If anybody asks you about your church, what do you say?
We have a worship service at 11:00. We have Sunday school for all ages. We have a Women’s group, Men’s group, Youth, etc. . . .
Would anyone answer with “We make disciples of Jesus Christ?” That is our stated purpose! Para. 120 of the 2016 United Methodist Discipline: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
A church that doesn’t make disciples is like a football team that doesn’t win games. Compare Alabama (13-1) and Auburn (11-3) to the Cleveland Browns of the NFL (0-16). Who do you think is doing what a football team should do? Fulfilling their purpose? The “healthiest” organization?
To paraphrase Floyd Lawson, Mayberry barber, “Everybody talks about disciples, but nobody wants to do anything about ’em.” That makes Church life a whole lot easier. We can just talk about “church members” and “inviting folks to church” without ever thinking about how to change lives!
I recently realized something. When we talk about “inviting someone to church,” it implies that we are on a mission to find people and have something to bring them to. That’s the whole of church life in a nutshell! Finding the non-disciple and offering them something that will change their life is what its all about!
But, in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to be disciples of Jesus Christ. To be a disciple, we have to know what disciples are.
What distinguishes a disciple of Christ from a non-disciple? We can all look at a friend or a neighbor and say, “Oh, they go to _____ church.” But that does not necessarily mean they are a disciple. They could just be a “church member.” Big difference.
Most of us want to make more “church members,” or “members of our club.” Making a disciple is different. We need to change our thinking. Reggie McNeel (in The Present Future) calls this a shift from “Churchianity” to “Christianity;” from maintaining the institution to following Christ.
There are significant differences between the two:
- Membership’s primary goal is “join the church.”
- Discipleship’s goal is to create disciples who are increasing in their love of God and neighbor.
- Membership keeps the members happy and satisfied.
- Discipleship provides opportunities for relationships and growth (and sometimes growth comes from challenge).
- Membership involves people in church activities.
- Discipleship involves disciples in service to others.
- In Membership, the church takes the primary role in motivating people to grow spiritually.
- In Discipleship, each disciple assumes primary responsibility for growth and the church provides opportunities and encouragement.
Let’s start with what a disciple is. So we can know if we are one. That’s vital information if we are going to fulfill our purpose.
Here’s Wesley’s definition:
“A Disciple is a witness to Jesus Christ in the world who follows his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
Disciples do their work “In the world, ” out there, where people don’t yet know Jesus. Disciples wouldn’t be content just sitting around here! Right away, we see a fundamental change in the direction of our attention. Gone are the days when people are going to come and find us. Jesus never acted that way, so why should we? He went out and found them!
All too often, we limit our disciple-making to something like this: “Hey! We’ve got this really cool club. We meet on Sunday Morning. Do you want to come?” In the “olden days,” that might have been enough, as nearly everybody knew what our club was about, or had been a member of a similar club in another town (or even in our town).
For a long time the Church has successfully existed in the realm of Consumerism, when we could say with Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” Then we fell for the myth, “If you build it, they will come” (“Field of Dreams” 1989).
That’s not what Jesus said. He said “Therefore go and make disciples . . .” It’s not “sit and wait” but “go and make.” To make disciples, you must be a disciple; to be a disciple, you must follow Jesus. To be a mature follower of Christ, “you must love and give in light of how deeply we’ve been loved and how much we’ve been given.” (Carey Nieuwhof)
Wesley’s definition is a little long (at least my explanation of it is!) – let’s “boil it down.”
Rev. Junius Dotson, the General Secretary of our United Methodist Board of Discipleship, in his publication, “See All The People,” discusses disciple-making, and how to establish a “discipleship pathway” in the church. He took Wesley’s phrase and boiled it down, emphasizing “knowing,” “growing,” “serving,” and “sharing.”
“A disciple is one who knows Christ, is growing in Christ, serving Christ, and sharing Christ.”
I boiled it down even more:
“A disciple knows, grows, serves, and shares.”
Disciples know Jesus, grow in our love of Jesus through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, serve others like Jesus served, and share our faith stories. Know. Grow. Serve. Share. The life of Peter, as presented in the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, can teach us about Discipleship.
Today, we look at “Knowing.”
“A Disciple knows Jesus, and that knowing involves following and confessing (not necessarily in that order.”
Some people start with “following” and it leads to “confessing.” They come to church, read the Bible, then they fully understand and confess their belief. There may be some of us in this room who perform the actions of following without yet fully understanding why they follow or who they follow. Some people confess, then follow. Some people reach an intellectual and spiritual threshold, confess a belief in Christ, then they start acting on it. The order doesn’t matter. Just do both.
Anytime you talk about “following,” you have to start at the beginning – Mark 1:16-20:
As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 18 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 19 After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.
We don’t know why they followed. People have always said (I’m one of them), “One day, I’m going to ask Peter, Andrew, James and John, ‘What did Jesus say to get you to follow?’!” We don’t know. Mark doesn’t say. Neither do Matthew or Luke. Maybe they don’t say because specifics don’t matter. Everybody has their own reason for following.
My motivation for following was “love and grace.” Once I finally, assuredly knew God loved me, I have never wavered in my commitment to Christ. Other people have different reasons for following – miraculous change in their lives? The persistent witness of a spouse? The rescue from addiction?
If the Gospel writers had specified why each disciple followed, we might think our following is limited to those specific reasons. We might think we are “second class disciples” because we weren’t motivated in the same way Peter (Simon in the text) was motivated.
When we are considering what a disciple is, we must start with this: A disciple knows Jesus. And that knowing involves following Jesus.
Knowing by following is totally different than knowing by learning. One involves your head. The other involves every ounce of your life. My head is full of useless information that makes no difference in how I live my life. Where I know many facts – about life and about the Bible – the real difference has come when I have acted like Jesus, followed his example.
Whether is comes before or after confession, a disciple knows Jesus by following Jesus. We do what Jesus did, act like he acted, and love how (and who) he loved. Jesus taught his original disciples by first making them followers; “Come with me. Watch me. Do like I do.”
We might notice that Peter followed without a lot of preparation or learning. His confession came much later.
Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.”
29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One[a] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
This is a turning point in Mark’s gospel. Up to this point, the twelve disciples have stumbled and bumbled their way through following Jesus. We don’t have to be perfect followers, either. At Caesarea Philippi, Peter becomes the first disciple to admit that he “gets it.” He confesses his belief – Jesus is the Messiah.
Different than “confessing his sins,” this is confessing in the sense of admitting something. Our discipleship contains this same element: knowing Jesus comes from following Jesus, but at some point we all must confess our belief.
I’ve heard it said that confession means being who you really are in front of Jesus. This kind of confession is sincere, genuine – even if it is not fully formed. We notice that Peter isn’t perfect. He later gets it way wrong (we’ll talk about that later).
Every Sunday we make a confession: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty . . .” The Apostle’s Creed. Some of us are just “saying it.” For others, it is deeply true. We have experienced God’s “almighty” nature, experienced that Christ “rose from the dead,” and know the “forgiveness of sins.”
It is so hard to make discipleship into an organized list of steps, because it happens simultaneously. The following and confessing happen together – in a different order for us all (maybe) – but they must both happen. “Knowing involves following and confessing (not necessarily in that order)”