Monthly Archives: April 2016

This is (Not) Discipleship – Part One

By Pastor Anton Bosch – Sun Valley Community Church – Los Angeles

This is not DiscipleshipSome of the most frequently quoted verses in Evangelicalism are Matthew 28:18-20:

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”

Decisions

The Great Commission calls for making disciples rather than preaching the Gospel. (The same command in Mark 16:15 says “…preach the gospel….”) It is probably for this reason most Christians assume incorrectly that preaching the Gospel fulfills Matthew 28:18-20, but it does not. Preaching the Gospel and making disciples are two entirely different (though related) things. Billy Graham, and others, have illustrated very well that there is a huge difference between these two ideas. Preaching the Gospel is relatively easy, and skilled evangelists can bring many to the altar through a single 30-minute sermon. But that is only the first step of many, and on its own does not fulfill the Great Commission at all. In fact, calling someone to the altar often does nothing more than give the candidate a false sense of security—they believe they are saved because they prayed a rote prayer and signed a decision card. Billy Graham worked that out and eventually started calling these “decisions” rather than “converts.”

So while preaching the Gospel is commanded and is vital, it is NOT discipleship and does not obey the Great Commission. For instance, many young men mistakenly think that inseminating a young girl makes them a father. It does not. A father provides for, trains, and raises that child until it is an adult. So evangelization without discipleship is like giving birth to a baby, and then dropping the newborn on Main Street and pointing the infant to a range of restaurants.

Assimilation

The more modern, and popular, system of assimilation is also not discipleship. This method involves inviting unbelievers into a non-threatening, non-confrontational social environment, vaguely associated with the church. These events could include enjoying coffee in the foyer of the church, attending church social events, playing on the softball team, joining (motorcycle) breakfast runs, etc. Some churches even invite influential members of the public to serve in some capacity, including serving on the board of the church. The idea is that the unbeliever will gradually be assimilated into the life of the church to the point that they become full-blown members.

It outwardly appears that this method works. Such people are quite successfully drawn into church membership, and learn to talk the right language and do the right things, eventually looking just like a real member. Many of these will even get baptized, take out church membership and rise to leadership positions. In the same way children that grow up in Christian homes become assimilated into the life of the church—they learn the right clichés, when to stand and when to sit, how to blend in, how to say “God bless you” and “I am praying for you”—but remain unregenerate. In the absence of having been born again, the first step of discipleship is missing. Therefore anything they say, do or learn is without any foundation and is simply learned behavior. There is no difference between such people and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, of whom He said: “… you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27).

Rather than teach disciples to become like Jesus, these “joiners” teach the church to become like the world.

Heavy Shepherding

Popular in more cultic groups, heavy shepherding (aka Shepherding) is seen by its proponents as the ultimate form of discipleship. In this system disciples are manipulated, controlled by fear, threatened, and coerced into becoming clones of the leaders. These leaders will make every decision for their minions, even control their thought processes, values and minutest discussions. Once again, the system seems to work as the “disciples” act and speak exactly as they have been taught. These groups are often marked by such conformity to the standard that they all dress the same, speak the same and think the same. This is sold as “unity” but it is not. This “unity” is achieved through the subjugation of the will and the mind of the individual to that of the leader(s). True unity comes about as the individuals are submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ rather than to men.

Louw and Nida confirm: “In rendering μαθητεύω in Mt 28:19 and similar contexts, it is important to avoid the implication of duress or force, that is to say, one should not translate ‘force them to be my disciples’ or ‘compel them to be my disciples.’”

Heavy shepherding is most certainly not discipleship since it fails in the primary purpose of discipleship—to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Followers of these groups are disciples of men who have usurped the role of Christ in the heart and mind of the believer.

Mentoring

The words mentoring and discipleship sound like they mean the same thing, but they do not. A mentor is actually the name of a man who had occult abilities who lived hundreds of years ago (see HERE). In the occult world, a mentor became known as someone who was training an “adept” to have spiritual gifts that they could use to perform occult rituals. Promise Keepers (among others) brought the word mentor into the evangelical world and soon mentoring replaced discipleship in many churches.

Interestingly, the term mentoring conveys the idea of shadowing or mimicking someone else’s behavior. It has to do with actions and activities that in psychology are known as “behavior modeling.” But it isn’t about cognitive learning, which is a key component of discipleship (studying the Bible and Christ together). So mentoring becomes a substitute for actually delving into the Word and learning obedience to Christ. Rather it is some sort of trying to act like a leader. Hence the proliferation of popular books such as Lead Like Jesus, etc.

