efforts to invest in Peter, James, and John. Perhaps they were the most humble, sensitive to God’s leading, and the most desiring of the things of God. When determining those with whom we ought to invest additional time in discipleship, we must not look to ability or status but to who is seeking God. The heart which truly seeks after God is rare. Only the person who has such a heart himself can, by God’s grace, identify others that share the same burden. We need more whose hearts are wholly devoted to God, and who are seeking to encourage others of like mind.
Let us not put so much focus on how many people we can get to sit in a room for an hour a week as we do upon developing a handful of individuals who can, in turn, develop a handful of individuals and so on. Let us think multiplication instead of addition.
Spiritual leaders need to be praying that God will give them other younger leaders to develop. We are so poor at discipling because we have lost the idea of helping another person grow into spiritual maturity. We tend to make everything programmatic or dependent upon some rigid organizational chart. For example, we think, "The prayer meeting is on Tuesday and evangelism is on Wednesday; if you want to be discipled, come to those meetings or programs." Rather, it should be that the older men and women are trying to connect their lives of ministry with the lives of those younger than them so that they can show them what Christian maturity and ministry is all about. It is much more organic rather than structural. Unfortunately, we want to see how many people we can get to listen to our teaching and how many programs we can put in the bulletin rather than how many people through Christ we can develop to a place of Christian maturity who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2, Titus 2:3-4).
Discipleship is fundamentally loving one another and passing on truth as lives are connected in serving and glorifying God. It is not enough simply to meet for a barbeque or church picnic once or twice a year, though such things could be helpful catalysts. But more often than not, discipleship is done in the laboratory and battlefield, and it is followed by reflecting and dissecting what happened through the grid of Scripture. Why do those who served together in the same army group still keep in contact forty years after the fact? They fought together and served together. There is nothing like supporting one another while under fire from the enemy to build friendship, community, and opportunities for growth. In the same way, Christian discipleship happens very often when we are under fire. There is nothing wrong with meeting for coffee to talk spiritual things, but discipleship ultimately must involve going into battle. The form of the battle will be different for every person. Perhaps it is through evangelism, reaching out to young people, visiting a nursing home in Jesus name, serving at a soup kitchen, or going on a short term mission trip. The actual commissioning to action will be as God leads the individual and likely according to his or her gifting.
There is great power in the preaching of the Word but also through life and, especially, through ministry done together. It is not enough to talk about ministry, strategy, and what God might want us too do. We must actually engage in carrying out God’s will in service and ministry, and it must be done with the more spiritually mature leading the charge. If parents cannot disciple their children and if pastors can not disciple their church body, Christianity will fail to cross the generational gap, as it so often did in the Old Testament. We need a few faithful men and women who can teach others to be faithful also.
We dare not underestimate the power of theology spoken and lived in discipleship. God’s Word is what sanctifies us, and as we step out and teach others also, we will continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.