There are so many discipleship programs available today. And most of them contain very valuable material, but is the concept of a discipleship program for all Christians Biblical?
In Deuteronomy 6 we read:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”
In Old Testament times Israel’s children were to be taught the laws of God ‘casually’. Not in formal classes or lessons, but as they sat at home with their parents, when they went to bed, when they rose again in the morning. They could always overhear their parents’ conversations, and learn as they lived their everyday lives. These laws were always ‘visible’ -- tied on the forehead, written on the door frames and gates. Wherever the children went, whatever they did, there were opportunities to learn and talk about God and his laws.
If they were helping dad look after the sheep, they might have the opportunity to talk about how God is a Shepherd over all of Israel. When they helped mum cook the bread, they could talk about Elijah and the Widow’s bowl of flour which was never used up. As opportunities came along, the parents were supposed to use that opportunity to teach their children about God and his ways.
In the same way, in New Testament times -- Jesus used the same technique to train his disciples. As far as we know he didn’t run a twenty-six week Wednesday evening study group. He basically lived his life with them and in front of them for a few years and used every opportunity available to teach them more.
New Christians are Spiritual children. The best way for them to learn about God is to ‘hang out’ with older mature Christians who are always talking about God’s character and his works, and how they relate to us in our walk with each other and with him. While the new Christian helps you shop for the food for dinner, you could talk about Spiritual fruit. If they are around for afternoon coffee and share something about a good looking student at their school, there is an opportunity to talk about God’s principles for relationships. And not just an opportunity, but one which is immediately relevant to them because of their current life situation. No need to wait for week seven of the ‘Studies for Christian Disciples’ before you can talk about it.
The best learning is learning which is relevant to the students’ needs. Sometimes these needs are obvious, but usually you have to really get to know a person before their needs become apparent. Growing a deep relationship in 1-2 hours, one night a week, with fleeting greetings on Sundays is extremely difficult. But growing a deep relationship with someone you hang out with all the time is almost unavoidable.
Learning about fasting because it is now week 13 of ‘The Study’ could well be a waste of time. But learning about fasting because they have just read Matthew 6 and the Spirit is prompting their hearts could lead to deep life changes.
By all means we (mature Christians) should have a plan of what we want to impart to our disciples, but the issue is really when and how we impart it. When is simply as the need related opportunity arises. How is by developing a deep relationship as a foundation for effective teaching. Of course a lot of what we want to teach will be simply caught by them as they live with us. (We probably won’t have to teach them much about how to pray because they will pray with us so often). But of course this also means we have to know our stuff. We might not get three weeks notice for a study on Spiritual Warfare. It might rise out of a sudden crisis in the life of a disciple. We might need to say, “Come around again tomorrow night and we’ll study it together”, but we need to know at least the basics now, and we certainly can’t ask for two weeks to prepare, by then the warfare might be over, and the disciple may have already fallen.
Like Jesus — having disciples will cost you a lot more than just an hour a week on Wednesday night. At times it may well be inconvenient, but the next generation of the church needs our attention now more than ever. The world is becoming an increasingly busy place, and this style of discipleship might not suit your lifestyle. You might not have time to spend together with them ‘doing nothing’, and just building relationships. But what is more important? Your lifestyle or the next generation of Christian leaders?
Having weekly studies may well be part of discipleship, but if you are a mature Christian, then sharing your life with your disciples will transform your discipleship (and their spiritual growth) to a whole new level.
Share your life with your disciples. Share your music, your books, your secrets, your self. Build a deep relationship with them and teach them at every opportunity in a relevant and empowering way.