Friday, January 13, 2012

In Pursuit - Part 1

Guest Blogger: Sten-Erik of  Theological Pursuits

“I really want to disciple somebody.”

“I took this class on discipleship, and now I’m ready to be a mentor!”

“I’m so thankful that I’m being discipled by Pastor so-and-so.”

To quote everyone’s favorite swordsman, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” If you went to and typed in “discipleship” you would get nearly 10,000 hits. If you look at church websites you’ll see discipleship programs and job titles like “Pastor of Discipleship.” But what exactly does that mean? This question became all the more pressing when I did a search in the Greek text of the New Testament for the noun form of the word disciple (μαθητής). The word is used 261 times in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. But after that? It does not make a single appearance. Not one.

This merits a study of the concept of being a disciple as it is used by the One who calls us to discipleship – Jesus. This is hardly an original thought. Almost every book on discipleship on my shelf starts with the great commission in Matthew 28:19 – “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This verse is in virtually every mission statement for Christian churches around the world, and rightly so.

But something is missing. Where is Paul chiming in on this making of disciples? What about Peter, or in John’s letters?

I think the answer needs to come from the source. Those final words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew are just that – His final words. He had a lot to say about being a disciple before he gave that great commission. What did He say to His disciples? What are the instructions of Jesus telling us how to be a disciple?

In Mark 3:14 we have a significant verse that may shed some light on this question. “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach…” But it wasn’t until Mark 6:7 that we discover that Jesus began to send them out. There is a space between the invitation to come learn and the commission to go and make. In between the invitation to communion and the imperative of commission we find Christ’s definition of discipleship.

Let’s look at that verse a little closer:
  • And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles)
  • so that they might be with him
  • and he might send them out to preach…”
In this verse we have a snapshot of Jesus’ strategy for discipleship:
  • The Men – First we have the selection of men. He selected these twelve men to be His disciples. E.M. Bounds once said, “Churches are looking for better methods. God is looking for better men.”
  • The Mentoring – Second we have a close association. Jesus didn’t need them to “be with him” because he was lonely or needed companionship. Rather, He needed them to be with Him so that they might learn from Him. Absorb His teaching. Learn His methods. Be shaped by Him. This was essential to the third and final step;
  • The Mission – Finally we have the sending. But before they could be sent, they needed to be with Him.
If we start our “discipleship strategy” with Matthew 28:19, we are putting the metaphorical cart before the horse. Matthew 28 is our goal – our target. But we have a long road of preparation before we get there. A road characterized by being with Him. This is discipleship – not something we do to others, but something to which we first commit ourselves.

(Coming Soon – Part 2: Where is our invitation?)

(Sten-Erik is currently on staff with the Department of Spiritual Formation at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he is wrapping up a Th.M. with a dual focus in systematic and historic theology as well as an M.A. with an emphasis in New Testament Studies. He is married and the father of four daughters.)

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