Bible Lectures

On the other extreme are those who believe that by simply preaching the Bible on Sundays that people will miraculously be changed into disciples by hearing the Word. This method is partially based on the King James translation of Matthew 28:19 as “Go therefore and teach…”

Many of these teachers do not even draw an application from the text for fear of “doing the work of the Holy Spirit.” This is a very comfortable way of doing ministry. The preacher simply prepares and delivers the Bible study and then retreats into his office in preparation for the next lecture. Members of such churches are marked by a proliferation of head knowledge about the Bible while simultaneously lacking in humility and most other characteristics of Jesus Christ.

Obviously, we do believe in the role of the Scriptures, and that the Word is indeed transformative. We must diligently teach the Bible, but this in itself does not constitute discipleship. David was very willing to say “Amen” to Nathan’s sermon about injustice, but failed to understand the message until the prophet pointed to him and said: “You are the man” (2Samuel 12:7).

Small Groups

Many bigger, and not so big, churches have some form of small group meetings under different names: cell groups, accountability groups, men’s groups, beer drinkers groups, cigar smokers groups, house churches, etc. The idea of small groups is to supplement any formal preaching on Sundays with small groups which do the work of “discipling” the individuals in these small groups. Mostly these touchy-feely groups study anything but the Bible, and are more about getting in touch with one another’s feelings than discipling. Rather than teach people to follow the Lord Jesus, they encourage people to celebrate their differences, and to feel good and accepted no matter how sinful, rebellious, or unbiblical their behavior.

Very few members of these groups have ever been discipled themselves and thus they are not in a position to disciple others. Group consensus does not make the truth and is a recipe for rebellion against God’s Word. Small groups can have value if they are led by godly and gifted shepherds, but this is not often the case.

Counseling and Psychology

Others feel the need to get more personally involved with the individual, and do this on the basis of counseling and therapy. These sessions often contain a few misquoted Scriptures used to mask the true roots of the therapy. There are many variations on the same theme when it comes to counseling. There are many techniques and ideas culled from psychology, marketing, personal experience, group dynamics, behavior modeling, the human potential movement, holistic health, the New Age, etc. Spiritual self-help books containing new techniques proliferate, and include such mumbo-jumbo as inner healing, deliverance, positive confession, Reiki, Yoga, meditation and contemplation, guided imagery, confessing the sins of one’s ancestors, spiritual “gift” inventories and assessments, etc. All of this serves to assist the counselee to become self-absorbed and needy, which is hardly a path to spiritual maturity. Yet, these immature people are often put in positions of ministry and leadership, especially in works-based initiatives filled with heavy requirements on the time of the individual.

These sessions are usually presided over by one of the pastors of the church, or by a specialist either from within or without the church, or by a graduate from an earlier class. Irrespective of the method, the philosophy remains fairly constant—to encourage the individual to accept his/her own “idiosyncrasies” (politically correct lingo for sinful behavior). In other words, the counseling is palliative, aimed at relieving symptoms without evidence of the transformation of the inner man through repentance and regeneration. The focus of every one of these methodologies is the individual and is never Christ. The standard of becoming like Christ is often rejected as too legalistic and a threat to the individual’s identity and self-expression. This is of course the antithesis of the whole purpose of discipleship, which is to help people become conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28). The purpose of true discipleship is not to get to know self better but to know Him better.

Elements of Truth

Many of the techniques outlined above encompass elements of true discipleship, yet fail dismally in producing true disciples—mainly because they contain more human than spiritual wisdom and have not been based on a Biblical concept of discipleship. There is room for preaching on Sundays, small groups, individual counseling and so forth. But none of these individual components, on their own, constitute true discipling. But an even bigger problem is that each of these systems is based on a wrong premise, and seeks and produces an outcome that is in conflict with that of Scripture.

No Discipleship and True Discipleship

If we discount all the above methods that do not constitute biblical discipleship, and add to that the many churches that offer no alternative, it becomes evident that biblical discipleship is absent in the vast majority of churches today. This is true of big and small churches alike.

In addition, instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the majority of churches in the West are preaching a false Gospel of self. Thus without the preaching of the real Gospel and without discipleship, it is no wonder the church is adrift on a sea of humanism.

