“What is a disciple and how do we make one?” This question has been a blessing and a curse to many leaders in the church in the last few years. We are reaping the fruit of decades of attractional, consumer focused, seeker-sensitive, non-missional forms of “church” which have left us with shallow spiritual consumers and converts but not disciples. If you were to ask a group of church attenders, “how many of you have been intentionally discipled and subsequently discipled another person?” most would stare at you without being able to answer you. People who have been in church for decades have never been discipled. Even some pastors struggle with this question! The Church has a discipleship problem. The main thing Jesus calls his church to has become one of many products and services offered by the church for spiritual consumption by the masses. Mike Breen, founder of 3DM, says in his book Building a Discipling Culture, “If you make disciples you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.”[1] This statement should give us pastors and leaders pause, as well as challenge us to run into the arms of Jesus if we are caught up in managing the church instead of making disciples. Most of us are very familiar with Matthew’s great commission text to, “go and make disciples of all nations”[2] or John’s commission, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”[3], but again we are left with the question, “what is a disciple and how do we make them?” As with everything in our faith, we must turn to Jesus. How did he live his life? What can we learn about being a disciple from Jesus? How did Jesus make disciples?

Being a disciple means growing in intimacy with Jesus and imitating him in all areas of life. The “What?” of growing in intimacy and imitation of Jesus is described in a variety of ways in missional discipleship literature: some call it worship, community, mission[4]; others call it communion, community, co-mission[5]; and even others Up, In, and Out.[6] The Inspire Movement, an international network of people committed to developing missional discipleship in the life and leadership of the church breaks down Jesus’ Way of Life into four ingredients: 1) seeking growth in the love of God; 2) using spiritual disciplines as means of grace; 3) sharing fellowship with spiritual friends; and 4) engaging mission through love of neighbor.[7]

Seeking growth in the love of God begins with truly knowing and holding onto one’s identity in Christ. Before Jesus began his public ministry he hears from the Father in his baptism, “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.”[8] Jesus knows who he is and whose he is before doing anything. One cannot join God on mission and follow him without first receiving the love of the Father. 1 John 4:19 tells us, “We love because he first loved us.” Being a disciple means breathing in and breathing out the holy love of God. We continually press into and respond with God’s loving presence and prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying graces which welcomes us as we are, brings us to repentance, regenerates and then transforms us more into the likeness of Jesus. In other words, it’s about being in relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Using spiritual disciplines as means of grace are the ways we cooperate with the Spirit of God in our daily life. John Wesley described the means of grace as, “outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.”[9] Scripture engagement, fasting, prayer, the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper, and Christian community are the five instituted means of grace that Jesus gives in the Gospels. Engaging with these disciplines awakens us to the presence and mission of God in our lives. These are to be done individually but also in community with spiritual friends and co-laborers in the gospel.

Sharing fellowship in community is modeled by Jesus as he chose the 12 as his missional community to invest his life into for the sake of many, as well as the smaller “band” of disciples Peter, James, and John who were the only ones to be invited to participate in the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, the Mount of Transfiguration, and to pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, being fully human, needed community as he joined in the Father’s mission. Jesus said, “where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”[10] This community listens to the Spirit, offers encouragement, support, unconditional love, and becomes an extended family to one another as we all seek to grow in intimacy with Jesus and imitate him in all areas of life. Without the support of others, we will fall away from Jesus because we were made for relationship with one another. It is modeled in the essence of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our faith communities are meant to reflect not only the image of God to the world but the self-giving, mutually submissive, love between the persons of God. Discipleship must involve intentional spaces and vehicles to grow with one another in Jesus’ Way of Life.

