A. Greek word mathetes means someone who is a pupil, an
apprentice. In the days of Jesus, a disciple was anyone who attached himself
to a great master. The master, typically a philosopher or religious leader,
initiated a process with his disciples in which he modeled a pattern of life
which his disciples emulated and taught a philosophy to explain that pattern
which his disciples learned and believed. When they were ready, they in
turn would become masters and would adopt disciples of their own. The aim
of this process was to shape disciples into the kind of people whose lives
would be an extension of their master's life.
B. In New Testament terms, a disciple is someone who's an
apprentice of Jesus and the goal of Christian apprenticeship is to learn to
live like the master, to learn to live like Jesus.
Why do we need to be disciples and disciple makers?
Because Jesus commands it!
Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority
in heaven and earth has been given to me. 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. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age."
A. The Father has given me the authority to command these things.
B. Make new apprentices for me from among every people group.
C. Initiate them into their new way of life through baptism.
D. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you both
through my words and through my life (implied). Disciple them the way that
I have discipled you. It's important to remember that not even Jesus could
guide his followers into his pattern of life through words alone. He had
many followers, but he chose only 12 to live with him. Those who embodied
his life most fully were those who had lived most closely with him.
How do we define discipleship? What does a disciple look like?
A. The central importance of Matthew 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount)
and Matthew 25 (Sheep and Goats) to Jesus' definition of what a disciple
should be. Neither passage gives an exhaustive portrait of a disciple but is
suggestive. Certainly the Sermon on the Mount as it presently stands is not
everything Jesus said at that moment. Neither passage gives an exhaustive
portrait of a disciple but is suggestive. If you understand what is included, if
you understand his brief sketch of what a disciple should be, you'll figure
out what Jesus wants you to be in every other area of life that he doesn't
specifically mention in these two passages.
B. The gospel isn't just the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. All
of Matthew, all of Mark, all of Luke, and all of John are "gospels" and not
just the last few chapters. Why do we give so little attention to Jesus'
disciple making as part of the gospel? Why do the Apostles' Creed and the
Nicene Creed go directly from Jesus being born of a virgin to his death
under Pontius Pilate? Is there anything in between about his teaching and
actions that might be important for us to affirm?
How should we make disciples?
A. First, some assumptions I'm making
1. Discipleship is a process. The notion of process implies a
fundamental instability that allows for growth and success as well as
diminishment and failure. Jesus sets forth aims that may or not be reached.
Related to this is the idea that the process of discipleship is uneven. At any
given point along the process, some aspects of our lives will be more and
some less in line with the life of Jesus.
2. Discipleship is a collaborative effort. It includes the work of many
people. For instance, it includes other disciples in my church, disciples from
other churches, disciples I knew 20 years ago and disciples I won't meet for
another 20 years, and disciples I will never meet but whose writings instruct
and inspire me. Collaboration is important for many reasons. One of the
most important is our inability to adequately assess our own lives and where
we are at in the discipleship process. When Paul gives Timothy and Titus
instructions for identifying and appointing spiritual leaders in the church (I
Tim. 3 and Titus 1), he tells them to look for people who have an intense
desire to become spiritual leaders and who possess a mix of essential skills
and character qualities (again, the list is suggestive rather than exhaustive).
These are the marks of a mature disciple and Paul wants mature disciples
leading the church. What's not stated in the text but is implied is that mature
disciples like Timothy and Titus are to determine to what degree people in
their congregations meet these criteria, whether or not they also are mature
disciples. So they wouldn't take just the candidate's word on whether or not
he was an angry person, whether or not he could teach, whether or not he
managed his household well, because the candidate could not adequately
assess such things by himself. He would need the help of mature disciples.
3. Discipleship is intense. Although discipleship is a collaborative
effort involving many people, the intensity of a mentoring relationship is
necessary for more radical transformation to take place in our lives.
4. Discipleship leads to spiritual growth for both the mentor and the
5. Discipleship faces many challenges, all of which a disciple must
learn to negotiate well. Learning to negotiate these well is one of the most
important sources of spiritual growth as a disciple. As I like to say, if we're
going to become mature disciples of Jesus, we must learn to do so under less
than ideal circumstances. First, we have to deal with ourselves ("the flesh"):
our strengths and weaknesses, our ignorance, our prejudices, our physical
challenges, our addictions, and our successes and failures. Second, we have
to deal with other people. Third, we have to deal with culture, "the world"
system as John would put it. Fourth, we have to deal with the devil and other
powerful spiritual forces arrayed against us. Fifth, we have to deal with
the "curse" that God has placed on the world. Sixth, we have to deal with
God's chastening and his testing.
