Why most people confuse discipleship training with disciple-making.
When I talk about making disciples, I get that deer in the headlights stare from some people. Yes, from Christians. Yes, from God-fearing, Bible thumping Pentecostals. Why? The term fell out of use a long time ago and unfortunately the concept of what a disciple is has been lost to most believers.
When you say the word “disciple” to someone, usually they think of their church’s “discipleship training” program. We have moved the word “disciple” into a class, a program. This living breathing organism that Jesus started has just become a clinical institution for some. We are not playing with words here. Jesus put everything into the lives of His disciples and you might be attending a church that has missed most of that process and purpose.
The What versus the Why
Pay attention to what happens in your mind when I mention a few words here. First, the word “Christian.” When someone says, “She’s a good Christian,” you probably think of her behavior: kindness, faithful to church, generous. What about the word “Pentecostal”? You probably think of a person who prays deeply, dresses modestly, and reaches out to everyone he or she can to win them to the Lord. But what happens in your mind’s eye when you hear “disciple”? What do you see? People in long robes on the hills of Galilee? Can you picture a disciple today? How is this word different from the other two?
There is a reason that word is hard to define. It is not an easy concept and it is not an easy process. Yes, I love our church’s 18 week discipleship training course. But it takes more than that to make disciples. Many labels pertain to what a person does. The word “disciple” reaches a core of one’s being that cannot be defined as easily as “Pentecostal” or some other religious label.
Now, do not get me wrong. I think everyone should be Pentecostal. However, everyone should first be a disciple. This becomes a discussion of “why” versus “what.” You see, a label like “Pentecostal” can be given to someone who looks or acts a certain way—that’s their what. It is about what we do or what our churches are known for. However, being a disciple is about “why.”
At the heart of a disciple
Let me push you to think just a little bit more. Jesus had disciples who fought with each other. His disciples did not understand Him. He had disciples who were not saved. What? How is that possible? How can you be a disciple and not be saved? Ah. I am glad you asked.
A disciple is a person interested in Jesus. That is why so many followed Jesus. Disciples come from everywhere, the rich, the poor, the scholars, the uneducated, the men, the women, the boys, and the girls. They all have this one thing in common—an attraction to Jesus.
A disciple who does not fall away will enter the Kingdom of God—salvation. However, this core desire to know Jesus must never leave them. I am afraid we are beating the heart of a disciple out of too many people by institutionalization. To work with someone hungry for Jesus, feed their “why.”
How the “what” kills a disciple
The problem Jesus had with the Pharisees, scholars, and other religion pros of His day is that they were institutionalized. They had a codified way of living that they measured themselves and everyone else by. The problem with the Pharisees was not their fasting, prayers, giving, and self-discipline. The problem was their “why.” They did it all out of pride. Jesus said, “Don’t be like them,” even though their teaching was good.
Is your discipleship training class geared to help people know Jesus better, or is it, “This is what is expected of you if you are going to be a voting member of our church”? That is a bad habit I fell into for a while. That is not discipleship. That is institutionalization. Everything we do must encourage and grow that desire a person has for Jesus.
Not every disciple is going to make it. Yes, Jesus can come on a little strong. Yes, those who have an initial desire for Jesus may fall off the wagon and not finish what they started. However, I must be sure I am not trying to create a “what,” such as good behavior, without the right “why,” a love for Jesus.
When Jesus sends us to make disciples, He wants us to find those who are looking for Him and help them become mature, faithful, committed believers. I want to help you in that process as we closely examine the life of Christ and the process of how He trained us to make disciples. Learn how to be a disciple maker!