One cannot be a disciple of Jesus without also engaging missionally in the world. We are each called to be everyday missionaries where we live, work, and play. We are each sent by the Father to announce and demonstrate the universal reign of God. The Kingdom is here in our midst and we are ambassadors of the King of kings and Lord of lords. God goes before us and invites us to join him! The more we abide with Jesus, grow in the Spirit, and receive the love of the Father we discover the heart for all those not yet declaring, “Jesus is Lord!” We are called to bless others, extend hospitality, notice the unnoticeable, listen genuinely to all, ask good questions to invite others into the life of God, and serve the least and the lost. We must breathe out the love we’ve received! We are sent out to incarnate in neighborhoods, social networks, and our workplaces, or as one mentor of mine says, “We must fish where the fish are!”

So, what is a disciple and how do we make them? A disciple is a follower of Jesus who increasingly is growing in intimacy with God and imitation of him in every aspect of life by pressing into Jesus’ way of life. It has to begin with us, though we cannot do this alone. We need one another and a community of other disciples surrounding us to keep us journeying with the Lord. One such way is through discipleship bands[11], a micro-community of 3-5 spiritual friends helping to point one another to Jesus. This band is a catalyzing and healing space to confess sins, grow in friendship with the Spirit, and be encouraged to continue looking at and being obedient to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Pastors, leaders, church planters, beloved sons and daughters of God. Are we growing in intimacy with and imitation of our Lord and Savior? These questions can serve as an assessment and self-reflection for you to wrestle with the Lord, your family, and your community as we abide deeply with our Lord, keep the mission of God at the forefront of our lives and ministries, and discipleship the main thing the Church. This is the only way we will see the fulfillment of our vision as the Free Methodist Church to bring wholeness to the world through healthy biblical communities of disciples, leaders, groups, and churches.

 

Seeking growth in the love of God

  1. Am I enjoying the love of God?
  2. Am I becoming more like Jesus?
  3. Am I aware of God’s presence in daily life?
  4. Am I making God known to others by my way of life?

 

Using spiritual disciplines as means of grace

  1. Am I praying in all circumstances?
  2. Am I listening to God through the Bible?
  3. Am I meeting Jesus in the Eucharist?
  4. Am I practicing fasting and self-denial?
  5. Am I living as a servant of others?

 

Sharing fellowship with spiritual friends

  1. Am I sharing the ups and downs of my spiritual life?
  2. Am I giving and receiving spiritual guidance?
  3. Am I growing in the fruit of the Spirit?
  4. Am I developing the use of spiritual gifts?
  5. Am I sharing spiritual wisdom?

 

Engaging mission through love of neighbor

  1. Am I aware of being sent by God into daily life?
  2. Am I making new friends with my neighbors?
  3. Am I offering hospitality to others?
  4. Am I showing God’s love in practical ways?
  5. Am I speaking to others about Jesus?

 

 

About the Author

Derik Heumann is currently the lead pastor and church planter of Evergreen Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Evergreen is a 2-year-old faith community with a vision to see the Kingdom of God reigning in every heart and home in the city and beyond through planting the gospel through a network of missional communities and discipleship bands. Derik was ordained in 2016 and graduated with dual degrees (M. Div. and M.A. Biblical Studies) from Asbury Seminary in 2018. He is also an alumnus of Spring Arbor University where he met his wife Kimberly, who is also a SAU alumna. Derik and Kim have been married since 2017 and have two beautiful daughters Hannah and Lily. Derik is passionate about seeing people experience hope, healing, and wholeness in and through Jesus Christ, as well as seeing every person given purpose through joining God in His mission and great story of redemption as an everyday missionary.

 

[1] Breen, Mike. Building a Discipling Culture. 2016. Kindle Location 100.

[2] Matthew 28:16-20

[3] John 20:21

[4] fmcusa.org

[5] Woodward, J.R. & White Jr., Dan. The Church as Movement.

[6]. Breen, Mike. Building a Discipling Culture

[7] inspiremovement.org/missional-discipleship

[8] Matthew 3:16-17

[9] Wesley, John. “The Means of Grace.” The Sermons of John Wesley. Ed. Kenneth Collins.

[10] Matthew 18:20.

[11] For more information on discipleship bands see The Band Meeting by Kevin Watson, or visit inspiremovement.org or seedbed.com for more information and a contemporary model of this historic disciplemaking vehicle.