So how does the material in the “rest of the Gospels” come into the Christian life? What are the “processes of Discipleship” we see in the first half of the Gospels that should be integrated into faith in the crucified and risen one.
1. We should start with affirming the perspective we’ve gained. The Kingdom of God, which Jesus embodied, proclaimed, taught and practiced is only possible because Jesus is a mediator-King; a King who makes things right through death and resurrection, not through miracles and exorcisms. Hold these things together. See these two tracks in scripture: the establishment of God’s Kingdom and the victory of God’s messiah over evil, sin and death. Jesus death secures our place in his Kingdom, and his Kingdom insures his victory in the world.
2. Discipleship is a process (or processes), not a program. No matter what methodologies are used, the fact is that the entire life of grace and growth is discipleship. What processes are there for us to see in the ministry of Jesus? Mentoring. Community life. Ministry to others. Being a student. Healing. Spiritual warfare. Prayer. Missions. Evangelism. Communication. It’s a life more active than contemplative, at least as I read it, but it is a life where a lot of attention is paid to “seeing” the realities of the Kingdom. It is a full course and even with a sense of gifts and callings, there is much to be undertaken for Christ.
3. Jesus taught the Kingdom through almost every available means. It was a large subject, with different levels of implementation. Our lives and communities point to the Kingdom, even though we are never to mistake anything we do for the final Kingdom itself. At no point is the Christian life more of a stretch, than when we work toward the Kingdom of God and live in the Kingdom of God, yet all around us the Kingdom is as much “not yet” as it is “already.” Christian teaching and mentoring should have a constant focus on the values, practices, ethics and characteristics of the Kingdom of God. We will not finally or completely bring it, but our lives point to it and its reality will be found all around us and within us.
4. The healing ministries of Jesus remind us that we should be constantly about the work of healing. For us, this is compassionate concern, binding up wounds and reconciliation. It is bridging differences and being willing to suffer consequences. it is taking risks in order to show God’s care and compassion. It is standing with the work of healing by the love and Spirit of God. We should not mistake this for a political stance, though it has political implications, especially in some cultures.
5. The exorcisms of Jesus remind us that we are to be involved in Biblically sound spiritual warfare and always to seek the defeat of evil by the power of Christ. Neither the healings nor the exorcisms of Jesus are requiring us to imitate Jesus miracles and exorcisms, but to ask what they tell us about Jesus and about his Kingdom in the present. I do not believe we are given these portions of the Gospels in order to go and do the same things in the same way, but neither do I believe the Holy Spirit no longer equips the church with gifts of all kinds of healing and gifts focused on the defeat of particular kinds of evil. Both of these areas are subject to much abuse. Stay close to the scriptures, but don’t quench the spirit.
6. Jesus was constantly traveling to do what we would call missionally compassionate evangelism. At no point are we given a clearer example. Disciples should be busy doing good in the name of Jesus. They should network with other ministries and churches. They should use their resources to do all the good they can in Jesus’ name. In all of this, they should seek the evangelistic goal of the Great Commission. A disciple without a missional and ministering focus has strayed far from what is most important to a disciple’s mission: going as He commanded. This, by the way, is not an invitation to churches to engage in dozens of programs, but it is an invitation of churches to develop, train and equip as many disciples as possible doing as many ministries as possible. A community of Christian disciples should be light and love in the places God has put them.
7. Jesus models a deep devotional experience. This is not optional for disciples. We need to, with sensitivity to our varying contexts, personalities and backgrounds, constantly be seeking to teach the life of prayer and devotional reading, especially of scripture. We should oppose the imbalanced life of the mind we often see on the internet, with a constant business and shallowness leaving little time or need for prayer, and a fan-club concern for books rather than an openness to what many different authors can teach. Teaching the devotional life should be an ongoing work in discipling/mentoring relationships.
8. Jesus uses preaching, teaching and conversation to communicate the gospel. Discipleship should develop the ability to listen, study AND communicate, especially in conversation and teaching. All are not teachers, but in the individual relationships disciples will encounter, all will “preach” to someone in simple conversation.
9. Disciples are learners and students. This may be obvious, but it is easily lost with a bit of pride and arrogance. Be teachable and find good teachers.
In the final consideration, discipleship is an accumulation of experiences that should be build into the lives of individuals, but should be the great concern of Christian communities and their leaders.
The current belief that disciples will be developed via sentimentalism, advanced theology, worship music and trendy routes of relevance will prove to be ineffective. We can see what Jesus is doing. We can understand what he is saying. We can say “yes,” and we can, with the help of a community of other disciples, follow him.
In my next and final post, I’ll say a bit about the kind of communities that develop disciples, and those that do not.