Can discipleship be taught?

On the post entitled “Student or Disciple” Mike Webb left a great comment, with good thoughts and questions.  As I read through it a few times there was one question that kept grabbing my attention: Can discipleship be taught?

Wow, I feel little heresy bubbles in my tummy even entertaining the question.  Of course discipleship can be taught!  Right?  How much money, many hours, and donut holes have been devoted to teaching discipleship?  You go through four, or eight, or twenty-eight class sessions and then you’re a disciple.  Oh, and a minimum of three years of sermons.  That is an assumption that is deeply rooted in evangelical practice and belief.  I’m guessing much of that results from the much-needed return to Scripture that came with the Reformation.  That was the beginning of people being liberated to search the Scriptures and learn from them, and learning has been at a premium ever since.

My answer to that question, can discipleship be taught, and this comes largely from my experience, is that it cannot.  As I said in the previous post, learning can be an important part of becoming a disciple, but I don’t think teaching at people until their legs fall asleep will churn out disciples.  So to quote another of Mike’s questions, where do we go from here?

This is an area I’m really just starting to try and formulate, but here are some thoughts.  I think the development of disciples is something that requires a complex mix of things.  Mike is right on to point out that a relationship with Jesus is an essential part of that.  We are supposed to have Jesus as our model, not the Bible.  Cultivating a deep relationship  with Jesus, or in biblical language, staying connected to the vine, can be complex in itself.  It certainly includes reading Scripture, praying, and doing the things Jesus did, but there are many other things that can contribute to connection to Christ as well.

Another important part of discipleship is learning and living the kingdom of God.  The more I contemplate the kingdom of God the more I am convinced that it is the seminal sphere of discipleship.  After Jesus’ resurrection he appeared to his disciples and, “spoke to them about the kingdom of God.”  We place so much emphasis on the Great Comission as the last words of Jesus, with good reason, but I have never heard anyone point out that in the intermission between the resurrection and ascension Jesus was most concerned to talk to his followers about the kingdom of God.  This is so important because the kingdom of God is so all-encompassing, as discipleship should be.  It makes demands of our minds, hearts, reasoning, passions, and actions.  Jesus told Nicodemus that anyone who wanted to enter this kingdom had to be born again.  In other words, the kingdom of God is so foreign to all we know of what it means to live that we need to start over.  Start over with how to have relationships, how we view our world’s social stratification, what the goal of life is, and so much more.  Becoming citizens of God’s kingdom will require study, accountability, explanation, modeling, doing even when we’re not sure why, the transformation of the Holy Spirit beyond what we can do ourselves, and a willingness to be strange to the world we have known.  This sphere of reality called the kingdom of God is so massive it is a bit difficult to comprehend.

In addition to connection to Christ and the kingdom of God I think discipleship takes mentoring beyond a weekly sit-down, shedding our comfort, and following Jesus into the unknown.  Other thoughts?

About Big Tasty

Be better today than yesterday.

Posted on March 4, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Good stuff Trevor. Keep it coming!

    I like your emphasis on the Kingdom of God. It reminds me that discipleship is not simply about me and Jesus. It’s about me and Jesus and the “body of Christ” and the kingdom of God beyond my world but including my world… Your mention of the Holy Spirit is also eye-opening. Discipleship requires transformation and it can’t and won’t be accomplished in the absence of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit its not discipleship at all, its only make-believe.

    I think maybe we confuse teaching about discipleship, teaching discipleship, and teaching about how to make disciples. For example it is easy to teach about things like marriage relationships using Scripture references, real-life examples, and a tear-jerking personal anecdote, but to teach someone to be a good husband or a good wife gets much more complicated. In the same way we can describe discipleship and teach about its biblical foundation, etc. but to teach someone to be a disciple or to make disciples is much more complicated.

    I’m enjoying this Trevor! I appreciate your challenging words and insight. I hope we can sit down and talk sometime when we get back.

  2. The marriage example is a good one. It is very possible for someone to know a massive amount about how to be a good husband and still suck at it. Perhaps one of the greatest faults of the church in general and Christian leaders (like me) is that we let people have a free pass if they know enough. We praise their knowledge and fear challenging their practice or growth.

    We definately need to set up a time to meet when you’re back!

  3. Trevor, not sure what you mean by “taught” but I reckon you are saying you can’t read books, hear sermons, and hear lectures and thus become a disciple.

    A careful study of 1 Cor 4:8-17 would show that Paul agrees with you, I reckon (“That is why I send you Timothy…”; a letter just wasn’t going to cut it.)

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