Has discipleship become a pointing exercise?

Elim’s Director of Training, Dave Newton, discovered a thing or two about discipleship while he was out DIY shopping

At a recent visit to a well-known DIY store, I entered the cavernous grey and orange warehouse in search of an essential item to complete my intended improvement project.

Walking through the automatic doors I was greeted by a very friendly attendant, immaculately dressed in company uniform, with a smile that almost caught me off guard. I proceeded into the store in search of the very thing I needed but soon realised that the vast array of options and the size of the store meant I would need to seek some assistance.

I soon found the nearest member of staff suitably dressed in orange and asked if they had the item I required. They were delighted to assure me that it was indeed in the store and informed me of the aisle number and approximately where it could be found. So off I went, walking up and down the aisles, becoming increasingly frustrated when I couldn’t locate it and eventually leaving the store empty handed!

As I left the car park I noticed a tiny independent DIY store hiding in the shadows across the road. I entered the store and asked the person behind the counter for the item I needed. The gentleman left his station and walked me to the very spot in the shop where this product was located. He advised me on one or two considerations I may need to bear in mind to do the best job and of potential tools required to fit it effectively. I not only left the store with the product I required but with a greater confidence to make best use of it!

Reflecting on these experiences got me thinking. I wonder if our discipleship in local church has been reduced to simply pointing people in the direction of what they are looking for and hoping they find it? A sort of discipleship-from-a-distance that encourages people to join a house group, read the Bible and pray, but gives little attention to travelling with people on the journey.

There are two things that stand out when Jesus calls the twelve disciples in Mark’s account of the gospel.

The first is PROXIMITY. Mark states, “He [Jesus] appointed twelve that they might be with him,” (Mark 3:14).

An essential part of the discipleship journey has to be to accompany and walk alongside those we are seeking to disciple. It appears to me that a key part of the discipleship journey is intentional relationships, where we make ourselves accessible to others and model what it means to follow in the ways of Jesus. Could it be argued that too much of our discipleship activity is conducted from a safe distance, restricted to formal teaching and designated slots rather than lives shared and following Jesus modelled through vulnerability and authenticity? Jesus appointed the twelve initially to be with them.

The second priority of Jesus was TO SEND. “He appointed twelve... that he might send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons,” (Mark 3:14-15).

It is interesting that from the initial calling Jesus had a purpose and mission for his disciples to get on board with. Discipleship for Jesus was never an insular, safe place to discover who he was; it was a call to follow him and do the things Jesus did.

These early disciples were SENT people, in this instance sent to preach and cast out demons. They were carriers of the kingdom to all the towns and cities in the surrounding area. If ‘disciple’ means learner or student then this was a whole new level of on-the-job learning. There is a danger that we can hold people back from fulfilling the mission of God whilst we are waiting for them to mature or develop. Jesus, on the other hand, knew that in the sending there would be increased dependency, learning and growth.

As Elim seeks to make discipleship a priority in our Movement in the months and years ahead, I would suggest that great discipleship must initially be shaped around these two clear values of Jesus.

Let’s not simply point people in the direction of Jesus and hope for the best, let’s rather walk with and send people out confidently to follow in his ways.

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