The Reason for Discipleship
We have a little dorm fridge in our dining area. We moved it there from my office at the house after we renovated. Sometimes we forget it is even there.
I remembered yesterday.
The night before, I had loaded the dishwasher and tried to turn it on. Our house is an old one. Sometimes a circuit breaker will turn off and the dishwasher and several power receptacles are on that circuit.
Turns out the little dorm fridge is on that circuit.
I discovered it yesterday when, in my socks, I stepped in a pool of water that came out of that dorm fridge. (I HATE that!) What a shock!
I mopped up the water with an old towel and tried to figure out what caused the water to flow there and then remembered that the power had gone off. I assumed that everything was okay since the power was back on. I wrongly ASSUMED that all the ice inside it had melted.
Last night, when I came home from my office, I told Laurie about it and she started looking into it. She showed me that the freezer portion of the dorm fridge, which had apparently been frozen solid, still had a LOT of ice in it that had not yet melted.
What should I do?
I decided to grab that chunk of ice and throw it off the porch into the side yard so it could melt there. This morning I noticed that there was still some ice on that side lawn.
As we go I will reveal why this story about a dorm fridge is at all pertinent.
When it was time for Jesus to begin His active ministry on the earth, the very first thing He did after being baptized and then spending time in the wilderness with His Father and the Holy Spirit was to begin to make disciples.
The word “disciples” is the Greek word “matheteuo” and it means “student” or “pupil”.
One of the very last things Jesus did before ascending back to Heaven was to give what some call The Great Commission. The word “commission” has to do with someone with authority passing the authority to accomplish something on to another person. This is why Jesus begins the Great Commission the way He does:
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘ALL AUTHORITY HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME in heaven and on earth.’” (Matthew 28:18 – caps are mine for emphasis) Then He says this:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Jesus authorizes all Christians to do several things on His behalf, since it is He who is authorizing us.
Contrary to popular belief in the Church, the term “Go therefore” does NOT mean to “Find someplace on the earth other than where you are and go there.” The term literally means “as you are going”.
In other words, Jesus isn’t telling us in Matthew 28 to “go to the mission field” - or to satisfy the Great Commission by giving money to support people in the mission field - although these are wonderful things to do.
Right now I have friends in Albania who the Lord has sent there. In fact, the ministry we do in North Texas is similar in that the Lord sent us here to this very place to minister. That’s why God has people support our friends in Albania and our ministry here. We function as missionaries. We can find all through the book of Acts Biblical precedence for what they and we are living out in our mission fields.
However, in Matthew 28, Jesus is speaking of something else. He is describing a LIFESTYLE in which as we go we do three specific things: make disciples, baptize them, and teach them.
In my studies over the past few years I came to realize that, for the most part, I was not discipled for most of the 31 years of my Christian life. Dan, the man who led me to Jesus, baptized me and then spent a LOT of time with me in my early Christian walk and he discipled me. I’m not sure if either of us would have thought of what he did as “discipleship” at the time.
Things happened in our lives, I was transferred to another state for my job and that season passed. For the next nine years I attended a church building faithfully. I studied my Bible (actually wore it out), took notes during sermons, went to conferences and Bible studies, taught Bible studies, hosted meetings in our home, devoured audio teachings and read many, many books on Christian things.
I was being taught but there was no discipling being done in my life.
I’ve come to recognize that, in general, discipleship doesn’t at all exist in the Body of Christ now. We’ve become programmed to experience Christianity by living from event to event.
Even though many leaders correctly teach in those events that Christianity is a lifestyle, the earthly system of Christian spiritual events encourages people to not live a Christian lifestyle. Rather, we live from event to event….
All of us who understand the value in gathering with other Christians (whether it be in church buildings or homes or the workplace or in restaurants, etc.) WILL gather with others. Usually these Gatherings are regularly scheduled ones. We are ALL in danger of interacting with Jesus only during these events.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus just picked twelve disciples? Besides the fact that 12 is an important number to the Jews (it represents perfection and authority) Jesus was modelling something. He knew that the intimacy of a small group of people could accomplish a lot in the souls of those twelve people.
