We have read it, preached it, and memorized it. Few verses of Scripture are more familiar to the Christian than the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). Unfortunately, those verses are also two of the least practiced verses in the Bible. Sadly, we have led many to make decisions for Christ, but have led far fewer to become disciples.
Consider the large number of so-called members of the church who never darken the door of the church. Or count the number of people who sit in the pew on Sunday but have no daily relationship with Christ. While I am thankful these people attend, it is clear that the goal of the church is not to produce attenders, but the goal of the church is to make disciples.
So what is a disciple? I would choose a simple description—a disciple is a person who has chosen to follow Jesus and lives in a daily relationship with Him and His people. Disciples are not lone rangers, but live in God’s community. In fact, Jim Putnam, who has built one of the great churches of America, states that disciples are made in relationship with others.
Putnam said, “Discipleship is not utilizing information and skills. It is living in daily relationship with one another. Discipleship brings people into sustaining relationships that allow ordinary people to fail and fall while having brothers and sisters who pick you up.”
Across the years, I have sought to be both a disciple and a discipler of others. I have learned that the discipleship process is not a three-ring notebook. It is about iron sharpening iron—life on life. While some study materials can be used to guide the discipleship process, relationships trump material. Frankly, nothing is better than walking through Scripture together and seeking how to apply Truth to daily life.
Discipleship is best done one on one or perhaps even better in a small group setting. Sunday School can be a good place for discipleship as long as we understand that our goal is truth that transforms. Biblical information has its place, but, ultimately, we should be more concerned about transformation than information. A Sunday School class that just gets information becomes “info bloated.” Disciples don’t just learn, they apply. Disciples are not just trying to discover Truth, but to obey Truth. Knowledge without application makes us attenders, not disciples.
Time together is essential in the discipleship process. The first disciples lived for three years with Jesus. They lived, ate and travelled together. They learned to love Jesus and one another, and had to learn to deal with personal issues, conflict, tragedy and trouble. They couldn’t go join another church when personal conflicts erupted. These disciples, under the guidance of Christ, learned to work through problems and situations. That is discipleship.
Discipleship is not about one hour on Sunday morning, and a good Sunday School small group isn’t discipleship either. Unless we find ways to connect with one another throughout the week and walk with one another through life’s challenges, we have not become disciples. We are just attenders.
One of the keys to a good discipleship relationship is accountability. Attenders wander in and out without a wave. People seeking to be disciples of Christ love one another enough to speak truth with love, call on one another to be accountable and seek to encourage and challenge one another.
Discipleship is also about growth. Our goal, as disciples, is to mature and daily become more like Jesus in our thoughts and actions. As we study and apply the Truth of Scripture in community with other believers, we grow more and more like Christ.