Thursday, July 21, 2011

Being Disciples : Making Disciples

Jesus called disciples, to follow him and so to learn to share in his (covenant) identity and in his (kingdom) mission, and then to go and make disciples, and teach them in turn to make disciples.  There is a dynamic of following – of being a disciple – and of being sent out – as apostles, or sent ones - to make disciples.

Let’s get one thing straight: we are not Jesus’ disciples.  A disciple follows someone in order to learn from them, and Jesus makes it clear to Simon Peter (John 13:36) that he was about to go somewhere where we cannot follow him yet: to the right-hand side of our Father in heaven, where he intercedes on our behalf.

To claim to follow Jesus is to concern oneself with adhering to his ethical teaching.  But that is an inadequate response.  To follow after Jesus requires us to be disciples – and that requires us to literally follow someone whom we have physically encountered, from whom we can learn something of how to live this life according to the pattern Jesus inaugurated.

Thus making disciples is an apostolic task, in that – regardless of whether our own function within the Body of Christ is primarily as an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor or a teacher – making disciples happens as we are sent out by whoever we have gathered to in order to be ourselves discipled.  Making disciples is not a pastoral task – or a prophetic or even an evangelistic or a teaching task; although apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers will go about making disciples in different ways, because they have different personalities and priorities, carry different facets of Jesus.  We must rediscover this; must recognise that we are all sent, and not just a few.

There was a kid named Andrew (by the way, his name means ‘man’).  His father was a fisherman, and so he and his brother were learning to be fishermen – and if the stories are anything to go by, they had a lot to learn.  But whenever he could get away, he went to learn from a crazy wild-man by the name of John.  Until one day, both John and Andrew realised that The Day had come: Andrew had learnt what John had to teach him (about how to be a man devoted to God), and now he needed to go and learn from John’s cousin.  And in time, John’s cousin sent Andrew out to call others to learn from him all that he had learnt from Jesus...

Discipleship is embodied.  You can’t be discipled effectively by several people at once, though you will probably need to be discipled in different areas or different seasons by several people.  And you can’t be genuinely discipled at a distance – through podcasts, or books, or blogs – unless these things are building on an already-established relationship (it is worth noting how many people who read my blog either already know me personally or look for the opportunity to meet me; and the same is generally true of those blogs I keep an eye on or books I read).

The gracious challenge my church tradition finds herself confronted with is our need to recognise that we have focused on the disembodied – and therefore highly individualistic, private, and intellectual – matter of following Jesus, instead of on the embodied matter of following after him, as those who are sent into the world in the authority of the Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit, bringing glory to our Father...and to repent and believe, to accept the gracious invitation to take up our calling to be and make disciples.

Who have you followed (been discipled by) at various stages in your life?  Who are you following now?  Who has been sent to you, for you to follow?

Who has followed (been discipled by) you, at various stages in your life?  Who is following you now?  To whom have you been sent, to call them to follow you?


  1. Some of you might feel uncomfortable with the suggestion that we make disciples of us, because we are conditioned to believe that Jesus is the person we should follow. But that is to misunderstand the discipler-disciple relationship. Rabbis do not ask their disciples to worship them; neither do we ask our disciples to worship us: rather, the purpose of the rabbi is to point his or her disciples to God.

  2. The other thing to say is that you can influence an almost unlimited number of people, given the right media; but you can only disciple a few people at any one time, because it requires that you are sharing your life with them.