Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Jesus Model of Discipleship

Over the centuries writers have puzzled about how Jesus made disciples.  Before departing this earth he gave the believers their marching orders: Make disciples of every people group everywhere.  Since that time the Church has had a mixed review as to achieving this end.  It is apparently much easier to make converts that disciples.  If we define a disciple of Jesus as one who is becoming more like Jesus while fulfilling the mission of making disciples of every nation, then we have had only moderate success through the ages.  Maybe it is time to revisit the Jesus Model of Discipleship.

Virtually every book written about Jesus and discipleship has been done from the limited vantage point of trying to discern what Jesus did rather than why Jesus did it.  When analyzing the "what" we have very little room to maneuver around the "why."  The emphasis is on the method that Jesus used rather than the principles that he used.  This is an important distinction as it limits our recognizable options.  The methods of Jesus are fairly straight forward:

  • He made disciples while pursuing a higher vision
  • While many disciples chose to follow him, his core team was hand picked.
  • Rather than pouring over Biblical texts the disciples listened to Jesus
  • Rather than an event, they experienced a major life style change by joining his team
  • While interacting with Jesus the disciples spent a lot of time interacting with one another
  • The disciples did not stop at listening, Jesus sent them out to experience ministry by doing
  • Jesus was a master at taking experiences and turning them into learning opportunities

As a theological educator I am very concerned that we have swallowed a model of education that flows out of the Enlightenment and its emphasis on rationality and the scientific method.  While both play an important part in helping us understand our world they also lead us down a path dead end when it comes to developing virtues and values.  

We need to return to the Jesus Model to discover the principles.  Jesus understood that discipleship is a process and he developed a model that was culturally appropriate for the time in which he lived.  We need to return to the model and discover the underlying principles so that we can develop methods that are compatible with theological education and the time in which we live.  We MUST incorporate into our current methods of theological education teaching and training that transforms our students and makes them transformers for their churches and communities.  I am reminded of a short poem by Rick Warren

Methods are many
Principles are few
Methods change often
Principles never do

Let's go beyond the methods and find the principles from which to construct new methods that achieve the mission to make disciples of all nations.