What images come to mind when you think about discipleship? Are the images current or sepia-hued as if from a Bible story? Do you see yourself as a disciple? Are you in a group or alone in your Bible-study nook? It may be hard to imagine ourselves in the role of discipleship, but that doesn’t mean we should take it for granted.
A year ago, I became a member of a stateside church after having lived internationally for 20 years. On my first Sunday to attend Bible study at this church, the ladies in the class welcomed me, talked to me, and included me in their study time. Later as we began to transition to the worship area, one of the women said to me, “We all sit together during worship, so you come on and join us.”
These ladies exemplified the welcoming attitude and sincerity of this community of believers.
Later in the fall, the pastor announced a course on discipleship for small groups. He said it would focus on what it means to be a disciple. Afterward, each participant would be encouraged to facilitate another group, which would facilitate leaders for future groups. This intrigued me. It was not something I’d been asked to do in a local church in the past.
The small group I joined is great. I’m in a group with two younger married women (we started with five) who are mothers. I’m a middle-aged, single woman, and I am learning from and being challenged by these younger women. Yet they listen to me and “get” my point of view as well. My views and practice of discipleship are being refined in this setting.
I am not an expert on this topic; however, I believe God has placed discipleship on my heart and desires to use me in this process in the lives of others. I’m thankful for your interest, and I hope that as you read on you will find inspiration and encouragement.
How is discipleship multifaceted?
Discipleship has one meaning but many facets. As disciples we follow the life and teachings and behavior of Jesus Christ when He was on the earth. Our daily life reflects the new inner life that Christ has created in us and the relationship with Him that begins the day we receive His gift of salvation. Jesus becomes the best teacher, friend, companion (the list goes on) we will ever have in this life—so much so that we influence and are influenced by fellow followers of Christ as we daily walk together in fellowship with Jesus.
I see discipleship in my life with Christ as an intentional, progressive learning experience.
As I intentionally seek Christ as Lord of my life, He speaks to me through His Word (the Bible), through the Holy Spirit (whom Jesus called “the Comforter”), and through the people who are purposefully positioned in my life to encourage, counsel, coach, and prayerfully influence me. Bible study, a church fellowship, and all life experiences unquestionably contribute to this growing-disciple relationship I have with Christ and fellow followers. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and His people become the many facets of discipleship in my life.
For each of us, discipleship is an intimately personal experience. What about you? As you reflect on your life as a believer in Jesus Christ, what are the many facets of discipleship in your life?
How did Jesus disciple?
I asked a friend the other day what her impression was from reading the biblical writers’ accounts of how Jesus interacted with His disciples and the people. She said that “Jesus was not preachy,” but rather that “He taught those who came to Him through parables” or stories that reflected the cultural thinking of that time. I have to admit that I had never thought of Jesus as being “not preachy.” He definitely preached—as in the Sermon on the Mount—but she was right: Jesus was not preachy. Jesus never came across as the Pharisees did, that it was either their way or face rejection. Rather, Jesus focused on relationships with those closest to Him.
Jesus consistently spoke to the heart through everyday life and events of the people who clamored to be around Him.
The people heard Jesus speak with authority. Matthew wrote that He “taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29 NIV). Jesus’ focus was always on His Father and his Father’s Kingdom.
As my friend continued to elaborate about Jesus’ style, she observed that there was “something in Jesus’ life, in His demeanor and conversation – a light versus darkness” that people wanted to see and hear. She went on to say that Jesus was dramatically different from others. Her final words were, “We [meaning, I think, many of us church-going disciples of Jesus] don’t want to stick out.” That hit me right between the eyes! Wow! Even as I type this, I remember the feeling that came over me. It was a truth that went right to the center of my soul.
What does discipleship look like in your life?
Why don’t I want to “stick out” as a believer and disciple of Jesus Christ? What stops me from speaking about the Truth that I have accepted and profess to live by every moment of my life? Many times, the cultural norms and practices of the world (meaning where I live and work) become the standard by which I live out my Christian life. Jesus faced this type of thinking head on. He faced it every moment with the men who walked with Him for three years. Those men spoke from what they knew and had learned from childhood about their religion. Much of that was filtered through the ideas and decrees handed down from religious lawmakers within the Jewish culture.
Jesus tackled cultural religious practices and thinking head on — not with bluster or even the intention of “sticking out” but rather with a heartfelt purpose for the truth to be made known to all people.
He described the men whom God had given to Him to teach and live among on this earth as having “received” the words God gave to Him and having “come to know in truth” that He came from God (see John 17:8–24 ESV).
Where does this lead us?
If Jesus was “not preachy” and I want to follow the way He lived and spoke to people of His day, then I need to reassess my attitude first toward discipleship and then how that is lived out day to day. I want to more fully focus on what people saw in Jesus that I need to incorporate more into my life.
My first thought is compassionate love. When Jesus looked at people, He knew them and had compassion on them – He loved them. People saw love, the light of God, and an obedient purpose in Jesus.
Jesus’ light changed the conversations of a culture and formed the community of believers that would take His message to the world.
Now His work in me continues as I intentionally ask Him to change the way I love others – to see them as Jesus sees them. What about you? As you think about discipleship, what do you need to ask Him to change in you so that you live with more of Jesus’ purpose and obedience?
Sheila Flowers is a former international missionary who lives and works in Birmingham, Alabama.