Envisioning how we train our future leaders for The Journey brings me to the concept of discipleship. Having served in a pastoral role for nearly 18 years in various churches, I believe discipleship is greatly misunderstood among USAmerican believers. There has been a movement among churches to do a better job of discipling their membership. I've even heard people say that they miss the days of "training union," an old term for a discipleship program of the local church. In many of the churches that I have served, leadership realized that they were falling behind in discipleship, and they pushed to introduce programs designed to deepen the faith of the believers in their flock. Along with this movement, publishers have packaged, repackaged, and promoted a plethora of materials for this need. You've seen some of them: Experiencing God, The Purpose Driven Church/Life/Worship/lawn mowing/whatever, Master Life, The Mind of Christ, Beth Moore's stuff, etc. All great materials written by Godly men and women. All designed to help us get a greater grasp on God's Word and will for our lives. The problem, as I see it, is two fold.
1) How much more knowledge do we need? I am constantly reminded that James said that those who hear and don't do are like men who look in the mirror and immediately forget what they saw. Please hear my heart on this. Being one who has a master's degree in divinity, I see the importance of knowledge and study. I've been a student of some sort all my life. But what good does it do for us to have more and more knowledge that we never apply? Sure, we could win Bible Jeopardy, but we're losing our communities. As more and more churches strive to find the right program for their people to have a deeper faith, they need to ask how their people are already putting into practice what they are learning. Maybe the best discipleship model would be to find someplace to spend your free time and practice what you've learned before we move onto the next thing to learn... I am reminded of a story about a young Pastor who came to his new church and preached a great sermon on his first Sunday there. The people were amazed. Then, the next Sunday he preached the exact same sermon. The people were a bit confused, but it was a good sermon, so they didn't mind too much. The third Sunday he again preached the same sermon. The people were a little put out. So much so, that the head Deacon approached the young Pastor after the service and pulled him aside. When the Deacon asked the Pastor if he realized he'd preached the same sermon for the last three weeks, the Pastor responded with, "Yes, I know. And once we start living that one, I'll get onto the next one."
2) Who was the focus of New Testament discipleship? When Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep, Pete didn't call the 12 together for a weekly Bible study on living with purpose and meaning. Instead, he went and proclaimed Christ to the people of Jerusalem and 3,000 were saved. Looking at the Great Commission of Matthew 28, we see that making disciples is tied heavily to the proclamation of Christ as savior and people coming to faith. I believe that we have greatly misunderstood that discipleship includes everyone, especially those who have not yet embraced the faith. Since the ultimate goal of discipleship is making disciples, consider this in light of Merriam-Webster's definition of a disciple: "one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another." As disciples, discipleship is the calling of our lives. And in it's purest form, discipleship is accepting and spreading the doctrines of another (in our case, The Christ).
How do I unpack this? It's paramount that I know the doctrines of The Christ in order to live well and and to teach them to others, especially those who need to be saved by Christ. But I can't wait until I know all I need to know. Like Peter, what I know at this point must be shared. Like Paul, I understand that I must pass along what I know to those who will be faithful to pass it on to others. Christ's call for each of us is to make disciples while being disciples ourselves. I firmly believe that the future leadership of The Journey will be people reached through the discipleship process; that is the spreading of the kingdom and the spreading of the doctrines of Christ. In those we reach, we will invest. This is discipleship, and it's how people will realize their great potential for the kingdom. That potential is what I'll "unpack" next.
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