“… when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

To be continued…

This is Discipleship – Part Two

By Anton Bosch – Pastor at Sunvalley Community Church – Los Angeles

This is Discipleship

Many techniques, programs and systems in the modern church are mistaken as discipleship. While those techniques may contain elements of discipleship, they are not the authentic thing. (See Part 1: “This is not Discipleship.”) This obviously begs the question: what is discipleship and what did Jesus mean when He gave us the Great Commission?

In spite of the King James’ use of the word “teach” for mathēteúō, all other translations, commentaries, and dictionaries are agreed that the word means more than simply teaching intellectual facts:

mathēteúō. Intransitively this word means “to be or become a pupil.” One reading of Mt. 27:57 has it with reference to Joseph of Arimathea; he is said to be a disciple of Jesus. In a distinctive transitive use (Mt. 13:52; 28:19; Acts 14:21) the NT also uses the term for “to make disciples.” Behind this sense possibly stands the NT belief that a call is the basis of discipleship of Jesus

μαθητεύωb: to cause someone to become a disciple or follower of—‘to make disciples, to cause people to become followers.’ πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ‘go then, to all peoples and make them (my) disciples’ Mt 28:19.

Learners and Followers

Implicit in the word mathēteúō are the concepts of learners and followers.

The word “disciple” means above all “learner” or “pupil.” The emphasis in the commission thus falls not on the initial proclamation of the gospel but more on the arduous task of nurturing into the experience of discipleship, an emphasis that is strengthened and explained by the instruction “teaching them to keep all that I have commanded” in v 20a.

These three words—learners, pupils and teaching—sound synonymous, but they are not. Pupils do not necessarily learn, and teaching someone does not mean that that person has actually learned anything. Paul speaks of those who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7). Such are neither disciples, learners, nor followers.

Besides the Twelve, Jesus also had other disciples during His earthly ministry (Matt 27:57; John 6:66; 7:3; Acts 1:15). Before Jesus, John had disciples. Disciples were simply people who followed a teacher and learned from the teacher. One can speak of the disciples of other rabbis or even of Greek philosophers. In all of these cases the purpose was for the disciple to learn both theory (theology) and practice (character and behavior) from the teacher. Disciples would later gather other disciples around them and so perpetuate the teaching. It is really quite simple and yet, as we have shown, very few practice true discipleship today. So let’s look at what true discipleship really should be.

A Relationship

The first thing that strikes me about Jesus’ disciples is that they had a personal relationship with their Master. Based on this personal relationship, the Master knew each of His disciples personally. As a result, He deals with and teaches each of the disciples based on their unique needs, personality and characteristics. Jesus related to Peter, John and Thomas in very different ways reflecting their unique relationship to Him. Although the Bible does not use the term disciple(s) after the book of Acts, it is clear that Paul had the same kind of relationship with Timothy, Silas, Titus and a number of others. Once again, the relationship was very personal. Both Paul and Jesus lived with their followers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The idea of a disciple who does not have a relationship with the teacher, and who is a stranger to the teacher, is a contradiction in terms.

The same therefore holds true today. We cannot make disciples of those with whom we are not in a personal relationship. This automatically limits the number of people one teacher/leader can shepherd. It also excludes the idea of professional councilors or absentee pastors, or disciples that shy away from personal relationships, as well as those who attend church for an hour a week. How can a pastor of a church of a thousand know, and have a relationship with, each of the members? Several years ago I went to see the pastor of a neighboring church about folk who had left our church for his. He did not even know about their existence until he looked them up on his computer, only to discover they had been attending his church for three months!

The reason for this personal relationship is that part of discipling is teaching each one according to their individual needs, background and potential. A one-size-fits-all discipling package simply does not exist, and therefore discredits all off-the-rack discipleship manuals and programs as bogus.

Many multiplication systems have been based on discipleship. The theory is that each believer should have 12 disciples, and each disciple should have 12, etc. This is purely a multi-level marketing/pyramid scheme. Discipleship can never be forced and controlled by statistics because it is relational. And because discipleship is a relational and dynamic process, it can never be forced to comply with a statistical model. At times Paul had only one “disciple” travelling with him and at other times there were several. Neither Jesus nor Paul taught a numerical model, and it is evident that none of the Apostles attempted to recreate Jesus’ “model” of twelve disciples.

