A Daunting Task
I have a deep and abiding passion for discipleship, which is probably why this series is has been hard to write – because I want to get it right. I don’t want to leave out anything important. I want to give you everything you need to be forgiven, know God, and to develop your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I want you to be able to defend your faith, trust the bible, know sound theology, and have access to resources that will broaden your understanding of the church of Jesus Christ, what He has done throughout history, is doing today, and will be doing in the future. And I want to do that in six weeks. A daunting task at which I will inevitably fail miserably.
I previously showed you “Two Sheets of Paper that have Captivated my Life”. The first paper I shared was where the whole process started. One day, and I can’t remember how it came up, I asked myself, “What does a Christian need to know?”, which immediately brought up the next question, “What does a church need to do for people?” So I got out my computer and some books and started making a list… a list that made me feel very overwhelmed.
So, armed with this list I asked myself the even scarier question, “So, as their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to this church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded. The task I set before myself was impossible, and it wasn’t long until God told me as much.
Discipleship Is A Lifestyle
He reminded me that discipleship is not something that you go through once, check the box, and then say you’ve done it. It’s not a class that you need to take, a test you need to pass, or a sermon series that I can preach.
Discipleship is a lifestyle, lived out every day, moment by moment, choice by choice, day by day, relationship by relationship. I can’t make you into a disciple. I can’t make you into anything. My job is to simply set the table and invite you to eat. I can only say with the Psalmist, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). The rest is up to the Spirit of God working in you, and your willingness to obey Him.
Intentional Discipleship training has been a preoccupation of mine for a long while, and I have seen far too many churches that have little interest in it. There are LOTS of ministries dedicated to it, but a low percentage of churches who are engaged in it. As I said a while back, everyone loves to see the effect of good discipline, but there are not enough that will go through what it takes to become disciplined. Think about your own spiritual journey. How intentional has it been? What steps have you followed? Who has laid out those steps for you?
I know this because I myself have struggled along the path of discipleship, not knowing what to do or where to go for my next spiritual step. I grew up in a Christian family, but like most people, Christianity was about attending church, going to the various holiday and food-related functions, reading the bible and praying. I didn’t know much more than that and it was all I did for the first 15 years of my faith.
It wasn’t until I went to BibleCollege that I was introduced to other forms of discipleship, and the amazing amount there is to know about God, the church and Christianity. I’m a natural born sceptic, so I had lots of questions and was fascinated by how much thought people had put into, what I considered, the basics of the faith and obscure scriptures and concepts I’d never heard of.
As I matured in those years in college I learned a lot about the bible, prayer, spiritual disciplines, theology, history… and so much more. Christianity became more than something I grew up knowing because my parents were Christian, God was far more than just a person that I closed my eyes and talked to now and again, and Jesus became someone important to me… not just someone who died on a cross for the world… but someone who died on the cross for me.
I began to experience worship that touched my heart, spiritual attacks that I needed the community of believers to pray for me to overcome, freedom from burdens I’d been carrying for years, and a love for the gospel and the church.
And, as I entered seminary, I began to learn more about the depth of scripture, how each Word is a fountain of wisdom and knowledge, and about lofty thoughts I could never begin to understand or explain. Through each of these steps I was guided by teachers, professors, curriculum, pastors and mentors, leaders in the church, and fellow brothers and sisters who challenged me further.
As I entered into ministry I discovered that as far as I had come, much of my relationship with God was still in my head. I knew a lot of answers to a lot of questions, but not enough of it had taken the twelve inch journey from my head to my heart.
I learned that because God brought me to a place where my head knowledge and my natural talents would be useless, and where I would feel bitter pain, embarrassment, disappointment and failure. I would learn what a spiritual life that is lived only in the head accomplishes – nothing.
I was fortunate to have good counsellors and mentors who kept giving me books, challenging me to grow, pushing me to pray, and pointing me at resources that would fix my eyes, mind, and heart on Jesus.
And though I still struggle, I have a strong relationship with God today. I hear His voice often. I know His scriptures… maybe not as well as I would like… but enough to know to trust Him and to bring myself – and give – comfort when hurting. I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence when I am tempted, or when I am exercising my spiritual gifts. I am learning what it means to love Jesus, and to have Him love me.
And that’s what I want for you. I want that for each of you. I want you to go beyond what I have experienced and have far more than I. I want you to develop skills and abilities you never thought you could have, and experience life in a way you never thought possible. And the way to do that – and I believe this deep in my heart – is to be on an intentional path of discipleship.
It makes me sad that what I have experienced is the exception and not the rule. There are not many Christians around us that have a close relationship with God and are growing in their faith.
That said, however, I do believe that discipleship can be guided. Jesus guided His disciples (who we call apostles today) through a discipleship process, taking them from fearful fishermen who didn’t know what was going on to fishers of men who were boldly preaching the gospel even in the face of great persecution. And I believe he wants to do the same for us.
As I was researching this topic, and putting together the series, and the subsequent materials that the church will be using to do intentional discipleship, I did some reading and research online, called some of my pastor friends, and talked to others who were leaders in their churches and did not discover one church that had an intentional plan of discipleship. The conversations almost all went the same way:
“We have no real plan to get people saved, but when they do we have a baptism class or a membership class… and then we leave it up to them to join things that we offer in hopes that they will grow all by themselves. Eventually, we take the good ones that manage to figure out some kind of maturity and we beg them to be leaders because there are so few people who even come close to being spiritually mature enough to be called by God to lead and teach in the church.”
