My Most Important Discipleship Lessons
There is so much about discipleship that I don’t know. There is a lot I learned that was wrong. There was a lot I stumbled into that was right. I went from a discipleship that focused on learn, grow, and go – to hear and obey. Had the early church made learn, grow, and go disciples it never would have gotten off the ground because at what point did you know enough? When were you ready to leave? Who determined all of that? But, if discipleship is hear and obey, the primary focus is not what I know but instead my ability to hear God’s voice and then follow it. The most important thing I’m now going to teach someone isn’t a book study, doctrine series, or information – but it’s how to hear God’s voice. To do that I have to know how to pray, how to hear God speak when I’m reading his word, how to live in community and hear God speak through other disciples. Spiritual disciplines are everything. This discipleship goes through a very different door and produces a very different disciple. It’s a lot easier to read a book and jump through hoops than it is hear God’s voice and follow it.
First, I’m always being discipled.
Many people feel bad that no one ever “discipled” them – but I’m not sure this is as true as it sounds. One of my Spiritual Fathers, Doug Coe, said that we first have to disciple ourselves. What he meant by that is that we have to love Jesus so much that we do whatever he says. No amount of classes or courses can make us do that. He was right. Every time I’m in a worship service, I’m being discipled. Every time I’m listening to someone teach I’m being discipled. Every time I’m following the Holy Spirit I’m being discipled. Every time I’m in a prayer meeting I’m being discipled. For the follower of Jesus all of life is discipleship. When I’m reading a biography on Washington to learn how he led – Washington is discipling me. When I’m reading Fareed Zacharias to understand the world, he’s discipling me. When I read a Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book on relating to other religions – he’s discipling me. YES, non-Chrisitans can disciple us, too, and often even better than Christians. When I watch someone serve Jesus like Dan Dubois or Bryan Stockton who worked beside me at Steve Bezner’s church after Hurricane Harvey or watch them at an inner-city festival for poor children – I’m being discipled by those that I would disciple. If you see life as one big discipleship opportunity you’ll grow a lot more. If you see it as a single person pouring into you, you’ll be a spiritual shrimp. YES, it’s great to have some one on one, but it isn’t the end of the world. After all, the goal of discipleship is to be a self-feeder that follows Jesus.
Second, the best disciplers in my life don’t give me information but provide me a model.
A man named Jim Hylton has impacted my life profoundly. He’s in his 80’s. Yes, he’s taught me a lot of stuff – but it’s his model of life that has taught me the most. I’m watching him, a strong follower of Jesus, so I can know how to grow old in grace and bless others. He models how to stay tender as you get older. He’s not perfect – he has his flaws and I’ve seen them. I’m not looking for someone to be Jesus, I’m looking for someone to let Jesus be Jesus in them in spite of their faults.
Third, the best disciplers walk through tough times with you.
They listen, they pray, they challenge you, they love you regardless. Who ever thinks of discipleship as presence? But you can’t be to others what someone hasn’t first been to you. Everyone hurts, everyone hits walls, everyone has struggles, everyone wants to hang it up at times – Jim has sat patiently with me at times and listened to me and loved me. I’m often asked how did I handle the stress and not give up from taking a white church and transitioning it to multi-ethnic and also a church that has reached deep into other religions to build bridges. We love everybody at Northwood and that makes for some challenging things at times. Jim is one of those key reasons I haven’t quit. I told him one day “maybe I just need to get out of the way” and let someone else do this. He said “Bob, I want to ask you a question Jesus asked.” Okay Jim. “Bob, will you leave me too.” That question convicted me and bought me another six months! It took another conversation to make it another 6 months!
Fourth, the best disciplers make you think for yourself and cause you to learn for yourself.
Jim has never taken me through a book study – but he’s told me about this book or that book that I’ve read that has caused us to have some deep conversations. I love the fact he doesn’t just read “religious” books but many kinds of books be they science, psychology, or philosophy. If he was just teaching me “his” stuff then my growth would be limited to him – but he models learning which enables me to travel my own unique paths of learning and growth.
Fifth, the most important discipleship lesson I can provide is . . . . well, I’ve said enough – I’ll save that for another blog – but it’s really really really BIG!
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.