If you've been in church for as long as I have, hearing or seeing the word "discipleship" can almost send you into a coma. The picture that comes to mind is nearly universal: a group of people – it could be students or adults (the program is numbingly the same), sitting in uncomfortable chairs arranged in a circle, listening to a teacher talk on and on about the life and teachings of Jesus.
The success of a discipleship program is measured in attendance and memorization of Biblical trivia. Can you name the village near the well where Jesus spoke to the woman drawing water? How many times did Joshua tell the Israelites to walk around Jericho? If you can answer these questions correctly, you are deemed a "spiritual person."
For most of us, we will stay committed for a while but then we will get bored or busy and we will drop out. Occasionally, we will complain about the shallowness of the sermons we hear every Sunday, but few of us will put any real energy toward digging deeper into Scripture. Life is complex and difficult, and we don't see how a book with 2000-year-old words can help us negotiate our modern challenges.
How did the word "disciple" go from someone we are to something we do to an achievement to be mastered, like graduating from college? In the day of Jesus, a disciple would move in with their rabbi. They would be with the teacher 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sure, the student wanted to learn what the teacher knew, but they also wanted to learn how the rabbi lived. When Jesus asked if the disciples wanted to leave, Peter responded by saying that only Jesus had the words of life. I find Peter's response interesting. Notice, he didn't say Jesus had the words of righteousness, or the way to get to heaven. Peter said Jesus had the words of life. More than having a lot of good knowledge, Jesus knew how to live.
It was that life Peter and his friends wanted from Jesus. You learned how to live life by living with Jesus.
Needless to say, Jesus had a very different pattern of discipleship than our typical discipleship program. Most churches model their Christian education programs after the patterns of learning found in academia. Students attend classes where smarter people lecture them about the subject.
Jesus never sat in a classroom. He walked around. His lessons -- so deep in their meaning that we're still enthralled 2000 years later -- were pulled from the events going on around Him. He told stories about merchants and farmers and planting and harvesting, life moments all of the disciples could see and remember.
After teaching, Jesus would send them out on a short-term mission to apply what they had learned from Him. After a period of time away from Jesus, they would return to Jesus and break down what they had learned on their mission. Then, Jesus would begin to teach again, this time at a deeper level. Once again, Jesus would send them off, and this time the task and mission would be harder and longer. The process would continue for three years until the last time they were together. This time, when Jesus sent them off, they didn't come back.
Instead of measuring success by those who kept coming back, Jesus measured His success by the number of disciples He sent off.
What if we modeled our discipleship processes after those of Jesus? What if, at the beginning, we told our disciples, in three years you'll be on your own and we fully expect you to duplicate this ministry wherever Jesus sends you? What if we celebrated pastors for the number of disciples they sent out into the communities rather than the size of the congregation that gathered on Sunday morning?
The first Reformation gave the Bible back to the people. The second Reformation, which we're in now, is giving ministry back to the people. These are the people who have been identified and called by other disciples of Christ, trained, and sent out until they don't have to come back anymore.
The world would be different if we did this. The church would be different if we did this. We would different if we did this. We would be living better lives instead of merely being experts in Jesus trivia.