Thursday, July 12, 2012

What does a disciple look like?

Discipleship is a word that is used often in the church but seldom explained or defined.  We talk about being disciples of Jesus Christ, but what exactly does that look like and what does that mean?  I often hear people try to describe what it means with the typical Christian cliches: "It means I am becoming more Christlike." or "I am following Jesus." or any of the others you've probably heard a dozen times.  But, what do they really mean?

Because we do not have a clear image of what a disciple looks like our efforts at discipleship often fail because we really don't have a target that we are trying to achieve.  We offer Sunday school classes, mid-week Bible studies, and/or small groups trying to teach information about the Bible and Christian living as if discipleship is produced through education.  Certainly, education is one component, but it is not the only one.  Along with education we need to provide opportunities to put into practice what the people are learning.  We have to give them ministry opportunities that will add to their discipleship experience.  But, this still doesn't address the lack of an image of what a disciple should look like.  So, let's ask some other questions to help us identify what a disciple should be.

If your disciple-making ministry is successful, how would your people relate to their spouses?  What kind of husband would a disciple be?  What kind of wife?  How would a disciple of Jesus Christ relate to his or her children?  How would the children relate to their parents and others in authority?  What kind of employer would a disciple be?  Employee?  How well would a disciple share his or her faith with others?  How would a disciple relate to people who have chosen different lifestyles or have acquired habits with which the disciple might disagree?  How would a disciple handle money and other material possessions?  What ethical and moral convictions would a disciple have?  What character traits would be produced that would make it clear to observers that this person is a disciple of Jesus Christ?

You can probably think of more questions, but the whole purpose of these questions is to help church leaders get a clear image of what a disciple would look like so they can create a discipleship ministry that will produce those results.  At a time when studies indicate there is little difference between how Christians and non-Christians live it's important that we become much more intentional about developing disciples.  If you want a great resource to help you think through this process more I would suggest Randy Pope's excellent book The Intentional Church.  In it he describes the time when he realized his church's discipleship ministries were not producing the results he desired and how he set out to identify a better way to help people become mature followers of Jesus Christ, in other words, disciples.

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