Theology of Discipleship


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One of the things that I have been giving some thought to lately is a theology of discipleship. Thanks to some great discussion that was had in a grad class at Lubbock Christian University back in October and a recent article I read by Mike Yaconelli (you can read it at: http://www.youthspecialties.com/articles/Yaconelli/disciple_abuse.php), I have been challenged a great deal to adopt a higher view of discipleship than I have in the past. Here are a couple of thoughts that have challenged me in this way:

#1 - Yac writes in the article above: "I don't believe in student discipleship." His article makes it clear that he is not writing off the good things that adolescents are involved in, but Yac's view of discipleship is much higher than just doing good deeds, attending Bible class or going on mission trips. It is a deeper dedication than most youths are capable of giving at their age. They haven't lived life enough to fully comprehend what it means to be a disciple.

#2 - At the class that I attended back in October at LCU we were blessed to be able to enter into a discussion on discipleship with a member of the ICOC present. They are a disciples' movement. It was interesting to see how radically different our perceptions were of the discipling process. This particular classmate talked about how they would never encourage baptism until late adolescence (around the college age). He interpreted the Great Commission as first going and making disciples and then baptizing them. Traditionally, churches of Christ have joined the two together...disciples are made upon the committment to Christ in baptism. Not so, for my friend. Interestingly enough, its not very hard to accept the difference of interpretation.With these two experiences in mind, coupled with my observances of not just the youth in my ministry but many adults as well...I am quickly coming to the conclusion that I need to modify my teaching on the subject of discipleship. What's needed in our brotherhood is a higher view of discipleship. We have a lot to learn from Yaconelli, the ICOC, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others about the cost of discipleship. Baptism doesn't make one a disciple any more than throwing on a chef's hat makes me a chef. Discipleship is about understanding the cost, training in Christlikeness, daily self denial, and a step by step journey towards a hill called Golgotha...where the old is crucified and the new is revealed in us. It's radical...its hard core...it's so much more than what our tradition has made it out to be.

I know this view seems to make the road o so much narrower! Why would any one choose this? Because LIFE is at the end of the journey! That's why! For heaven's sake...who wouldn't want to choose this if they new what kind of gift was being given to them? I have died my first death and I am no longer afraid of the second death. What an awesome feeling!

Final words: If we adopt this view of discipleship...doesn't it rescue our faith journey from the flames of mediocrity? Though the path be difficult, this view of discipleship ignites in me a passion for a Christianity that is meaningful and relevant...in ways that we have forgotten in the modern world. Comfortable discipleship...comfortably Christianity is falling to the wayside in this post-Christian world. Those who will stand the test of time in our generation are going to have to fight to follow Christ...Could it be that this fight will separate the "disciples" from the Disciples?

What are your thoughts?


6 Responses to “Theology of Discipleship”

  1. Anonymous Doug 

    Doug,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I know the time we spent with Fraze that week in October, dealing with this and many other issues was time well spent.

    Many blessings in your ministry to youth and family in your congregation.

    Here is a little of where I am at thinking through discipleship. It's not a exhaustive, but here goes:

    Discipleship begins before a person's salvation moment/ conversion experience and continues through the rest of their walk upon this earth. Discipleship is better understood as a journey, a pursuing after Christ and being pursued by Christ. This journey is like a dance, twirling and gliding on the feet of our Father, steadily holding his hands and heart glowing because of the momentum of the twirls and the exhilaration of the dance. Journey is messy, even though we haven't always allowed for ourselves and others to admit the messiness of the journey. The goal of discipleship is transformation, steadily becoming more like Christ. It is Christ in us and the hope of this transforming presence that continues to give meaning to our lives. We must remember that discipleship should not happen alone. We must have community for discipleship to be effective. We need relational intimacy with those that have walked this journey ahead of us and understand the highs and lows and the ins and outs of this roller-coaster ride we call the Christian life. And as we have been poured into by seasoned souls we too must pour ourselves into the lives of others. Jesus Christ was relational and allowed for his disciples to ask questions and was patient with them when they didn't get it. Jesus understood the importance of hearing a person's story and seeing the Greater Story. We haven't lost that relational thrust of following Christ. Following by its very nature implies relationship. We don't follow those we don't know. Likewise, today in our ever changing world we need to be sensitive to the stories of others, and allow them to see how their story connects to the Greater Story. But hearing a person's story will not occur outside of relationships. This sort of thinking should change the way we share the gospel with those outside of church culture. The content certainly won't change but the way we present the message will. When we commit to relationships with those who are outside of church culture we are making a long term investment in the lives of those whom Jesus misses most.

