I mentioned earlier that there are some positive differences in discipleship over the last couple thousand years. I tend to be a skeptic, and if I heard someone else say that, I’d probably doubt him. But I do believe it’s true, although with perhaps some reservations.
The biggest advantage that we have over most New Testament disciples is the ability to personally study the Bible.
For the most part, the early disciples did not have their own copies of the scriptures, and what they did have was not the complete collection like we have today. Most early believers went to the synagogue to hear Old Testament scriptures read, or they had access to someone else’s scripture portions. When the early church started, none of the New Testament books were written, but they did have access to witnesses of the life and teachings of Jesus. Most importantly, they had the Holy Spirit.
Today we are greatly blessed! Those of us in the free world can buy a copy of the scriptures in our native language to read and study for ourselves. Many of us have more than one copy in various translations. We also have access to tools such as concordances and lexicons that help us get at the meaning of the original languages. No longer do we have to rely on second-hand knowledge of what the Bible says …although sadly many still do.
Plus we still have the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and ears to understand what we read. Yes, we are greatly blessed!
And if that were not enough, we also have plenty of other forms of instruction: Christian books, radio, television programs, and websites. The internet gives us access to live and recorded sermons, as well as Christian writings going back to the early church fathers. Assuming you have the ability to discern truth from error, these are great resources to have and you should take advantage of them. But there is a potential drawback.
Discipleship is not about learning doctrine, but putting what you learn into practice in a relational way. Because each of us has the ability to learn on his own, all these tools make it too easy to become an independent learner.
A disciple needs to be under accountability to other disciples. It’s like mentoring, with mutual accountability, fellowship, and encouragement. This is something that neither a solo or formal learning environment supplies.
Jesus’ teaching methodology was relational, not intellectual. The relationship with His disciples was not just a formal student-teacher one. The Twelve spent a lot of time out and about with their Master. Jesus was extremely open and personal with them. He hid nothing from them. They saw Him get angry and they saw Him cry. They were a small, close-knit, intimate community.
Jesus led His disciples by example. He lived what He taught, not just acting it out for their benefit but living it for real. The disciples saw how to live from Jesus’ example. They saw the results and the consequences of such a life (“If they persecuted me, they’ll persecute you” – John 15:20). Jesus spoke openly of hardships as the norm on earth, and benefits as primarily a future heavenly reward (Matthew 5:3-12).
The Apostles continued this method of making disciples in the early church:
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
– Philippians 3:17 (ESV)
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
– Philippians 4:9 (ESV)
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
– 1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)
So I exhort the elders among you, … not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
– 1 Peter 5:1-3 (ESV)
This should be a significant characteristic of our discipling others also. We need to disciple personally. We need to spend time with each other, be open, transparent, bold and fearless in our following Jesus.
I’ll admit… this isn’t me. But it needs to be.