(This was first posted in 2010. But, as I am traveling in Africa I am reminded that these simple discipleship principles have led to movements throughout East Africa that we have had the privilege of being involved in. David Watson is often credited for these principles that help make discipleship both simple and reproducible.)
At the heart of simple/organic church life is the lifestyle of discipleship (following Jesus) and discipling others.
The difficulty is that we often make discipleship far too difficult. When we see discipleship as primarily about imparting knowledge from one to another, then we need an expert (knowledgeable) who also excels at communicating knowledge to another (teaching gift). Many people do not see themselves as qualified enough (not enough knowledge as compared to professionals or those who have attended seminary) and not gifted enough (again, comparing themselves to those with excellent teaching gifts).
The result is that we have turned discipleship over to the professional teachers (pulpiteers and well-known author/teachers) and the programs that these same people develop. In the process we exclude 90% of the Body of Christ from being active disciplers which is exactly what Jesus asked each of us to do.
Fortunately, simple/organic church planters, and those who have studied or experienced church planting movements, have re-discovered the keys to discipleship and have given those keys back to every-day-believers where they belong.
Here are two of those keys:
1. Discipleship can and should be discovery-based. This means that new believers can actually discover what they need to know about God by opening the Word of God themselves while the Spirit leads and teaches them. In this case, I do not need to be highly knowledgeable nor an effective teacher to come alongside someone who is going directly to the Word to learn from God and to encounter God.
We have put far too much effort into spoon-feeding new Christians by providing milk for them to drink through our pre-digested sermons, notes, teachings, and pre-packaged lessons. The result is that believers do not learn the basics of understanding the Word for themselves, listening to the voice of the Spirit through the Word, and applying it. This latter is the meaning of a disciple: one who hears Jesus speak and follows him.
While teachers can play a helpful supportive role, scripture is abundantly clear that the Holy Spirit is to become the primary teacher in a believer’s life (1 John 2:27). This takes the pressure off of the discipler if we are willing to take on a support role in a disciple’s life rather than the main role.
2. The second key is often called “obedience-based discipleship.” However, since the word “obedience” often conjures up images of legalistic adherence to rules (which is not the same as simply obeying Jesus), I sometimes prefer the term: “active-surrender-based discipleship.” In using this term I will quote Thomas Merton who said: “we must know the truth, we must love the truth we know and we must act according to the measure of our love. Truth is God himself who cannot be known apart from love and cannot be loved apart from surrender to his will.”
Okay, so maybe that’s just a way to say that the way to experientially know and encounter God is to love and obey him.
But, here’s the point. A disciple is one who loves and obeys. Period. Therefore obedience-based discipleship (or surrender-based discipleship) focuses on becoming one who follows, one who walks out what God has shown, one who consistently steps into the place of “your will not my will be done.” Why does this matter? Because, again, knowledge is not the focus here. A new disciple will gain the knowledge that he/she needs over time if he is applying what he is hearing through obedience.
Therefore, again, an expert is not needed (nor a great teacher) in order to show the way. Rather, simply a fellow-Jesus-follower is all that is necessary to come alongside other disciples and point the way (through his/her own walk) to an abundant, Spirit-filled, life-filled, adventure-filled, personally-transforming, world-impacting, miracle-walking, Jesus-following lifestyle.
The bottom line here is that a disciple is one who is coming to know God himself through personal experience (followership) NOT merely a bunch of knowledge ABOUT God. The former comes through self-discovery of who God is and walking with him.
To disciple someone, then, is nothing more than:
- Bringing them to the Scriptures to feed.
- Asking how God is speaking to and leading them (through the Scriptures and the Spirit).
- Asking how they are walking out what God is speaking (obedience out of love).
- Helping them to do the same with others.
It really IS that simple.