Relationships are messy. They aren’t static nor do they follow a linear progression. We’d never try to program our relationship with our spouse or our friends. So why do we try to program discipleship in the local church? If discipleship is fundamentally about a growing relationship with Jesus, why do we insist on treating it so differently? Programs have a role to play and we definitely need a strategy for making disciples. We also need to teach people how to grow as disciples as they go about their work, school, child-rearing, marriage, etc.
When Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples, he meant for that to be done in the context of everyday life. You could argue this has always been God’s design. In Deuteronomy 6, Israel was told to talk about God’s law in the rhythms of daily life. Growing our love for God and others doesn’t primarily happen in an awkward one-on-one relationship or a one-size-fits-all program. It happens when we realize that everything we do, from the mundane to the exciting, is an opportunity to grow in our relationship with Jesus. The challenge is to see what it is about our situation that can increase our love for Jesus.
I love the encounter between Peter and Jesus that’s recorded in John 21. Usually our focus in that section is the repeated question that Jesus asks Peter. There’s another part to their dialogue though. Immediately after Peter’s three-fold affirmation of love for his Savior, Jesus alludes to Peter’s death and says to him, “Follow me.” When Peter hears this, his response is to question what will happen to another disciple. Jesus again tells him, “Follow me.”
It’s so easy to get caught up in what God has called other people to do. It’s especially tempting to dwell on what others are doing when my life isn’t going the way I’d like. Thankfully, Jesus offers a different invitation: to follow him and do what he has called me to do. He doesn’t need me to run someone else’s race. He needs me to be faithful to the one he’s given to me.
At the risk of offending the Baptist roots that I love, here goes: I think we put too much emphasis on the moment of conversion (a.k.a. “the invitation”) in many Evangelical churches. I’m not saying it’s unimportant and I’m not debating whether people are legitimately saved in that setting. But let’s face it, with an engaging speaker, a strong emotional appeal, and the right set of circumstances in the hearer’s life, you can get quite a few people to respond to an invitation.
The thing is, Jesus didn’t command us to get decisions. He commanded us to make disciples. And that is much, much harder. That’s because discipleship starts with a decision (to trust Christ as Savior) but it’s followed by many decisions (to confess and repent of our sins, to surrender our idols, and to allow him to change us even when it’s painful). So praise God for decisions. May they lead to disciples who make disciples.