B. The process of discipleship
a. Incarnating the life of Jesus. Through the process of discipleship,
you become the kind of person who can put into practice the Sermon on the
Mount. You are only ready to become a mentor when you embody as fully
as possible the life and teachings of Jesus.
b. Hypocrisy is the antithesis of embodiment. The word
translated "hypocrite" refers to an actor, a man who pretends to be someone
other than himself while on stage. Jesus warns his disciples not to be like a
stage actor, playing a part on one stage and playing quite a different part on
another stage. For example, someone might play the part of the empathetic
man, the compassionate man, while at church, but play the part of the shark
while at work, looking for something weak and helpless to bite. It's also
hypocrisy to merely mimic the words and actions of Jesus in some
literalistic way. Paul put his finger on it in 1 Cor. 13 when he set forth love
as the inward disposition, the "heart," that makes all of these attitudes and
actions an extension of the life of Jesus and keeps them from being
Resonance is what happens between two people that brings them together in
a discipling relationship. It's something that reverberates from one person to
another that creates a mutual attraction. When a mature disciple embodies
the life of Jesus, it becomes attractive to other less mature disciples. Call
it authenticity, genuineness, beauty, or love; it makes some people want to
be with you, even to be like you. On the mentor's part, resonance creates
a desire to help the apprentice, to do everything within their power to help
them grow in their spiritual character. Without resonance, people will not be
responsive to mentoring, will not engage it adequately and will not persevere
in it. This is the flaw in most formal discipleship programs that attempt
to pair up everyone in the church all at once. Mentors may be assigned
certain people to disciple without adequate thought about whether either
one resonates with the other in any way. The resonance, the attraction, is
absolutely essential for disciples to care about entering into this process with
enthusiasm and for mentors to do everything necessary to help their disciples
The one who embodies more fully the life of Jesus should in turn help others
learn how to embody the life of Jesus. This includes serving as a model for
others to follow ("follow my example as I follow the example of Christ,"
1 Cor. 11:1), and as an inspiration. For modeling to do its deep work, a
close relationship with the other person must be developed. Inspiration
helps a person care enough to engage in the process and to maintain their
momentum through numerous challenges.
The one who wants to embody the life of Jesus more fully must be in
relationship with someone else who is a more mature disciple, one who more
fully embodies the life of Jesus. Students learn to emulate the life of their
mentors and through them the life of Jesus. Again, the goal is not to learn
to mimic the exact words and actions of Jesus but to become like him in our
hearts which will then express itself through our actions.
Three examples of mentoring
A. Parents and children
B. Mentoring one person at a time.
1. Meeting once a week to do some activity (tennis, movies, etc.) and
talking afterward, reflecting on the apprentice's week and using scripture to
gain perspective, direction, and inspiration.
2. Meeting once a week to discuss the apprentice's "reports from the
field." Encourage apprentices to serve people around them in ways that are
truly helpful to them. Reflecting on how that has gone and using scripture to
gain perspective, direction, and inspiration.
C. Intentional community
Setting up a community where a mature couple lives with younger
adults who they mentor every day, usually in a more informal way but often
in more formal ways as that is needed.
V. Discipleship and Sin
A. Discipleship should lead to transformation, not just sin
1. Trying to teach people not to sin is like teaching a ballplayer how
to hit by teaching him how not to strike out. What are we really teaching
people when we try to teach them how not to do something?
2. I've seen people's lives transformed more from teaching them how
to do the works of Jesus rather than teaching them how not to do things.
3. Perfection (Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is
perfect."). Perfection is being everything you were designed to be.
B. Understanding the role of failure in the process of discipleship.
C. Understanding the role of church discipline in the process of
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. London: SCM Press,
1959. (A profound meditation on discipleship in the church that
uses the Sermon on the Mount as inspiration.)
2. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. (A story about the heart we
should have toward other people and how that will express itself in
good works. Better than any movie version.)
3. Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a
Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999. (Book
that inspired us to begin an intentional community in our home.)
4. Michael Wilkins, Following the Master. Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan, 1992. (Best overview of discipleship in the early
5. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden
Life in God. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1997. (Insightful
discussion of the Sermon on the Mount, especially as the model for