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A Journey Through Matthew (Pt. 8)

The Fall of 2024 marks my 30th year in Pastoral ministry. It’s hard to imagine that for thirty years, I have dedicated my life to teaching and leading God’s people in His ways and His Word.  In those years, I have had some great experiences, and I have had some horrible ones. I have witnessed the greatest qualities of Christians, and I have seen the worst. Many have hugged and yelled at me, and a few were the same people. I have been to countless conferences and read innumerable theological books, leadership books, books on how to have a successful ministry, books about the ins and outs of church growth, and books on the importance of discipleship. I have had success, and I have faced failure.  All this to say is, in thirty years, I have learned a lot.


However, as I sat down to write this blog, I thought back on all my years of ministry and experiences and came to a somewhat cynical conclusion about church and pastoral ministry. As church leaders, we are great at building buildings.  We love to design programs and come up with clever sermon titles. We have mastered the art of staffing churches. We are great at putting on events and coming up with gimmicks. We are visionaries as we rally people around new initiatives and strategies. And if God blesses our churches with growth, we become increasingly skillful in many other things, from branding to facility management. 

But my cynicism comes when I get down to brass tacks and contemplate and ask the most important questions, “Are we making disciples of Christ?” And “do we know and understand what discipleship looks like?” I hope to shed some light on these questions today.

 

­Discipleship

Matthew 8:18 – 22

In this passage, Jesus gets away from the crowd to be with his disciples, and this directly contrasts Jesus’ normal routine of ministry.  Ironically, the crowd that Jesus is getting away from is the reason for Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming the good news, healing, and inviting them into the kingdom of God to become his disciples. Before he could cross over, he was approached by a religious teacher of the law and proclaimed, “I will follow you wherever you go.” In this encounter, the teacher of the religious law desired a discipleship relationship with Jesus.  However, his idea of discipleship and Jesus’ form of discipleship were not the same.  The leader was seeking prestige and honor.  According to commentator and theologian Michael J. Wilkins, “This man has in mind the kind of master-disciple relationship in which a potential disciple examines various masters and then enlists himself with the most popular or the best-equipped one.”  Jesus’ discipleship does not look like this.  Jesus’ discipleship does not include schooling or training in the synagogue.  His discipleship is relational and humble and comes with a cost.  Being a disciple of Jesus will not result in prestige and comfort. Instead, it will be one of loss and abandonment.

 

Church leaders today easily fall into the trap of gauging success in the church by the ABCs of growth: Attendance, Buildings, and Cash and not discipleship. What pastors shifted the focus from running out and grabbing as many people from outside the community with gimmicks and programs to attract people to the church and Jesus and instead spend more time disciplining the people God has already entrusted to them? What if we decided to invest in those already attending week after week? This is what we call discipleship.

 

The word Disciple simply means “learner or student.” Some would define a disciple much like this religious leader, as someone who follows a leader.  But a disciple of Christ is not just a follower.  A disciple of Christ not only follows Jesus but…


  1.  Is led in a direction.

  2. Trained in truth.

  3. Formed in character

 

The distinguishing mark of a Christian disciple is a transformed heart and transformed life.  When someone becomes a disciple, Christ radically changes the person’s life.

 

A Disciple is…

Led in a Direction – Regarding being led, a disciple is led by someone and follows someone, often in a new direction.  It is a choice that is made.  It is a response to a call.  Disciples are followers; however, they must decide to take the hand of the guide and go where they are led.  It is not merely following blindly; it involves following one who knows where they are going, how to get there, and one whom they will model their lives after. We see this in the calling of the disciples of Jesus.  They responded to Jesus’ call and chose to follow Him to places they never would have gone and to model their lives after. Every disciple of Jesus is walking somewhere and following someone. So, who are you following? Where are you headed?

 

Trained in Truth—If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you must be guided in His ways. Being trained in truth is not about gaining head knowledge or picking and choosing what to believe. When you agree to be a disciple, you are seeking to allow God’s truth to work through your life all your life. Life is not a classroom, so discipleship is intended to train and guide you through everyday circumstances, ultimately leading to…

 

Formed in Character – Disciples of Jesus are people who no longer want to be all they can be on their own simply.  Instead, they want to be like Jesus.  It is about transformation.  You have joyfully surrendered your life, demolished borders, and are happy to have a life shaped to look like Jesus.  Discipleship is not about behavior modification. If a church. Pastors or Christians view discipleship as merely tweaking behavior then their work is contrary to the gospel's content and the way of Jesus.  Go after hearts.  God does not desire to tweak our behavior.  He desires to transform our lives.

 

Jesus modeled discipleship and trained his disciples to go out and make disciples.  Jesus gradually released his disciples into ministry through a four-step process that looked like this.

  1. Jesus ministered, and the disciples watched him.

  2. Jesus allowed the disciples to assist him in ministry.

  3. The disciples did the ministry themselves, with Jesus’ assistance.

  4. Jesus watched as the disciples ministered to others.

If we want to be disciples, those who live under the rule of the King, we need to know him personally, live in his power, and look forward to the day when the kingdom of God on earth is as it is in heaven.

 

The Cost of Discipleship

Discipleship has an end goal: to be conformed to the image of Christ — to talk the way he talked, walk the way he walked, and respond the way he responded. As a disciple-maker, all you’re doing is pointing at the One you’re following and saying to those around you, “Come with me; I’m following him.” However, discipleship comes with a cost.


  • The discipleship process always begins with a personal relationship with Jesus, which involves loss.  Matthew 16:24 – 25 says, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.


  • You can’t promote what you don’t participate in. In the same way, Jesus expects us to be disciples before we can be makers of disciples.


  • You cannot know the God of the Word unless you know the Word of God. To understand God, you must know Jesus — the walking Word (John 1: 1, 14) — which is impossible apart from the Scriptures.


  • The kingdom of God is not just an invisible place in a spiritual realm but a movement among God’s people in the here and now. You don’t need to wait for the kingdom of heaven to arrive. It’s already here, in part, and will fully come when the King returns.


  • If we want to be disciples, those who live under the rule of the King, we need to know him personally, live in his power, and look forward to the day when the kingdom of God on earth is as it is in heaven.

 

Conclusion

Discipleship begins with a relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is imperative that we have a relationship with the Savior before we can fully follow him in the direction that He calls us.  Disciples of Christ allow Jesus to be the center of all they are and do, affecting every aspect of their life.  More specifically, this centrality affects the way we view ourselves and how we treat others. As a disciple, you are part of God’s mission and called to participate in God’s mission, which is “Disciples making disciples.”


HOW?

  • Go:  Jesus commands us to go and share His story.


  • Baptize:  To baptize means to make a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ.  Our mission is to proclaim the good news and help others realize their need for Christ.


  • Teach: Discipleship does not end at conversion. This is just the beginning. Learning and teaching are a lifelong process. As disciples, we are students and teachers. We must always be continually learning and teaching others what it means to live as disciples of Christ.



How different would your life be today if you had an opportunity to be engaged in a Christlike, biblical discipleship relationship?


 

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