The Jesus Model of Discipleship
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘discipleship’? Do you think of people sitting in a seminary lecture or maybe a Youth Leader out for coffee with one of their youth? I think for many of us, ‘discipleship’ is word that we are familiar with; however, it seems that it means very different things to different people.
As a pastor and growing up as a ‘PK’ (Pastor’s kid), I have been in many diverse conversations with Church Leaders regarding discipleship. In most of these conversations the concept of discipleship is almost synonymous with a program: the next program that was going to help people become mature disciples. So the question arises: for those committed to being disciple makers, what are we really aiming at?
In Christendom, we have had a tendency to want to measure success by the number of people we have in a building. But I don’t think Jesus would have been impressed by that. I am all for reaching people, but once we have reached them what are we inviting them into? What should “success” be? I think we can all agree that the goal of discipleship for those who say ‘yes’ to Jesus is that our lives would look more like Jesus. This then gives us something to aim for. The goal for Christian discipleship is maturity, that those we disciple and journey with become more Christlike.
Picture a desert. Now, imagine an African stick-built village in the middle-of-nowhere. This image you have in your mind is probably not far off from the village we were in with one of our Soul Edge teams in 2013. We were over 500 km deep into the dessert of Turkana, a remote region in Western Kenya during the mission phase of the Soul Edge training course. In this remote village we were enabling access to medical care for those who otherwise had no access. We also were there to pray for the sick and minister the love of Jesus.
I can still remember the moment vividly in my mind. I was in the group that was handing out medical supplies when a man crippled from polio came to us asking if we could help. Knowing we couldn’t do anything for him medically, I directed him to the prayer team. He limped, hunched over with a cane in his hand, in the direction of a couple of our Soul Edge students. They greeted him with a smile and began to pray over him. I watched them, curious to see what might happen and to my amazement, I suddenly saw the man’s back completely straighten. He was shocked and we were stunned. Only a short time later the believers in the village began a time of worship. There was much rejoicing and the man healed from polio was there, dancing. The only right response was awe, wonder and worship.
Why do I share this story? Because, for me, it was a moment where I experienced seeing a New Testament kind of miracle happening at the hands of young men that I had invested in and had the joy of discipling; young men who had taken hold of their identity as Sons of God, as those who could bring the Kingdom. When I think of discipleship I think it is good and right that we remember that Jesus trained his disciples to do the very things that he had been doing.
So what is the Jesus model of discipleship? Does our discipleship reflect the way Jesus did discipleship?
If we think ‘big picture’ for a minute, one way to understand what Jesus did is to break down the journey his disciples went through with him into five distinct stages. Here are the stages that we can clearly identify as significant and intentional to Jesus’ investment in his disciples:
1) Relational: First of all discipleship is relational. When Jesus calls his disciples to follow him it is an invitation to do life with him. To be known by Jesus. I believe that all discipleship starts here. This is intuitive to leaders. Many churches and leaders are brilliant at this, building connections and creating space for people to be known. We know that unless you have relationship you can’t have trust and trust in a mentoring relationship is the most valuable commodity. Jesus was first of all relational and invited his disciples into an incredible journey of transformation and growth, and it started with their yes to simply come and be with Jesus.
2) Teaching: The Gospel writers record snapshots of Jesus teaching. Often we find Jesus teaching the crowd but then privately explaining the parables to his disciples. The second stage of discipleship is this whole area of engagement with truth. Jesus isn’t just lecturing his disciples: he is confronting their worldview with the way of the Kingdom. In order for there to be transformation in lives it requires each person to engage what they believe about the world with the truth and reality of what Jesus revealed and taught. Often I think this is where those discipling (or mentors) can encounter resistance. For many, they are happy to have a coffee with you and talk about their life – yet, moving into teaching instruction and challenge can be harder. Not everyone wants this, but without content and engagement do we really have discipleship?
3) Heart Healing: This is the deep healing work of the Holy Spirit. If Christian discipleship could be done just by following principles then we would not need the Holy Spirit. But the truth is that life transformation is very difficult without the transforming touch of Jesus in our lives. This stage of the discipleship journey is where we gently, safely, and in love face our shame, pain, and hurt, and see Jesus minister healing, redemption, and reconciliation. This is an important stage for leaders to journey through: many leaders have gone to great heights of influence and crashed or burnt out. This tendency often comes back to hidden things left unaddressed. Providing a safe space and accountability to engage in the raw and real is so valuable for any leader. The lost art of restoration is huge here.
4) Mission: Jesus trains his disciples to do the very things that he has been doing. After the disciples have spent some time with him, he sends them on their first mission trip. Part of the discipleship journey is creating space for those that we are investing in to have opportunity to risk, while still in a situation where they are covered “if they get it wrong.” Thus, there is room for failure and room for growth, as well as room for success.
5) Duplication: Finally, in Matthew 28, Jesus sends his disciples out to make disciples of nations. Implicitly, this instruction calls the disciples to do this in the same pattern with which Jesus engaged with them. They would go forth and invite others to “come and follow in the way of Jesus.” The brilliance of the Jesus model of discipleship is that the expansion of the Kingdom was to come through duplication (multiplication). Each disciple was to disciple others, and in turn those ones would go on to disciples others.
These five stages of discipleship are essential and have patterned and defined the Soul Edge model of discipleship. Teams of 12 students live with team leaders (themselves mentored and accountable) whilst doing life together, engaging in these 5 elements of discipleship, and being stretched mentally, physically and spiritually.
The Jesus model: It still works in the 21st Century, raising up leaders of the Next Generation to be both passionate and capable at engaging and transforming the world around them.