For sometime now, as I have continually re-accessed, pondered, and reworked my theology on evangelism and discipleship; I end up perplexed. In recent years there has been a big pushback to return to a more holistic approach to discipleship. Moving from discipleship that is not solely based on information, but one that is closer to the way Jesus discipled; filled with information and imitation. Through my study and research I have seen the many flaws of the system that I grew up with, and the system as I understood it, was one based solely on information.
The idea behind information based discipleship is-simply stated: if you hear it, then you will know it, and if you know it, then ultimately you will follow through and do it. Basically a information based structure, strategically focused on infiltrating your mind, which in response would control your actions. This type of learning for the most part, is what I received all throughout my years of growing up in church culture. A methodology geared towards transformation through information alone. This ecclesiological practice was manifested in program driven structures such as Sunday school, Mens Bible Studies, Women’s Bible Studies, Boys Brigade, Girl Scouts, MOPS, Youth Group, and so on the list goes. But above all else, the sermon of our Sunday morning was seen as the pinnacle. These church practices are predominantly information based. I can remember memorizing the books of the bible and memory verses at a very young age, and the passages that I memorized were all very specific in understanding my role as a Christian and why I needed God. As of today I can still quote quite a few, but majority have been lost somewhere in my mind. These paradigms of church are not evil or wrong, and have good intentions, but the question is, how effective are they in producing disciples of Jesus or the Way?
This question is what has been addressed by many in recent circles such as Mike Breen, Alan Hirsch, and a lot of others. Overall, it is a great question to look into. In other words, is this the practice that Jesus put into place with his disciples that ultimately led them to be full fledged members of The Way? But, also that which became the impetuous for them to spread the Euangelion (Gospel) even if it meant death? Was it information alone that changed the heart, mind, soul, and spirit of the disciples, led by Jesus? When you begin to ponder that question I think ultimately most come to the simple conclusion, no. But then again, majority of people believe for one that they are being discipled, and two, that they are discipling others by reproducing the same practices that they grew up with to their children and their fellow church members.
In today’s churches we see a lot of restructuring, basically a relabeling of old practices that are embellished, renewed, and put back into practice under different names. Such as community groups from cell groups, AWANA from boys brigade and Girl Scouts, praise and worship from prayer meeting and so on. Though the platform has been manipulated they still offer the same thing. That is, they are solely based on exchanging information, and not much more. Sure, one could argue that they know their community group quite well and that it is much more than information sharing, it’s a koinonia (fellowship) time, but overall the relationships you build there are still built on information foundations. In other words, yes I know so and so struggles with this, and know the names of all their children and occasionally we get together outside of church for a dinner date. Yet, again, knowing how someone really is, typically comes out with sharing life together in a much more unstructured relationship. Do I honestly believe that all people put on facades in church and programs? No! But remembering the topic at hand, I believe that Jesus was doing a whole lot more than little groups discussing bible passages.
But wait, how could this be, Jesus shared information all the time. Yes he sure did, however he takes it farther, he demonstrates tangibly what it means to live and look like the words that are coming out of his mouth (Rush Hour movie quote -accidental).
Becoming a disciple in the culture I grew up in, is just about gathering information, so you can be a self-professed expert with a big head, and not about having a holistic body. Holistic meaning; one that is focused on your heart and your hands, as much as it is your brain.
Discipleship according to Jesus, then is, what you have seen in me, what you have heard from me, go and do likewise (Philippians 4:9-ok so this is Paul, but Paul says follow me as I follow Christ , 1 Corinthians 11:1).
His shaping of the disciples was: information, imitation, and then for them innovation into their own world. He shared 3 full years with them…not just three years of neatly organized bible studies and sermons, but years of who knows what -parties for one, but other real life experiences. The time was not solely focused on God talk. Ultimately, it was sharing life together, through all the good and the bad; the messiness of life, as I like to call it. The disciples then were not solely taught, they also caught the message of Christ through their every day interaction with him, and watching him as he interacted with the world.
This pattern that Jesus demonstrated for us it what pistis (faith) is all about. Discipleship is not collected from information alone, but through watching someone imitate what it actually looks like to live, and not only talk like Christ. ” Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example” ( Philippians 3:17). The model is not difficult to comprehend, but to place it into practice; challenging. Our praxis (simply how we live out our faith ), stems from a unbalanced scale. Where our orthodoxy (right belief) has tilted the scale so far that our orthopraxy (right living) is seen as how accurately we can answer questions about God and the Bible. Instead of, how can live out the knowledge of a Jesus who loves the world, and not only fill pagans with information that they are going to hell. I would argue that I was programmed to reach a lost world with solely a bible in my hand knocking on their door, than a fork, engaging with them over a meal. Again, simply sharing life together. Is this not what the beginning of Luke 9&10 are all about?
Though I have been confused as I have looked into what it means to be a disciple as I stated in the beginning, truth continues to push its way through the capsule and is leading me to a better place and to a better relationship with God and the world.