I’m fairly certain you can’t properly make disciples from a pulpit or any other platform, such as books or a podcast. This is because, as I mentioned in a previous post/quote, “Discipleship is a conforming to the image of Jesus process, not an informing from Bible information process. Jesus taught the multitudes at a distance, discipled a few up close.”
We can receive information from our favorite authors, preachers, and have their words impact our spirits and our intellect, but it doesn’t mean we’re a disciple of theirs.
I’ve read a lot of material by authors Leonard Ravenhill and Arthur Katz who’ve both had tremendous impact on my Christian worldview. However, I’ve not met either one of them. In fact, the late Ravenhill had already passed on before I had ever heard of him and started reading books of his or listening to mp3s of him. To say I’m a disciple of his would be ridiculous, because this type of learning, by definition, involves relationship. You could even say it involves community to some degree.
Fathers can teach, but not all teachers can father
Recently a previous leader of mine dialogued a little bit with me through email about spiritual fathering, and he gave me a recording to listen to. When I did, I noticed he spent a lot of time explaining how he viewed himself as a father to various people he’d taught. He admitted he didn’t even know some people by name who’d approached him in the hallways and told him they viewed him as a spiritual father. It didn’t dawn on him that if he didn’t know them by name, then he may not actually have been a father to them, but a teacher.
“For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15, ESV).
In the New American Standard Version, it’s phrased
“For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (emphasis mine).
It’s entirely possible to fill ourselves up with a lot of teaching from good books, great podcasts, YouTube videos and posts on social networks, and the individuals we’re feeding ourselves from would not be our spiritual fathers. Just teachers. Period.
Lest you think I’m building some kind of case with just one verse of the Bible, take a moment and look at the lifestyle Jesus modeled during his earthly life in this regard. He taught and healed the multitudes, but He discipled a dozen men. You could say that in order to spread His Gospel message — a part from dying on the cross and redeeming mankind, which was His focus — He spread His message throughout the known world by pouring Himself into just twelve guys for His three years of ministry. They then took it to geographical places Jesus didn’t physically go to during his life. He multiplied Himself in these men, in a manner of speaking.
Discipleship Through Apprenticing, Not Textbook Learning
Yesterday morning I came across a great blog thanks to Jeremy Hodges (one of the most engaging people I follow on Google+) who posted a great article that tackled why we need a switch in thinking when it comes to discipleship in the West:
As a house painter for 20 years, if I wanted to model evangelical Christian forms of discipleship in my business, I would hire a young man, pay him a small wage and ask him to observe me painting for a summer. If he casually watched me from his seated position on the back of my tailgate for three or four months, he could probably explain some correct concepts about house painting to a friend. But if I want to make an apprentice of this young man, I’d have to call him off the tailgate, give him absolutely every tool I had, and help him learn every aspect of actually painting. He’d have to get dirty, deal with his fears, take responsibility and so on.1
He goes on to say correctly that discipleship is not just a matter of handing down doctrine and ideas to someone, but helping form the life of Christ in them.
It’s a strange concept, but Jesus actually warned His apprentices to watch out for the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The leaven was the doctrine-focused spiritual fervency that naturally extracted them from truly loving people. Jesus didn’t come to belittle them or suggest that scriptural knowledge and moral living was bad, but He came to fulfill, enlarge, and expand what true spiritual formation was. He came to model a holistic life where doctrine, theology, knowledge and morality were coupled with love, mercy, faith and action.
Again, good point — handing down doctrine does not necessarily a disciple make! It’s a means, not an end in the discipleship process.
…Western non-participatory discipleship tends to shrivel the heart, whereas active apprenticeship actually helps Jesus come alive in the heart, and that’s what causes them to love their king. Paul summed up the power of kingdom apprenticeship this way, and it should be the goal of every parent, “That Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
For those who spend a long time building a platform for their ministry to have thousands, and tens of thousands of people listening to them and buying their books or listening to their radio program, I understand their frustration and reaction when people like me burst the bubble and say “nope, that’s not discipling“. For those who’ve put a lot of time and energy into events and believe that it creates disciples just because God honors our efforts, I can understand how annoying such a call to change the way we think and operate can sound.
But friend, making disciples, hard work as it is, is not really that complicated. If the Body of Christ in developed nations had each member of every church on every corner of some of our cities just focus on 4 people to pour themselves into individually, it wouldn’t take very many years to see a real revolution happen in our land.
Let’s do it!
Go make disciples.