Becoming an intentional disciple
February 7, 2006
As a child, I wanted to be a jet fighter pilot. The excitement and the speed had me hooked. As I grew older, I discovered that my eyesight would hold me back from fulfilling that dream. The closest I got to my dream was working with helicopters in the early years of my Army career. What was your dream? Did you fulfill it? Whatever your dream was, as believers, we each have a new goal for our life – to become His disciples. Our mission is to grow more like Christ every day. The first step in this journey is to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. From that point forward, each believer must strive to become a fully devoted follower of Christ, a true disciple. One of the biggest adventures of our life will start the day we commit, with childlike abandon, to be one of His disciples. Have you fully committed to this mandate? Regardless of your age, it’s not too late to embark on this marvelous journey.
In Luke 9:23, as Jesus talked to His disciples, He outlined a specific process to follow. He told His disciples “ If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (NIV). These are strong words and they paint a picture of consistent intentionality for our daily life. The word “ anyone ” implies this mandate is for every believer, without exception! The words “ would ” and “ he must ” point to the believer having to make a conscious decision to act.
We see three character traits of a disciple in this verse. First, a disciple must “ deny himself ”. Literally translated, this means to say no to something, or to refuse someone. What or who do we say no to? We say no to anything or any relationship that fails to honor God and our relationship with Christ. Second, a disciple must “ take up his cross daily .” The people of Jesus’ time knew that the cross was a symbol of death and they understood that Jesus was asking each believer to put their selfish desires and their individual wills aside on a daily basis. The message is the same today; on a daily basis, we are to put aside our selfish desires and will, and live only to accomplish His will. The third character trait is that a disciple must “ follow me .” Simply stated, Jesus wants our total obedience. The Amplified Bible may say it best: “…follow me (cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example, in living and if need be in dying also)” (Luke 9:23b).
The individual believer and the local church have a joint responsibility in the journey Jesus has laid out for His disciples. The believer has to take on the character traits identified above, be open and available to learn and do what Jesus has commanded, and ultimately, to become disciple makers themselves. How does this happen? The local church is best equipped to help individual believers as they journey along the road of discipleship. Every believer, new or seasoned, needs someone to disciple them as they grow in Christ. At the same time, every believer, new or seasoned, is growing into a disciple maker. For the new believer, as they learn the disciplines of the Christian life and all of the life principles that Jesus taught the disciples, they can share the Gospel with their lost friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They can share what God is doing in their lives, what they have discovered in His Word, and by their lifestyle, they can be a “living testimony” that they are a new creation in Him. The seasoned believer can do all of these tasks and be a “living text,” one who teaches what Christ has taught them over time, to those they are discipling. The local church has the organization and the resources to insure that each believer in their congregation is assimilated and connected to the body and has someone in a discipling relationship with them.
Intentional discipleship ministry is hard work, but it must occur if we are to reach our world for Christ and His kingdom. The discipling process primarily happens in the small group ministries of the church. For most of our churches, this happens in Sunday School and Discipleship Training groups. Other churches have chosen a small group model that has a different structure but the same goals. Regardless of what we label the small group or when they meet, the process of Bible study and discipling must be intentional in the life of the church. Implied in this process is an intentional assimilation strategy, which includes assessment of where the believer is on their journey, identification of spiritual gifts, finding an appropriate place of service in the church, and connection to the small group ministries that will further their spiritual growth.
As churches reach new converts and have believers join their ranks, the process of discipleship is a crucial piece of ministry that must be present in the life of the church. If the local church is not helping disciple their members, it won’t be long before they are either gone or stalled in their journey to become a fully devoted follower of Christ. If the individual believer and the local church will intentionally fulfill their scriptural mandate, we will see a dramatic change throughout our state. (Bruce Morrison is the MBC’s director of Sunday School/discipleship ministry.)