Let me begin from the outset of this article by saying that this is by no means the law of the land when it comes to the topic.
These are some thoughts and reflections after having discipled my peers and younger students for 3 years in a college and high school context.
1. Discipleship is necessarily an intellectual endeavor.
I recognize that to a great many of you reading this article, that this statement may cause disgruntlement or immediate disagreement, all I ask is that you at least consider my reasons and explanations in the following paragraph.
The Discipler has been entrusted with something to teach to others… (2 Tim 2:2). The Discipler has been at one point and hopefully is continuing to be discipled and educated on the sound doctrine which they are entrusted to instruct others in (1 Tim….). The Discipler ought to be part of a community of peers who help he/she to grow in their own faith (Proverbs 27:17). Theology is the root of Bible Study, in that by studying the Bible one is studying God. Theology at its core is not an academic discipline, though it would be irresponsible to not recognize that theology does describe an academic discipline and attitude). Theology per the description given is part of loving God. Consider the passages of the Gospels which describe the “Greatest Command”.
In the Post-Modern setting this is made more demanding than ever upon the discipler because he/she will have to be continuously striving to be a better teacher and step-by-step explainer as the world and culture deteriorates. The Discipler must be able to engage the cultural tendrils that individuals have been raised to view as harmless despite their negative impact on a person’s relationship with God. For example one major aspect of postmodern culture is the rise of relativism, which maintains that truth is ultimately determined by the individual, that truth is not and cannot be objective, and that truth cannot actually exist in any sort of moral sense. Another component of postmodernism which is rising within the lay Christian theological perspective is that of pluralism which is the idea that there are multiple faiths which can allow a person entry to heaven. The primary concern of the Discipler is to ensure that those being discipled understand the problems with relativism and pluralism, in order to do this the discipler must understand both pluralism and relativism and be able to use various styles of presentation to explain the issues with the two perspectives.
2. Relationship is one of the products of Discipleship, not the method or cause.
Again please have patience with this one, I have good reason for making this claim scripturally.
When one looks at the entirety of the Epistle (Letter) to the Roman Church (Romans, in your Bibles). It is essential to recognize that the Apostle Paul did not have a relationship to that church at all (Romans 1:10-13). He did not start it, He did not mentor or teach any of its leaders. Paul had essentially no connection to the church, and yet, he wrote an entire letter focused on doctrine and life application to the church. He had no relationship, and yet he discipled in the form of this letter. Discipleship in this context is not as common these days but it still occurs in the form of blogs, youtube channels, and radio programs.
Discipleship produces relationship as one of the products of the process. If relationship is viewed as the foundation of discipleship priorities are quickly lost. The relationship becomes the end goal rather than a simple product of the goal: that one grows closer to Christ as a result of being mentored by one who has been walking with God longer than they have. Jesus did not ask for friendship, he asked for followers (Luke 5:1 – 11) and made them friends over the course of years… let that sink in, Jesus taught the disciples for years and he called them friends toward the end of that time (John 15:13).
As I reflect on my life and the relationships within them, my closest relationships are ones in which they began with the Iron sharpening Iron, they began with an intellectual connection that was oriented towards glorifying God. My closest relationships came to exist as a result of being discipled, discipling others, or by mutually encouraging one another on toward the Lord. In many ways my closest relationships did not begin with “hey let’s be friends, let’s get to know one another” they began as a “hey let’s chase God together, let’s push one another towards God.”
I think that in a lot of ways we try to combine relational evangelism with Discipleship and we end up with some mess of a process that doesn’t do either very effectively in the long term.
I’m still learning about this second point and am still researching so this is an article that will likely be updated on a somewhat frequent basis.
Please shoot me an email or leave a comment. I’d love to discuss these things and if I’m in the wrong please show me where?
I am always looking for places to continue growing as a leader and follower of Christ.