As United Methodists we’re given the task of Making Disciples of Jesus Christ. Much has been said about this statement, but in my reading I haven’t seen much made of the word “making.”
Today, I was part of a terrific conversation regarding discipleship within our local congregation, and I realized something. The word “making” assumes more of an assembly line mentality than the way I think disciples actually develop. Much has been made of the REVEAL survey at Willow Creek and the findings that participation in a series of programs often fails to bring profound Christian transformation in people’s lives. In my mind, this is clear evidence against the assembly line model. And yet, it seems that even congregations who are influenced by the REVEAL survey refuse to move away from programattic approaches and simply switch to different or better programs.
And yet disciples develop in Churches around the world. As we spoke today, I remembered some of the deepest times of growth as a disciple in my own life. Although I did participate in programs (Walk to Emmaus, Disciple Bible Study, Mission Trips), there was never a sense of working through an assembly line process. It was much more organic. This led me to suggest that our role as pastors is more like that of an environmentalist or a landscape artist. We are responsible for making sure there is an environment (or landscape) within our congregations in which disciples can develop organically. Notice, I didn’t say “naturally.” I think discipleship requires a lot of input and effort. It doesn’t happen accidentally.
Like most of my blog posts, I’m still wrestling with an idea. Is organic discipleship is an adequate model? One can definitely argue that “making” disciples is adequate. A person could easily say that Jesus himself uses this language in Matthew 28:19, however in the original Greek we could just as easily translate matheteuo as follows, “As you are going, ‘disciple the nations,'” The process-oriented word “make” really isn’t there. On the other hand, this is a two-fold activity for Jesus: baptizing and teaching. However, this is overseen and empowered by Jesus himself who says, “I am with you always…” This makes me think more of apprenticeships within a community – again a more organic model.
So, what is our role in helping people experience transformation as Jesus’ apprentices? How do we aid people in development as disciples? Are we charged to “make” disciples, or is our task one of creating an environment in which discipleship can flourish? What does that look like? I’d love to hear your thoughts.