One of the life-giving practices I am rediscovering is discipleship. I love learning from others how to be and act more like Jesus, and I enjoy passing that along to others who also want to grow as disciples. It’s thrilling for me to see people grow, change, and become more fully devoted followers of Jesus.
One of the great challenges for me is that Jesus’ way of discipleship is based on imitation. Jesus called a few to apprentice with Him, and over the course of three years they learned how to be like Him and how to do what He did in the ebb and flow of real life. And then, these few were commissioned and empowered to disciple others.
The Apostle Paul reflects this imitation-style of discipleship. He writes: “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16) and “we… offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.”
Disciples grow through a mentor in an apprentice relationship. Discipleship is not about following a curriculum, and it’s definitely not about transferring abstract knowledge or principles. Discipleship happens as one disciple builds onto other disciples what they have learned from others about how to be more like Jesus and how to do what Jesus taught His disciples to do.
Jesus’ way of discipleship can seem agonizingly slow, especially if one is accustomed to curriculum-based learning. It’s much easer to digest information than to facilitate real life change. But, I am convinced that if the Church does not follow Jesus in this way, then we will continue to grow in irrelevance to emerging generations and the culture around us.
The way of discipleship is a challenge for me because I was not taught to transfer faith in that way. I was taught in classroom settings to understand the Bible, to teach the Bible, to care for people, and to lead in a servant-like way. I was not taught to imitate, and frankly, I find the whole nature of imitation intimidating. Who am I to say, “Imitate me,” when there are areas in my life not worth emulating?
When I look at my life and see areas that are not worth imitating I get discouraged. But, when I see aspects of my life that are worth imitating, I am both encouraged and humbled. Any characteristic of my life that is worth emulating is because of Jesus. He is the redeeming stronghold in my life. Seriously, the best I do is respond to what God is prompting, challenging and encouraging me to be and become. And, I have also found that I need other disciples to help me process what God is saying, to challenge me to respond, and to encourage me to stay the course.
Jesus said that His sheep know His voice and they learn to listen and respond. I do not have a hotline to God because I am a pastor. But, I am learning to dial into the many ways that God continues to speak. I will be dialing into the voice of the Shepherd today as I pray, meet with others, reflect about challenges, write a sermon and plan ministry initiatives. Through it all, my hope is to hear from God, learn from others, and pass it on.