Submission to the Teacher

A vital aspect of the relationship between teacher and disciple is the willingness of the disciple to submit to the teacher. This is one of the main reasons very little discipling happens in the Free World these days. Modern Christians are just not willing to submit to leaders. Modern believers consider themselves above correction and on a par with everyone else. Generally, “submission” only occurs as long as things go well and the relationship is affirming. The moment admonition, rebuke or discipline is needed the believer tends to leave the relationship, and the church, and withdraws from the relationship.

But without this submission there is no basis for a learner/teacher, follower/leader relationship. The whole purpose of discipleship is for the teacher to train the disciple. This includes not just the transmission of ideas and knowledge but actually having a hand in the shaping of the character and behavior of the learner. Paul’s epistles are replete with instructions to rebuke, warn, correct, command, charge and admonish (2Tim 4:2; 1Thes 2:11; Col 1:28; Titus 1:13; Titus 2:15; etc.).

It goes without saying that the teacher may never overstep the bounds between legitimate and godly discipleship and heavy shepherding or abuse.

The first ingredient in the discipleship process then are disciples who want to learn and who want to follow.

Teachers With Dirty Hands

Just as you need those who are willing to learn, you need those who are willing to teach. But teaching is not just from the relative safety of the pulpit. True teachers are willing to get their hands soiled with the dirty diapers of babes in Christ. While there are many who want to preach, there are not many who want the hassle of discipling people.

Discipling is hard work. It means getting involved with people at a personal level, listening to their ideas, risking their anger when correcting them, repeating the same things over and over until the penny eventually drops. (Just think of how many times Jesus said the same things to His disciples and they still did not understand.) Discipling means feeling the pain of failure when those to whom you have become close end up falling, sometimes in the most terrible ways—think of Peter denying the Lord! Discipling means flying blind without the help of a carefully prepared script or manual. Preaching is relatively easy since the preacher is on his own turf, controls the situation and is not interrupted. Discipling provides none of those safeguards. The teacher has to think on his feet and respond to the questions, arguments and reactions of the disciple over whom he has no direct control. There is just no way of knowing ahead of time what the disciple is going to come up with, say or do, next. It is this lack of a controlled environment that scares many leaders and prevents them from descending from the pulpit and engaging on a personal level with learners. Discipling does not have regular hours because people live life 24 hours a day. The pastor who wants to work to a carefully prepared schedule does not qualify, nor will he survive in the rough and tumble unpredictable world of real discipling.

And it is this unwillingness to accept the discomfort and pain of being a spiritual parent to spiritual (often wayward) children that has resulted in so few true teachers being available to disciple true believers. Thus without learners who are willing to learn, and without teachers who are willing to teach, no discipleship can take place.

The Cross

In addition to willing and capable teachers, and disciples that are eager to learn, there is a third vital ingredient without which no discipleship can take place and that is the cross.

Jesus Himself made this an entry requirement for disciples: “Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27). In all three the Synoptics Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).

This is not an optional extra for some disciples, it is essential for all disciples. Without the willingness of the follower to deny his own ideas, personality, desires, yea even his very self, he just cannot be a disciple. This is not because the Lord set an arbitrary standard, but because the essence of discipleship means the laying aside of self and being transformed into the likeness and image of Christ. This is not behavior modelling (see part 1), it is death (to self) and resurrection (in His image) on a daily basis.

No wonder Jesus had very few disciples. We expect it to be different for us, but it cannot be. In most cases where numbers of people are flocking to follow leaders the vital ingredient of the cross is missing. Hence the many things that are used as cheap substitutes for the cross.

Teaching How and What

Most teaching in modern churches is about the “what” of the faith, but discipleship is as much about the “how” as the “what.” This is just where the problem often lies. Seminaries teach the “what” and those who come out of those seminaries only understand the “what.” The “how” is learned at the feet of a true teacher and in the school of hard knocks. Obviously we do need to understand the “what” but without the “how” the “what” is of no value.

In the Great Commission, Jesus gives explicit instructions as to what needs to be taught in the process of making disciples: “…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20).

Note that the command is to teach “to observe….” This is in contrast with “teaching to know….” The word “observe” literally means to do. The true disciple does what he was taught, thus head knowledge has to be translated into lifestyle and theory has to become practice. Very few Christians seem to know how to behave as Christians because they were never taught, neither in word nor by example. But that is what discipleship is really about. It is about becoming like Jesus (Romans 8:29) and becoming like Him is not about knowledge but it is about essence—who we are as evidenced through our lifestyle, values and actions.

