The pattern of discipleship in the Body of Christ is for the disciple to imprint upon a new believer what was imprinted upon them.
Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher. (Luke 6:40).
In thinking about today’s topic, I am reminded of one of my wife’s favorite children’s books.
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco relates a story of her family’s past – her great-great-grandfather in particular. One thing we learn about this man is that he once shook hands with Abraham Lincoln. By the book’s end, we learn each generation in the family carried this handshake down.
Polacco will tell this story when she speaks publicly. She offers to shake hands afterwards, to continue this connection with others.
It is a powerful thought, this connection of touch to such a monumental figure in American history.
Compare that to the pattern of discipleship. Where the idea of going and making disciples carries on a line of faith that goes all the way back to Christ Himself.
Discipleship and the Great Commission
When Jesus Christ gave His apostles the great commission, He was giving them a specific, simple, straightforward mission.
Jesus didn’t ask the apostles to write or inform the New Testament. He didn’t ask them to become renowned teachers. Jesus didn’t even ask them to build churches.
The apostles accomplished all these things as a matter of course in fulfilling their main duty – to make disciples.
While initiating this task can happen quickly, accomplishing it takes longer. It takes a personal investment; the same way Jesus had invested 3 years with the 12.
This was the pattern of discipleship that Jesus imprinted upon the apostles; to walk together in relationship and mentorship. In doing so, Jesus was preparing them for the day they would be the initiators in the discipleship relationship.
The Personal Touch of Christ
When Jesus called the 12 apostles, we see several passages in the gospels where Jesus used the phrase, “follow me” when calling them.
The invitation Jesus gave to the 12 apostles was first and foremost, an invitation to follow the Messiah, the Son of God. But it was also a personal invitation to partner in life with Jesus Christ.
Imagine spending 3 years in an apprenticeship in your job. A full 3 years of following the example of someone who was more knowledgeable, wise, and skilled than you. Someone you knew was completely invested in your growth and your success.
Now, imagine that this person was an excellent teacher. He would be continually telling you the why, and then giving you room to practice the how.
Then, knowing that one day you would take the lead in His work, leaving you with a personal guide to help empower you to continue on.
And finally, insisting that you support and be supported by anyone else who had gone through the same journey.
If only there were jobs out there like that!
This is the pattern of discipleship Jesus Christ modeled for the 12 apostles.
Once Jesus ascended into Heaven (Acts 1:6-11), the disciples waited until the Holy Spirt that was promised to them was given (Acts 2:1-4). And then they began their work as transformed people.
It wasn’t long before many were coming to believe in Jesus and faith was spreading beyond the area of Jerusalem. Groupings of believers were being grown throughout the region and into neighboring countries.
In the days of the early church, the 11 living apostles, as well as Paul and others moved amongst and wrote letters to these various collections of believers to help guide them in the faith, answer questions, and preach the gospel.
By studying the Book of Acts and many of the epistles in the New Testament, we can see not only how the local bodies of believers were nurtured, but how small teams of believers did this nurturing work. These were disciples teaching others how to be disciples, so they could go make more disciples.
Soon, all those who walked with Jesus personally had died – most of them martyred. But the pattern of discipleship lived on beyond them because they had discipled others in the same manner Jesus had discipled them.
The Pattern of Discipleship Today
At some point, this pattern of discipleship changed into something different. I did not experience learning about Christ through a relationship. I was told about Him and invited to visit a church. And then after several weeks of attending that church, made a “decision” for Christ.
Then, as best as I can tell, it became the church’s job to teach me what being a Christian meant. They provided the programming, but there wasn’t a personal investment. Not knowing any better, I assumed that I was “ok”.
All of this was done with the best of intent, but the result was, I was not discipled under the same pattern of discipleship that Jesus modeled. And my growth in my faith suffered for it.
Not only that, but those who could have personally discipled me apparently had lost an understanding themselves of what it meant to personally deposit their faith into another person. I have no way to know, but probably because their conversion story was similar to mine. The pattern of discipleship had been interrupted.
It was only in the last few years that I truly came to a real understanding of what walking with Jesus as a disciple looks like. And I’m still learning what that looks like in terms of personally instilling that in another human being, to prepare them to do the same thing.
Again, it is not my intent to be judgmental towards anyone here. But it does seem that the way we do church, at least in America has become a substitute for the pattern of discipleship that Jesus modeled. We rely on bringing people to church to learn about Jesus, and then kind of let them figure out where they fit in.
But this is not the pattern of discipleship Jesus established.
Jesus’ Pattern of Discipleship
We see that Jesus modeled an active role in discipleship, actually doing life with the apostles. Jesus did not follow a 3-step program with His disciples; Jesus initiated a 3-year relationship.
The pattern of discipleship Jesus taught requires each of us to intentionally bring people to Christ and then intentionally partner with them until they are mature enough to do the same with others.
Jesus didn’t send His disciples to synagogue and tell them to keep up their attendance if they wanted to grow. Jesus taught them Himself. He also served with them, ate with them, slept in the same open spaces with them.
Wherever you fit in the discipleship journey, you may have to take the initiative to get reconnected. Then expect to continue that initiative in the lives of others.
The good news is, as we walk in the Holy Spirit, as we abide with Christ through the abiding disciplines, we can reconnect ourselves intimately to Christ.
Are you in a place that you need to be discipled? Find someone mature in the faith and ask them to mentor and disciple you, to help you grow. By giving another person an opportunity to be a discipler, you are making another way possible to help advance the kingdom of God.
Then as we grow, we can make a “spiritual handshake” that brings new people into a powerful, intimate faith in Christ. We can then model that same spiritual intimacy in their lives.
More Bible verses about discipleship:
Matthew 11:29; Luke 9:23-24; John 8:31; Romans 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Colossians 1:28-29; 2 Timothy 2:1-2