He knew that He would call the first people He spent time with “disciples” and He knew that three years later, when He issued the Great Commission, He would tell us to make “disciples.”
He was not modelling how to have scheduled spiritual events. The Jews already had that with their festivals, regularly scheduled sacrifices and weekly synagogue meetings.
He was modelling a lifestyle (“Go therefore”).
The lifestyle of building God’s Kingdom has to do with extending HIS influence into the souls of other people. HIS Kingdom has to do with order and HIS order displaces the disorder satan has worked so hard all our lives to put into our souls.
In this way, the Kingdom of God is built IN people.
As we watch Jesus operate in the Gospels, we can see Jesus addressing the disorder He could see in the souls of His disciples.
“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ ‘But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’” (Matthew 16:21-23)
The words Jesus spoke to Peter sound so harsh, but Jesus had spent TIME with Peter. He knew what Peter could take and WHAT HE NEEDED. In Peter’s soul was a flaw: he was a people pleaser. That’s why Peter rebuked the King of Glory.
Think about that for a minute: Peter REBUKED Jesus.
Because Jesus had spent a lot of time in intimate settings with Peter, He could see that a flaw in Peter’s soul is what caused Peter to rebuke Him and Jesus knew Peter’s calling and destiny in Christ. He knew this flaw in his soul would quench Peter’s ability to work in his future authority as an apostle…so He addressed it the way Peter needed it to be addressed.
"Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’” (Matthew 16:24-25)
Jesus had spent time DISCIPLING His DISCIPLES. He KNEW them. Lots of time in small groups of people has a way of doing that.
He knew that in their souls were other flaws or strongholds. He knew they would be tempted to turn to self-preservation when it came time to deny themselves and take up their crosses. So, He addressed it. In a very simplistic way….our souls are like that little dorm fridge in our dining area. Aspects of our souls will be unknown to us just like I was unaware that ice was building up inside its freezer.
Most of us don’t even ever think about our souls. We know we have souls and that they are there but they fade into the background as we are busy living our lives. Truthfully, even though I place my boots in front of that dorm fridge every, single night – I never consider it.
It’s just there.
We live in an old house. That circuit breaker popped the other day because it was protecting us from something. Because that something was happening, it became evident to me that there had been a problem in our little dorm fridge all this time.
The truth is that satan has been building strongholds into ALL our souls since the day we were conceived in the wombs of our mothers. Eventually, those strongholds, which are the result of satan’s influence in us, will try to exert its influence on us.
We will experience something that will be as unpleasant as stepping in cold melting ice runoff in a nice, dry pair of socks – or worse. It might lead to a divorce or a lost job or a missed opportunity….or worse.
Maybe it will cause us to mismanage a situation God has entrusted to us.
Had I spent time practicing good stewardship, checking out the dorm fridge I would never had stepped in that water.
If we spend time submitting to someone GOD CHOOSES to watch over us and disciple us, perhaps some of our flaws will be revealed THROUGH that person and God can advance His Kingdom in us in this manner.
That, I believe, is why the Great Commission tells us to “make disciples” and not make “congregants” or “members”.
Making disciples is effort, time and soul intensive. Making disciples COSTS us something but it is all worth it! As we read the Gospels with an eye open to see what Jesus did with His disciples we see that discipleship means spending time together, reasoning together, eating meals together, and traveling with one another. It means being with the whole group, or in gatherings of a few, or one-on-one.
Making disciples mean teaching one another, listening to one another, considering options, learning, receiving, and sharing our lives. It means everyone feels familiar enough with one another to ask what might seem like stupid questions. We lower the protective walls in our soul in discipleship because we come to love one another. This counteracts the normal human response of being wary and self-protective in larger groups and events.
As I said earlier, I was discipled early in my new life as a Christian by Dan, the man that led me to the Lord. After that year and a half or so I went NINE years without anyone really watching over my soul. There are two reasons for that:
I never asked anyone to disciple me.
