Over the past year or so, the community where I pastor has been wrestling through what discipleship is and what it looks like. If you have been keeping up with this blog, you have seen some of that get figured out here. And while I think a lot of different things can fall under the heading of discipleship, I also think it’s important to have some clarity on what it is and what it isn’t. Because without some guiding definition of discipleship, the danger is that everything can get thrown under the heading of “discipleship”, in which case nothing is discipleship.
So here is my latest attempt at describing what it is; and I am using a well known Bible story to help spell it out, The Feeding of the 5,000 (Mk 6:30-44).
1. Discipleship is being with Jesus in order to learn from Jesus so that we can be like Jesus. At the beginning of this story Mark writes, ”The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught (v30).” Earlier in the chapter Jesus sends out the twelve to surrounding towns to teach about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Even earlier in Mark’s gospel (3:13) Jesus is on a mount side with all of His disciples and He chooses the twelve and it says that He chooses them first and foremost to “be with Him.” Immediately after the choosing and before the sending, Jesus goes around with His newly appointed disciples teaching and healing. Then, once they have seen and experienced Jesus doing it, He sends them out to go and do the same.
The bottom line is that Jesus chooses these guys to be with Him, in order to learn from Him, so that they can go out and do what He is doing.
2. Discipleship is a rhythm of invitation and challenge. When the twelve return to Jesus to report on their work, they get caught in a great commotion of people. Because of the commotion, Jesus invites them to a quiet place to rest. As you watch Jesus throughout the gospels He is continually throwing out invitations to different people to come be with and follow Him (Matt 14:22-33, Matt 16:13-28, Mk 10:17-21, Lk 9:57-62, Jn 1:35-39). But with the invitation also comes challenge. Notice that in this story and the ones listed above that’s always the case.
Even though the twelve are invited to a quite place with Jesus, their rest gets interrupted by more people. Jesus, moved with compassion, teaches the crowds all day long. When dinner time rolls around the disciples tell Jesus to send this crowd of 5,000+ people away to go get dinner. How does He respond? He says, “You give them something to eat.”
What!? That’s 5000+ people and we don’t have anything to feed them with!?
Challenge at it’s finest. That’s what it’s like following Jesus. He invites you to follow Him and then He throws you into situations where you are challenged to trust Him.
3. Discipleship involves supernatural power. Along with His challenge, Jesus also supplies the means and power necessary to over come the challenge. And as it is with most of Jesus work, it’s hard to comprehend how He does it. How in the world does he feed 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread and have twelve baskets left over?
What I find cool about this story is that Jesus brings the disciples into what he is doing and gives them a front row seat to his power. After Jesus gives thanks Mark writes, “ he gave them (the fish and bread) to his disciples to set before the people (v41).” When we follow Jesus he gives us access to his power. He puts his power in our hands to distribute it out to others. I don’t know about you, but to me… that’s a wild thought.
In light of all this, a few questions come to mind:
1. What’s your motive in spending time with Jesus? Is it so that you can learn to be like him or simply get things from him?
2. Where in your life is Jesus currently challenging you and/or inviting you?
3. Does your life reflect the reality of his power at work in and through you? Why or why not?