Discipleship: To be an apprentice of Jesus
by Mark Russell
Have you ever been on a sports team? What happens when you don’t run the patterns or plays according to the team’s playbook?
Have you ever worked on a group project in school? What happens when you miss the initial meeting when responsibilities get delegated?
Have you ever played in a band? What happens when you don’t know what key to play in?
In all these instances a method was not clearly communicated for each group of people. Members had a general notion of the goal but no clear idea as to the “how” towards that goal. Alright, let’s up the ante: What happens when you have been going to a church without understanding (1) It’s purpose and (2) it’s method.
Ministry structures in the church cannot grow disciples any more than trellises can grow vines. Every ministry in a church must exist to serve the purpose of the church: to make disciples. In short, you are not doing church right if you aren’t making disciples. So far so good. Few disagree that the purpose of the church is to make disciples, but what is a disciple? Tim Witmer, author of “The Shepherd Leader” answers this question broadly:
A mark of true disciples is that they follow their shepherd. This theme is sounded in the call of the very first apostles. He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). Jesus also emphasized that “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19) -simple yet profound. Below I summarize how Jim Putman, author of “DiscipleShift” unpacks this verse.
“Follow Me” – You don’t follow someone who you don’t trust and accept. Jesus is the Lord, he’s our leader, and the master of our lives. We are his slaves, and he owns title to our lives. He is the sovereign. Following Jesus puts him in front. In Jesus’ definition a disciple knows him and follows him. Obedience and knowledge are always asynchronous; knowledge leads to obedience, and obedience leads to knowledge. As John Frame puts it: “Knowledge of God, in the fullest sense, is inevitably an obedient knowledge.”
“And I will Make You” – A disciple of Jesus is changed by Jesus. Before any change is made in us, God is the one who invites us to be his disciple. We are tempted to desert Jesus during times of pruning, and we are tempted to forget him during times of great growth. Every day Jesus faithfully transforms his disciples with respect to how we see the world, and what we value and consider is important. This is the spirit-work of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship is not a transfer of information leading to behavior modification. Discipleship is the transformation of our understandings, desires, and appetites.
“Fishers of Men” – So now what? We know and trust in Christ, resulting in a heart change. Now we are made into fishers of men. This is work. Love for possessions, fame, power, and prestige begin to fade in importance as our priorities are brought in line with God’s. Paul tells us that Christ has died for all, therefore we don’t live only for ourselves anymore. We live in order to execute the personal ministry of Christological Ambassadorship. We, as ambassadors for Christ, are entrusted with the gospel, which we must share.
This is a thumbnail sketch of what a disciple looks like. Note that it involves knowledge, heart, and physical work. The first Christians were identified as being disciples who, by their very nature, made other disciples. If you call yourself a disciple of Jesus, and you are not seeking to make new disciples of Christ, something is wrong and you are not participating in the work of the church. As we seek to help grow other Christians in the areas of their knowledge, heart, and hands it is useful to use the same categories the Bible uses. These four categories mirror the way a child grows from an infant to adult. The following questions come from “Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples “
(1) Infant – 1 Peter 2:2-3
“I need to pray regularly and read the Bible regularly? I’ve never heard that before. How do I do that?”
“I know Jesus is God, but I also believe the secret works. Isn’t that real, too?”
“I’ve always connected with God through nature. Being outdoors is my church.”
(2) Child – 1 Thess 2:10-12
“No one ever says hi to me at church. No one calls me to see how I’m doing. No one spends time with me. The pastors don’t care about me. Today in the lobby, an elder looked right at me and didn’t even say hello”
“Why don’t they have a ministry to singles at this church. This church must not care about singles.”
“No Christian should ever listen to hip-hop or rock. That kind of music is just unchristian”
(3) Young Adult – 1 John 2:13-14
“I have three friends I’ve been witnessing to, and our community group would be too big for them, so can we branch off from this group so they can come?”
“Brandon and Tiffany missed community group. I’m going to call them to see if they’re okay. Their kids have the flu, so maybe our community group can make meals for them. I’ll start.”
“In my devotions, I came across something I have a question about.”
(4) Parent – 2 Tim 2:1-2.
“I wonder if God is leading me to invest in Bill and help him mature in his faith”
“I want to help this guy at work. He asked me to explain the Bible to him. Pray for me as I spend time in the Word with him.”
“I have a young adult who is ready to be an apprentice in our group; it won’t be long until we are ready to branch our community group”
Christ calls us to die to ourselves as we follow him. This requires us to stop thinking of ourselves so much, and be more aware of what God is doing in the lives of the people at Spring Meadows. We are all apprenticing after our master, Jesus Christ. This is what we mean by discipleship, and it’s the calling of each Christian. Let’s vigorously pursue the means of grace together so that we can grow together as one body as we become apprentices of Jesus Christ, which is his will for the church.