I’ve done a lot of reading on that subject, and the “do-it-yourself” approach simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in school, at work, or any other place I can think of.
My daughter, Eowyn, just turned five a couple days ago and is a very smart little girl, but she needs guidance about what she needs to know and encouragement to practice what she is learning. Imagine if every week we asked her “What would you like to learn this week?” and just let her choose. She doesn’t even know what she’s supposed to be asking for, let alone what order she needs to learn it in. She could say “I don’t want to learn anything this week.” or, “I really like colouring, I want to colour for the next year.”… and never learn how to read, write, or do math.
No job would ever do that. Imagine walking into a new job and having the boss say, “Ok, there’s some equipment, go build me something.” “There’s the computer, get to work.” “There’s the kitchen, feed people.” “Here’s the classroom, go teach them something.” No, they have safety courses, training courses, requirements people have to meet, meetings about expectations, efficiency and product knowledge. They can’t expect their workers to do well and be successful unless they are taught what they need to know to do their job.
Salvation Is An Intentional Process
Why would we think it works in church? You come in to church and listen to some sermons, sing some songs, meet some nice people, and then God does something in your heart and you want to know more. But how can you know what to do if no one tells you.
Listen to the conundrum posed in Romans 10:13-15 says,
“‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”
There is a delineated process of getting someone to the point of salvation, isn’t there? Someone has to be sent to tell them the gospel, then they have to believe it, then they call on the Lord’s name and are saved. It’s an intentional process – with steps to follow, and I believe that our spiritual journey, under God, towards Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, is as well.
We could extend the questions in the passage: How can someone be sent if they are not trained? How can someone be trained if there are no teachers? How can someone teach if they have not learned? How can someone learn if there is no one to help them study? And so on…
It is my desire and I believe strongly in my heart, that it is the deep desire of many Christians, to create a culture of intentional discipleship in the church – they just don’t know how to do it.
An Intentional Discipleship Path
As I said before, armed with the “needs, knows does” list I asked myself, “So, as their pastor, how can I make sure that the people who come to this church are able to get all this into their mind, spirit and lives?” And then my brain exploded.
After picking myself (and my grey matter) off the floor, and praying A LOT, I sat down to make a plan which I’ve been working on and adapting for quite a while now – literally years – which means that it’s going to take a while to go through, but hopefully it’s simple enough to get the basics from without that. Check it out here.
Why an Intentional Path?
I’ve already described part of the reason, but there are three more.
First, people like to know what to expect. Whether it’s a menu at a restaurant, a college course syllabus, a job description, or the introduction to a book, people like to know what’s coming. As much as we like to watch mystery shows, it’s the resolution that we are watching for – we want to know who did it, how they did it, and why they did it. So I’ve set up this path to help you know what to expect from the church and from yourself when it comes to your individual plan of discipleship.
Second, because people like to know where they stand. This tool will give you a kind of standard to look at to see where you are on the path of maturity. Is it perfect? No. Can you have some aspects from each of the phases? Sure. But this can help you see where you are at, and hopefully, challenge you to take the next step in maturity. I encourage you to take some time to go through the plan and then let’s discuss it on Wednesday night.
Third, and most importantly, discipleship is a command from God. We are compelled to do this and do it right. Read the great commission from Matthew 19:20 again: “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Jesus says, “Go and Make” those are very proactive words. He does not say, “let them do it themselves and hope for the best”, He said, “Go and Make disciples”. He commands us to “baptize them” – in other words, lead them down a practical path of discipleship that isn’t just head knowledge, but practice too. He commands us to “teach them to obey”, which again says, “make a path, be intentional, give them good knowledge, and then teach them what to do with it.”
The Table is Set, Will You Eat?
My deepest desire is that you will evaluate yourself and see where you are at. That you will engage in this discipleship path, and journey towards maturity. That we will, together, make the church into a disciples-of-Jesus-Christ factory. That each of you will “taste and see that the Lord is good”, and then draw others to the table.
Let me close by repeating what I said before: This is an intentional process, but I can’t make you engage in it. It is to your own detriment, and your own loss, if you choose to let these opportunities pass by – but that is your choice. I have learned over throughout my Christian life, and my life as a pastor, that the church can set the table, and make good food, but it is the choice of the individual believer to come to the table, to choose good food, to chew on it themselves, to swallow it and let it get deep inside, and to let it nourish them. And it is the individual’s choice to use the energy and nourishment which they have been given to serve God and others. I can set the table… we can set the table… but we cannot feed you.
The choice is laid before you, and there are a few responses you can have:
— You can choose not to come to the table at all, but instead eat what the world feeds you and live in sickness.
— You can eat a little at the table, but then go out and eat what the world offers too, which will give me a sour stomach and the life of a hypocrite.
— You can come to the table, complain about what’s on it, and go from table to table (church to church) looking for the perfect, designer, exactly-what-I-want-the-way-I-want-it food. And in doing so you will starve to death.
— You can come to the table, and stay at the table forever, and gorge yourself… never leaving to use the energy that you’ve consumed, and be just that – a Christian consumer.
— Or, you can come to the table, eat well, refuse the food the world offers, but instead tell others of the good food found at the table, and use the nourishment you’ve graciously received to serve God and others. That is a healthy life, and a life that will see blessing.