He grew up in a suburban church – equipped in all the ways many other young Christians are equipped. He learned the books of the Bible, the names of the apostles, the major stories and characters of the Bible. Josh went to a Christian college where he majored in Bible. He learned Greek. He learned exegesis and he even learned some basic counseling techniques.
Ten years later Josh was in his second ministry position in a suburban church similar to the one where he was raised. Only this church presented Josh with a challenge. The leadership had decided that their church was to become a disciple-making church.
THAT was the challenge!
While Josh had attended lots of Bible classes – virtually every Sunday for decades– no one had ever ‘discipled’ him the way he understood the term. How could he disciple others if he had never been discipled?
Josh’s story raises several significant questions:
- What is the purpose of discipleship?
- What is the difference between intentional discipleship and religious education?
What If I Haven’t Been Discipled?
It is difficult to take others on a journey you have not taken yourself – especially a spiritual journey. That does not mean that unless you have not done the exact same thing, you cannot lead others. Yet, if you have never submitted yourself to another Christian and invited him or her to personally guide you deeper in faith, you probably should not play that role in the life of another. There is a sacred trust borne of the risk you take by submitting to the influence of a fellow Christian. Those you lead should know you have taken the same risk you are asking them to take.
The Purpose of Discipleship
The purpose of discipleship is to become like Christ. Like the apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor. 11:1, ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.’ It is important to note that biblical knowledge is beneficial for becoming like Christ, but it is not the end. It is the means. There is much more to say about the purpose of discipleship but learning to live like Christ tops the list.
Intentional Versus Religious Education
Religious education focuses on informing the head in hopes that it will influence the heart. It guides the student in learning facts and proper interpretations believing that Christians will live the right way with the right knowledge. Yet, history has shown us that just because people have Christian education does not mean their heart and their character has been formed into the image of Christ. When we intentionally disciple others, we invite them to take a spiritual journey with us (‘follow me…’), and we intentionally guide them in the ways of Christ (‘and I will make you fishers of people…’). Discipleship offers a personalized feedback loop that education generally lacks.
Mission Alive’s intentional discipleship process, Discipleship Cohorts (DCs), invites participants on such a journey of transformation. DCs are designed for Christians who have never been discipled themselves. It helps them take a journey of discipleship and helps them begin to imagine discipling others. It is highly reproducible and allows participants the freedom to adapt as they see fit for their context. Once a participant takes DC1, the first level (16 weeks), they are invited into DC2, level 2, to learn with others how to lead discipleship groups (another 16 weeks). For leaders whose must recruit and train other leaders who will lead discipleship groups, Mission Alive has DC3, level 3, that functions as a national learning community of discipleship network leaders – a safe place for discussing the challenges of recruiting and training local leaders.
If you want to come alongside others and help them live the life of Christ, if you are willing to open your life to them and develop an authentic relationship, if you want to develop a reproducing discipleship process, Mission Alive can help you. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.