Christianity in the West has settled for something significantly lower than a culture of discipleship. Our “spiritual” members are typically those who have consistently read their Bible and maintained a devotional private life. The most honored among us are those who have brought their spiritual life to bare on one area of their public life, be it their job or their friends. The point is, much of this falls significantly short of what Jesus intended for His church.
One of the sayings of CMA, an organic church planting fellowship I’ve learned a lot from is “we need to lower the bar on what it means to be a church and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple.” They believe that if church is simple enough for anyone to participate in it and everyone is a committed disciple, churches will begin to be established quickly and repeatedly. My question then is, how high should we raise the bar? The following is my list of seven benchmarks for discipleship:
- Intimacy with Jesus- Every spiritual reality in the Kingdom of God is born out of a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus. When a person is truly born into the Kingdom, they are immediately grafted in to a real relationship with a resurrected Lord. But we never graduate beyond that relationship. There is no level of spiritual maturity where listening, loving, and abiding becomes something you did when you were young in the Lord. Cultivating this ongoing relationship with Jesus becomes the basis for every other Kingdom activity we do. (Matthew 22:34-40, John 14:15, John 15:1-10)
- Ability to Follow the Holy Spirit- Jesus expected the ministry of His Son to be carried on through those who followed Him. Jesus-style ministry did not stop when He ascended to Heaven. It continued on in the lives of those who had followed Him and in the lives of those who would come to believe in their testimony. The Holy Spirit led the expansion of the church, the direction of its mission, and fueled the internal growth of holiness in His people. It’s not necessary to take a class on following the Holy Spirit, but we all need to grow in understanding how He leads individually and practice obeying His leadership. This will include knowing His voice, following His promptings, and manifesting His gifts. (John 20:21-22, Acts 2:33, Acts 2:38, Acts 9:31, Acts 13:52, Acts 16:6-10)
- Growing Character- We all come to Christ as enemies of God and it’s the work of God to cause us to surrender to Christ. This change from a captive of Satan to a citizen of the Kingdom of God will have ramifications on our lifestyle. As we develop intimacy with Jesus and follow the Holy Spirit there will be continual change of character reflected in our lifestyle. This is fueled not out of religious pressure but the work of God in the soul of man. Jesus called us to be perfect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect, Paul told us he pressed on to the upward call of Christ but had not reached it. Our lifestyles are to grow up into the image of the One who saved us. (Romans 5:8, Colossians 1:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:22-24, Matthew 5:48, Philippians 3:12-15, Ephesians 4:15-16)
- Retelling the Gospel with Relevancy- Anyone who has been to a third world country and seen effective ministry being carried out by the illiterate and unlearned will understand that it doesn’t take a seminary degree to be a disciple. But the ability to grasp the Gospel is essential in coming to Christ. The ability to retell the Gospel is crucial if we desire to see others come to Christ. So every believer from the newest to the most mature should be able to retell their story of Christ meeting them (their testimony) and the story of how that was accomplished by Jesus (the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, otherwise known as the Gospel). (1 Corinthians 1 :26-31, Romans 10:14-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
- A Commitment to the Body of Christ- When Jesus saves us, He sets us in spiritual families that corporately represent Christ. We lose our individuality and gain a corporate family more amazing than anything we have ever participated in. This family is at the same time a universal brotherhood and a specific and local group to which we belong. We begin to tangibly demonstrate our love for Jesus and our status as disciples as we demonstrate love for other broken humans redeemed by Jesus. (Psalm 68:5-6, Ephesians 4:4-6, Romans 16:3-5, 1 John 3:14-18, John 13:35, Romans 12:9-21)
- A Commitment to Care for Orphans and Widows- God found us when we were unwanted orphans (spiritually) and adopted us into His family. Truly following Him, then, means we take care of the weakest and most broken parts of society, whether they are believers or not. We demonstrate the reality of our Gospel by caring for widows and orphans. (Romans 8:15, James 1:27, Galatians 6:10)
- A Commitment to Reproduction- The Gospel and and it’s effects were designed to spread from person to person with little difficulty. Our commission from Jesus is to teach whole nations the realities we’ve learned from Him. If we miss this element, we cease to be a discipling culture. Paul wanted Timothy to not just teach other people, but to teach people in a way that they could pass his teaching on to others. It was this commitment to spreading both the Gospel and it’s associated lifestyle that allowed it to reach most of Europe in a short period of time. The same will be true today. (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:2)
Simply put, we are to be people who know Jesus deeply and follow the Holy Spirit. This will cause us to grow in character, express the Gospel in word and deed, care for fellow believers and take care of widows and orphans wherever we find them. When we commit to reproducing this lifestyle in those that are following Jesus around us, we begin to see a discipling culture take root.
One thing to know is that none of these characteristics require extensive schooling or training. Most of them are just the result of you following Jesus and learning to trust His leadership. All of this can be taught (and more likely caught) in the context of the body of Christ on mission. That has deep implications for our current training systems across the body of Christ, but that’s a topic for another post….
Now the question today is this: What would you add? Let me know in the comment section below.