By Jeff Howard
Discipleship has become a buzzword in many Christian circles lately. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact it’s a great thing. Jesus commands all of His followers to make disciples in what’s been nicknamed the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Sadly, too many have fallen away from this being a commandment to all believers. We have replaced what is our duty by passing the job on to the church staff. This is not only lazy, but I would argue that is disobedient, and therefore, sinful.
However, we must be careful in this. Making disciples and teaching others God’s Word IS a command. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that teaching the Bible to our disciples is one of the most significant eternal investments we can make as believers. But we can’t forget one important thing: It’s not the greatest command. In Mark 12:28-30 we see someone approach Jesus and ask Him about that very issue. He says to Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28 ESV). Jesus answers him by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 and saying that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He then goes on to say that we are to also love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves. We see that God’s greatest command is based on love.
It is an unrealistic expectation for a pastor to adequately teach everyone in the church when you consider individual issues, questions, and problems (not to mention the fact that “teaching them to obey” is something we are all commanded in Matthew 28). How much more unrealistic is it to expect a pastor to adequately love each member of their church on a personal level.
Every Christian’s initial goal should be to spend time, show love, and serve others in any way we can. This will show our disciples that we value them. A byproduct of this love will be a strong relationship. Now you don’t have a relationship that is just you preaching at them. It is a relationship that is built on love.
I think one of the reasons that people want to jump right into teaching is because at the end of the day it’s easier. It’s not less work, but it definitely has a systematic formula. You teach them a passage or section of Scripture and then call it a day. This isn’t so when you invest the time that it takes to formulate a loving friendship. There is no life-on-life with the model of Discipleship-as-Bible-Study-Only. Living life with someone takes time. We see this very clearly in the life of Jesus. Many Bible scholars have said that Jesus spent up to 85% of His final three years with His 12 disciples. He spent time with them because He loved them. He spent time with them because He didn’t see them as a project; He saw them as an eternal investment. He saw them as the ones who would carry on His message long after He was gone.
All of our earthly relationships should be a reflection of our love of Jesus (John 13:34-35). And because of this love we will want to obey the commands that He has given us, this of course includes the command to make disciples. We should begin by loving them, and striving for them to love Jesus in the same way that we do. We show them His love by teaching His Word and sharing His Gospel. Only then will our disciples want to start the cycle themselves and begin making their own disciples. They will inevitably repeat what you model in front of them. If you model a Bible study, they will start a Bible study. If you love and emotionally invest in them, they will do the same for their disciples.
Let me be clear, I think that teaching the Bible and sharing theological truths are some of the most needed yet most neglected areas of discipleship. I’m simply suggesting that this isn’t WHY we disciple, nor should it be the place that we start. The transference of truth is VERY important and should be what we work towards, but it shouldn’t be our initial focus. The transference of knowledge should be our goal, which is why it’s important to begin with the end in mind.
At the end of any discipleship relationship I have been in I want them to be able to say, “Jeff taught me a lot about the Bible. He also taught me what I need to know to be a successful Christian man. He did all of this by showing me the love of Jesus Christ.” That’s a success in my book. That’s what Jesus did with His 12 disciples, and that’s exactly what I want my disciples to do with their lives and the men disciple as well.