I didn’t know that was supposed to be a part of the Christian experience having come to Jesus COMPLETELY ignorant about the Bible and Christianity. What was modeled to me was the current expectation that whatever happened in the various church services, conferences, “revivals” (look for that word or concept in the New Testament sometime – it is utterly absent from the Word), reading the Bible regularly, and special church events would be sufficient for personal growth in Christ. So, I never asked.
2. No one ever approached me to disciple me.
To the credit of almost everyone I met after Dan I don’t think any of them knew that REAL discipleship was expected by the Lord or being practiced anywhere in the Church. They had been saturated by the same earthly system I had experienced and true, Biblical discipleship just never seems to fall in any budget categories in congregations.
In other words, although the WORD “discipleship” sometimes is mentioned, the practice is virtually non-existent in the corporate Body of Christ.
I do not say this as an indictment. I say it in my grief.
I used an ice-filled dorm fridge freezer earlier as a metaphor of a human soul that goes unexamined and unmanaged. I’m convinced that due to the almost complete absence of true discipleship in the Church today, many strongholds remain in the souls of our brothers and sisters in Christ. These typically go unaddressed.
They remain unaddressed until something bad happens like a separation, a divorce, an outbreak of domestic violence, a fall into pornography and other kinds of sexual immorality, a nervous breakdown, relapse into alcoholism and drug abuse, suicide…… They remain unaddressed because most of us do not REALLY know our brothers and sisters. And, because we don’t know one another, we almost HAVE TO keep our strongholds hidden. Sometimes, the lack of intimate relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ keeps these things in our souls hidden even from ourselves.
Twenty years ago, the Lord assigned a man to watch over my soul. His name is Don Gunter. (Don went to be with the Lord in October 2017.)
The idea of someone “watching over” another person’s soul seems to be foreign to many Christians, based on the reactions I’ve consistently gotten upon mentioning it – even reactions from ministers. However, it’s been right there in the Bible for 2000 years.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for THEY KEEP WATCH OVER YOUR SOULS as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17 – NASB) Also, the practice has been in existence as long as shepherds have existed:
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, KEEPING WATCH OVER THEIR FLOCK by night.” (Luke 2:8)
The mechanization of Christianity (into a series of spiritual events) has caused this beautiful and wonderfully difficult practice to have been all but lost in the Body of Christ.
Prior to Don coming into my life, I learned a lot from sermons, teaching and attending Sunday School, reading my Bible and books about Bible ideas, audio and video teaching, and from various men and women who would spend a little time with me and teach me things.
Don DID teach me a lot but what he has really done has been to disciple me. What has that looked like?
HE SPENT TIME WITH ME.
HE SHARED HIS LIFE WITH ME.
HE CAME TO KNOW ME.
HE SACRIFICED FOR ME.
In short, Don did for 20 years in my life what Jesus did with and for the original disciples.
I am NOT a disciple of Don Gunter.
I AM a disciple of Jesus THROUGH Don Gunter.
Don was just a man, but he was a man who was chosen by God to watch over my soul and he not only agreed to do it but actually practiced discipleship with me – for which I am VERY grateful.
This is not a new thing. It is the very thing Paul did with and for Timothy.
“For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Corinthians 4:17)
And, indeed, this is what Paul did for the entire church in Corinth, at least until men and women matured spiritually to the point where they could disciple others.
“For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15)
Remember, the third aspect of the Great Commission was that we teach. Paul says that there are many teachers. There aren’t, though, many spiritual fathers.
That’s what Don Gunter became for me through discipleship, even being just a couple of years older than me. He is a spiritual father.
Notice what Paul says next, after telling the Christian Corinthians that he is their father in the Lord:
“Therefore I urge you, imitate me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16)
He tells them to spiritually parent or disciple others. How do I know this? Listen to how Paul mentions “imitating” a second time to the
Corinthian believers later in this letter:
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Jesus made disciples with the original twelve. Jesus told us all to, basically, imitate Him by making disciples (the Great Commission.)