Paul says: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;” (1 Thessalonians 2:10) and to Timothy: “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God…”(1Tim 3:15). Behavior and conduct are simply not taught any longer, yet that is the very essence of Christianity. The world is constantly telling believers how they ought to act, but the church does not. It is no wonder then, that believers act more like the world than like Christ.

The art of casting an artificial fly on the end of a fly rod is not rocket science, yet one can read a dozen books about it without ever being able to master the simple skill. It is only when an experienced teacher demonstrates how to do it, and then allows you to practice while correcting your mistakes, that you will ever learn how to present an artificial fly to a fish. Christianity is the same. It was never intended to be learned only from reading, preaching or talking. Jesus showed His disciples how to live and to die, and then expected them to put into practice what He had taught through His example and by His words.

As a result, Luke writes his Gospel concerning “…all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”(Acts 1:1)

Word Based

Unless the personal involvement, setting an example, or active teaching is based on the Scriptures, it is simply some humanistic effort, management technique or philosophy. Paul says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The purpose of the doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction is to equip people for “every good work.” It is not merely for the sake of knowledge and, at the same time, is not good works based on some human philosophy. True discipleship is based on Scriptural principles that result in Godly living.

Discipleship at Home

Discipleship begins in the home. Parents are to disciple their children, teaching them by word and deed to be followers of Jesus Christ. But instead they choose to hire substitutes in the form of school teachers, Sunday school teachers, psychologists and an array of other hirelings. Meanwhile the parents are absent as they pursue their own selfish desires. These same absentee parents then turn around and blame everyone else when (not if) the child ends being more like the devil than Jesus.

Yet these same failed parents often want to be leaders in the church. Paul is emphatic that an elder must have proven his discipling skills at home (1Timothy 3:5). It is in the home that parents learn and develop discipling skills which are later used in the church. And it is in the home that children learn to be good followers and learners. It is not coincidental that the New Testament uses babes, children, and the process of growing to maturity as an analogy of the life of a Christian. There are therefore very real parallels between raising children and discipling believers. Both require the same skills, prayer, patience, observing, teaching, wisdom, correcting, encouraging, rebuking etc. Failure at home almost guarantees failure in the church.

Jesus and the Twelve

After three years with Jesus, His disciples had heard His teaching on every important subject. The fact that they did not understand much is irrelevant because, in time, the Holy Spirit would remind them of what they had learned (John 14:26). Not only had they heard His words but they had seen His life. They saw His relationship with His Father, how He reacted, how He handled different situations and people, how He dealt with weariness, frustration, temptation, anger and every other human experience.

When Jesus called them, they were a motley bunch of losers, but at the end of that time He was able to send them out as His Apostles (sent ones) to lay the foundation of the church. That was successful discipling. They knew what to do, how to act and how to react. Yes, they were still fallible men, but they had been discipled by Jesus and even their enemies could not deny that: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13).

Paul and Timothy

Paul had several disciples but the best of those was undoubtedly Timothy to whom Paul wrote, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions….” (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Notice again the juxtaposition of “doctrine” and “manner of life.” Paul taught Timothy not only doctrine, but how to live. He taught him to live a life with a godly purpose, how to have faith in trials, how to endure pain, suffering and persecution, and how to fulfill his ministry.

Near the very end of Paul’s life he wrote to Timothy “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). Thus the pattern is perpetuated from one generation to the next.

We are not Jesus

But there is a vital difference between Jesus and us—Jesus made disciples of Himself but we do not make disciples of ourselves. Cult and other false leaders make people followers of themselves but true discipleship makes people followers of Jesus. Thirty times the book of Acts refers to “the disciples.” But never does it speak of disciples of Peter, John or Paul. “Disciples” was always understood to mean disciples of Jesus. A true teacher will always point men to Jesus and call men to follow Him—never to follow the teacher, his church, or some other human organization.

We are not called to clone or make copies of ourselves. We are to help people become like Jesus and to follow Him, and to ultimately learn from Him. The more those we teach resemble Him, the more successful they will be at making disciples.

Conclusion 

Discipleship is not a technique or system. It is a lifestyle and is the essence of our faith. In its absence believers and churches become more worldly and less Christ-like. In spite of the proliferation of theological books and knowledge, we have abandoned our roots and failed to obey the command to make disciples. For this reason, more than any other, the church in the West has simply become an organization and has lost its life and light.

“… when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)