Continuing on the discussion of discipleship, I want to talk about what I call the “Jesus and dot dot dot” syndrome. This means that we have often been discipled (and are thus discipling others) by learning to follow Jesus… and… something in addition. We follow Jesus… and… the set of doctrines that our church teaches in order to “protect” the Gospel. We follow Jesus… and… the rules (mostly unspoken) that we must follow to fully belong to the Christian culture we are a part of. We follow Jesus… and… the teachings of our pastor who works hard to make Jesus relevant and understandable. We follow Jesus… and… the latest pop-teacher that we are listening to. We follow Jesus… and… the core teachings of our denomination. We follow Jesus… and… the instructions of our latest church-leadership guru (even house-church-leadership guru).
The problem is not that we are listening to good teachers, or learning from others. The problem is that, in our own insecurity or anxiety around being a pure follower of just-Jesus, we take comfort in following others who interpret what it means to be a follower. This provides us with an easier path and gives us a sense of security in the journey. The result is that we end up putting this alternative body of information/teaching right up there alongside of Jesus. We look to Him, yes, but then we look to others to make sure that we are interpreting Him correctly. We end up seeing Him through the lenses of others. We end up with human mediators between us and Jesus. We end up with a watered-down experience of daily following just-Jesus.
The “Jesus and dot dot dot” syndrome leads to two significant (as in huge) problems:
- We, ourselves, lose sight of what it means to radically follow the untamed Jesus.
- We make the issue of discipling others far too complicated, difficult, and inaccessible.
Let’s briefly look at each of these.
When Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone (which meets our daily physical needs) but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, he was pointing to a daily followership. We digest, grasp, listen to, and walk out what God is speaking to us each and every day. Yesterday’s digested word will not provide direction for our lives today. That he meant to lead us in such a consistent, radical way is further seen by his challenges to wannabe-disciples who first want to bury a father or say good-bye to their family before following Jesus in-the-now (Luke 9).
The prospect of actually facing Jesus head-on, in daily followership, leads to a radical, obedience-oriented, undomesticated lifestyle. If this prospect does not make us tremble somewhat (both fear and excitement), then we may have lost our taste for it. Instead, we prefer to look at the lifestyles of those who have interpreted Jesus to us and do our best to emulate them or implement their understanding of the Jesus-lifestyle. This is so much safer (seemingly) though the consequences may leave us far from the mark of a true disciple.
Terry Eagleton says:
“[Jesus] is presented [in the Gospels] as homeless, propertyless, peripatetic, socially marginal, disdainful of kinfolk, without a trade or occupation, a friend of outcasts and pariahs, averse to material possessions, without fear for his own safety, a thorn in the side of the Establishment and a scourge of the rich and powerful.” (Quote taken from Frost & Hirsch, ReJesus, p. 20)
My own life-as-a-disciple hinges on this question: Do I really want to listen to, today, and wrestle with, today, that Jesus (as he reveals himself in his own word) and make the decision, today, to fully be his follower.
This issue takes on even greater significance as we turn our attention to discipling others. Why? Because it takes a great deal of human effort and energy to “properly” disciple someone to follow Jesus and to understand all that needs to be explained and interpreted so that the new disciple can follow Jesus “properly” (according to whatever comes after the dot dot dot). We commit ourselves (remarkably) to gargantuan efforts to make sure that new disciples are properly taught a Christian worldview (how to think), a Christian theology (what to believe), and a Christian culture (how to behave). Yet in this massive knowledge-focused download, we often sidestep the central issue of discipleship: what is Jesus showing you (speaking to you, revealing to you by his word) today and how are you going to walk that out?
When discipleship becomes truly focused on following Jesus today, the new disciple can pick this up almost instantaneously when it is modeled by a practitioner (discipler who is also following daily).
This does not mean that there is no purpose in walking alongside of new disciples. But it does mean that we shift the heavy lifting from the shoulders of the discipler (imparting all of the necessary knowledge and information about thoughts, beliefs, and behavior) to the shoulders of the Holy Spirit who actually is big enough to transform those who are choosing to listen and follow daily. Furthermore, the activity of the Holy Spirit in this process is not primarily facilitated by the “gifted” efforts of the discipler, rather the Holy Spirit is engaged as the new disciple picks up the task of discovering God’s communication to her daily and then wrestling with how to apply it in her life.
We have made discipleship far too complicated (the need to impart massive amounts of information in transformative ways—as if we can do that) yet also too comfortable (not requiring the discipler and disciple to follow Jesus radically. By turning this around, discipleship does become far more challenging in terms of our own followership, yet also far easier, simpler, more transferable and accessible as we simply invite others to learn how to do the same.
We could wrap up by looking at some tools for this, but sometimes we take tools and use them as shortcuts. Perhaps we just need to focus, for now, on the basic issue of being a follower today.