Paul DID imitate Jesus by making disciples. Paul urges the Corinthians…and urges us today….to make disciples.
I don’t know how that can happen without allowing someone else to disciple us.
I’ve rather recently become aware that I had learned how to disciple others from Don and, when anyone received discipling from me, I had been actively discipling them for many years. I just didn’t think to label it as discipleship. Prior to this realization, I would simply ask the Lord about what do to in the pastoral and counseling relationships that I enjoy with others, and try to do what He said.
I think that really is the best, if you will, “discipleship program” we can ever hope to practice. After all, isn’t that the way the original One Who discipled others operated?
“For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.” (John 12:49-50)
The Father knows what we need. The Father knows what strongholds, wounds, incorrect beliefs, etc. exist in our individual souls.
If we choose to humble ourselves and open our hearts to the one God chooses to watch over us in a personal, intimate, mutually vulnerable discipling relationship, God will reveal those things we keep hidden away in larger groups out of fear that we will be exposed, ridiculed and rejected.
True discipleship is personal and both parties are MUTUALLY vulnerable.
“O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)
Because Don was always real with me and threw open his heart to me, I REALLY knew him. I’ve recognized that it was God Himself Who had arranged that we have this spiritual relationship.
I haven’t wasted it; rather, I have tried to harvest whatever the Lord would have me glean from Don.
Because of that, several of the people I watch over and disciple have remarked that, even having never met Don (due to his declining health) they believe they knew him and HAD experienced him THROUGH me.
When I visited him recently and told him that he smiled and said, “It’s all the Lord.”
Because I have thrown open the doors of my heart and allowed Don to know me, I have benefitted as some of the wounds, strongholds, wrong beliefs, etc. that I had were exposed and addressed LOVINGLY, yet uncompromisingly by this man I love like a brother AND a father. My life and walk with Christ are better for it.
I’m convinced that it is the Lord’s intention - and always has been – that we be made disciples of Jesus and that we make disciples.
It is my hope that what I have shared here will encourage you to seek the Lord to ask Him who he has provided on the earth to disciple you. Then, the next step is to ask Him to reveal to you who, if anyone, is YOURS to disciple and watch over.
If you are open to practicing this wonderful Christian discipline, resist the temptation to do what Christians often do when we look for a congregation to join.
In other words, let’s NOT shop for something that is pleasing to our souls.
We’re not looking for easy and fun. We’re looking for GOOD.
In fact, let’s not look for someone to disciple us at all.
Instead, let’s allow the Lord to do what He did with Paul and Timothy and Don and myself….and what Jesus did: let’s allow the Holy Spirit to LEAD us to where He would have us go.
This will not mean that we will have to give up our current Christian associations. God won’t tell us all to leave whatever congregations or Gatherings we attend. He WANTS us to and even COMMANDS us to assemble with other Christians regularly (Hebrews 10:25).
God wouldn’t have us divide over something like discipleship.
A discipleship relationship does not replace any other relationships.
It is an EQUIPPING relationship. It exists primarily for the benefit of the one being discipled and, ultimately, for the benefit of the Kingdom of God.
Finally, no Christian leaders should ever be threatened to hear that someone who attends their services is being discipled and watched over by someone else.
This is not a territorial issue. Church and ministry leaders do not own anyone and neither do those who disciple others. We belong to Jesus; we are all HIS territory.
True discipleship should yield spiritual maturity which can only be good. It will manifest in good works, a servant heart, honoring leadership, generosity, faith, etc. since the one doing the discipling is modelling these.
This can only benefit any Christian organization with which the one being discipled associates. Properly practiced and recognized discipleship is a win-win for all involved. May the Lord bless you in YOUR journey as He has and continues to bless me in mine.
“‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:5b-7)
Pastor Mike McInerney
Mike McInerney Ministries, Inc.
© October 20, 2017
(for use with permission)