  2. Anonymous Chris Lockhart 

    Doug,

    Interesting thoughts. I have challenged many people in regard to that though about the great commision, where the command is - Make Disciples First. I think this speakes quite loudly but in many ways this concept is overlooked. Another thing I have also begun to do, is stop calling each other Christians, because while it may be semantics to some, I take very serioously the fact that, lots of people call themselves "Christians" but few are "disciples of Christ." Blessings!

  3. Anonymous Jason 

    CL,

    Thanks for entering the conversation. I hope all is going well for you and your wife and little girl.

    Making disciples is no easy task, but certainly worth it.

  4. Anonymous Gary Davis 

    I think that what your propose is very wise, and the language of "journey" brings Discipleship more into proper context. The thing that I disagree with is the idea that being a disciple is a more difficult call to embrace, let me re-phrase that. Living the life of a disciple is a more difficult life to lead than the life of a "Christian". Living the life of a Christian, more often than not, identifies becoming a disciple in the same terms as salvation: it is an event. HOWEVER: Living the life of a disciple is a so much easier than living the life of traditional Christianity. In traditional Christianity you have two extremes: One extreme says that once you are "saved" your will be empowered to "sin" (in the habititual sense) no more. (which has a grain of truth), the other extreme says that if you sin, you weren't saved in the first place. In the middle of both of those view, pulling towards a more coherent Biblical view of Discipleship is...GRACE. In the extreme views there is a lot of risk involved, on one side you have to come to a place where you risk believing that you will never sin again once you turn your life over to Christ, on the other side you risk not being "saved" in the first place, or some such nonsense like that. In the middle you have grace, which enables true discipleship because it corresponds following Christ with our perception of reality. We see nearly everything as a process, or journey. Nearly everything we experience is either a journey in and of itself, or is part of a larger journey being undeertaken. IE: elementary school is the journey to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to college, college to career, etc... But in some traditional forms of Chrstianity there is a cut off point, even though there is teaching and preaching every week, they are sometimes based on the faulty premise that the spirit will enable everyone to assimilate the teaching and go forth successfully, because after all...they have been saved right?

    Grace makes way for the Chrsitian experience to correspond, and be relevant to, our human experience.

  5. Anonymous Doug Oakes 

    Jason wrote: "Jesus Christ was relational and allowed for his disciples to ask questions and was patient with them when they didn't get it."

    This is one of the many ways Jesus separates himself from me in my walk. He who set the bar for how we should live our lives was constantly surrounded by those who did not even come close to those standards. Yet he continued to speak truth to them. The answer was not for him to lower his expectations of others, but to start with each one where they were at. I find that I lose patience with people too quickly...especially those in the church, who I think should be farther along in their journey. I know Jesus vented frustrations ("how long must I put up with this wicked and perverse generation?"), but even in those frustrations, he met them where they were at.

    I know I must be careful how I challenge those who are of the modern mindset. Things are changing fast in our community and in many churches who have chosen to start over. The "church on the other side" is too much for many of our current brethren to handle. While I am excited about what the church can be "on the other side" I need to be careful not to cut the modern world off because of my frustrations. I'm finding that managing this transition is going to take character that I have not grown into yet. These are challenging, identity-shaping times.

  6. Anonymous Aaron 

    What Yac has to say would fit into what Chap Clark says in Hurt... At their age, they can't even really figure out the core of who they are. It seems like a hard statement to swallow. Is it true?

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