The Missing Piece in Discipleship

 
There is something wrong with the church in America. The only ones who deny it are those whose pride will not allow them to admit it.
 
It is generally accepted that the problem has something to do with a lack of discipleship in the church. But that is like saying there is something wrong with the engine in your car. It is incredibly vague.

The real question is, “What is specifically wrong with discipleship in the modern American church?”

There are two obvious problems with discipleship in the modern American church; WHO we are making disciples of, and HOW we are making disciples.

First, simply saying that we are making disciples of Jesus does not guarantee we are actually making disciples of Jesus; even if we call them disciples of Jesus. This is called the logical fallacy of semantics/equivocation. This is when you redefine a word or term to suit your purposes.

Second, even if we are fully devoted to making disciples of Jesus who really are disciples of Jesus; the only way to guarantee that we are making real disciples of the real Jesus, is in HOW we make those disciples.

Thus, we need a way to ensure that we are making disciples of the real Jesus in accordance to the way that the real Jesus made disciples of Himself.

At His Words His Ways Fellowship, we use four principles to ensure that we are making real disciples of the real Jesus the way that the real Jesus made disciples of Himself.

These principles are:

1. The Image of God as the basis of discipleship: The ultimate goal of the Gospel is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be (Genesis 1:27, 1 Corinthians 11:7, Matthew 5:48, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 3:9-10, 2 Peter 1:4).

2. The purpose of imitating Jesus as His disciple: The goal of men being re-conformed to the image of God is accomplished by men imitating Jesus, who is the perfect image of God, as His disciple; through the empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 15:49, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 2:1-5, 3:7-11, Colossians 1:15, 1:28-29, 2:2-3, 2:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12,Titus 3:4-6, Hebrews 3:1, 6:1, 12:1-3, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:1-4, 2-21, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 4:17).

3. The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship: Imitating Jesus as His disciple begins (but does not end) with specifically learning and then keeping the words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave during His earthly ministry. It is simply impossible to imitate someone without knowing what they said and did (Matthew 7:24-29, 10:24-25, 11:25-30, 12:41-42, 13:16-17, 13:34-35, 17:5, 24:35; Mark 4:24-25, 4:33-34, 6:34, 8:38, 9:7, 13:31; Luke 6:46-49, 9:35, 10:24, 10:38-42, 11:31-32, 17:10, 19:47-48, John 3:31-36, 4:25-26, 4:40-42, 5:24, 5:38-39, 5:46-47, 6:28-29, 6:63, 6:66-69, 8:31-32, 8:51, 9:26, 10:27, 12:48, 13:34-35, 14:12, 14:15, 14:23-26, 15:7-17, 15:20-24, 16:6-8).

4. Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (Relational Discipleship): Being conformed to the image of Jesus by imitating Him as His disciple is not a passive process, but an active/interactive process that occurs within a relational environment; which was established and demonstrated by Jesus during His earthly ministry (Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 14:40, 2 Timothy 2:2).

If we look at these in reverse order, we can observe what is wrong with discipleship in the modern American church, and how implementing these principles solves the problem.

Principle #4. Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (Relational Discipleship).

This principle is the most likely to be taught in the modern American church. Generally when we say “discipleship” this is what we mean.

The problem is that Relational Discipleship can be used to make disciples of something or someone other than Jesus (but still call them disciples of Jesus).

In the first century, the Pharisees made disciples using Scripture, in relational environments, just like Jesus did. We need to be more specific to make real disciples of Jesus.

Principle #3. The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship.

This is less likely to be taught in the modern American church, but is being taught by some.

The premise is that the Greek word translated as “disciple,” mathētḗs (μαθητής), has a very distinct meaning which implies that the disciple has, or is studying the life and words of their master in order to imitate Him in every way possible.

The problem with this principle is that it is difficult to convince American Christians of the necessity of imitating Jesus as His disciple. To them it sounds to much like works-based salvation. This is why the first two principles must be established first.

Principle #2. The purpose of imitating Jesus as His disciple.

I am not aware of any modern American church that is teaching this principle (other than His Words His Ways Fellowship). This is the missing piece in discipleship in the modern American church that needs to be taught.

Because, in order to convince American Christians that they must be first century disciples of Jesus who study His life and teachings in order to imitate Him, they must have a convincing biblical explanation as to why.

Thus, this principle is what connects the “why” of principle #1 to the “how” of principles 3&4.

Principle #1. The Image of God as the basis of Christian discipleship.
 
This has been historically taught in the church by men such as Athanasius, John Wesley, Detriech Bonhoeffer, and A.W. Tozer; but is rarely taught in the church today.

Jesus stated: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

This is what these four principles lay out; how we bring glory to God by being disciples of Jesus who produce much fruit, by remaining in His words, and His words remaining in us.

Thus, it is no longer a mystery as to how we bring glory to God and as to why we must imitate Jesus as His disciple. Simply stated:

Men bring glory to God, by..

…being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be, by…

…being conformed to the image of Jesus (who is the perfect image of God), by…

…imitating Jesus as His disciple, by…

…knowing and then keeping the words, teachings, commands, and example given by Jesus…

through the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, …

…within Relational Discipleship.