Friday, September 19, 2008

How do we build disciples? (Part 1)

In my last post on "Small Groups - What are they good for?" I raised several questions such as: How to best build disciples? What does it actually mean to be a disciple? What do we mean by discipleship as a purpose of the church? These questions come from a suggestion earlier that small groups may not be the best vehicle for creating disciples, and that nothing beat "one-on-one then reproduce", an approach some see as taught by Jesus as well as Paul -> Timothy -> reliable other men.  I want to present a few posts each describing a different solution to the question of how to make disciples. This first post looks at a view that would disagree, claiming that Jesus approach to building disciples is not one we can or should mimic.

In pondering these questions I came across a very interesting article "Discipleship: Its Definitions and Dangers" by Bob Deffinbaugh. Let me quote two key paragraphs:
"In the last decade, discipleship has become a popular subject in Christian circles. The great difficulty is that when we use this term we frequently mean something entirely different from that denoted by the biblical term. For instance, we hear much talk about discipling others or being discipled. Being in close proximity to a great seminary, I have seen many young and enthusiastic theologs come and go. Very frequently, they will go to the pastor of their church and ask to be discipled, just like Paul ‘discipled’ Timothy. A friend of mine and fellow-laborer in the ministry used to respond to such a request, “And just how did Paul disciple Timothy?”
This is precisely the problem. We almost completely fail to grasp the biblical concept of discipleship. It is interesting that we never find the term ‘disciple’ used with reference to the relationship between Paul and Timothy.194 As a matter of fact, we find the two primary terms for discipleship195 employed very frequently in the Gospels, sporadically in the book of Acts, and almost never in the rest of the New Testament. Did Paul really disciple Timothy, and if so, how? Most of the young men who desire to be discipled, and I say this seriously, ask more of me than does my wife. It is because of this lack of clarity as to what discipleship really is, and how it is done that we shall devote several lessons to its study. What was so important in the life and ministry of our Lord should be very clear to us today who wish to be known as His disciples."
He then closes with this comment: "Let us not seek to disciple others, so much as to be disciples ourselves. Let us not seek to become disciples of men but rather followers of God."  Learning to feed yourself, and following God, not man. Now that's an important point to keep in mind in thinking about the goal of a discipling relationship. For the rest of the argument by Bob Deffinbaugh, you'll have to listen to his sermon "Discipleship in Ephesians: What happened to the term 'Disciple'?" which expands on what discipleship looks like and why the model seen in the gospels differs from what is presented in the epistles.

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