It’s too easy to substitute true discipleship for a sneaky counterfeit. Join AMBrewster as he explains one of the most basic prerequisites for true discipleship and helps Christians celebrate God better as they teach others to follow Him.
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Welcome back to our second general look into celebrating God even when there’s not a specific event or festivity on the schedule.
Last time we started a multiple-part series we will revisit over the course of the year that explores what the Bible says about the church and how His people can and should be celebrating Him while they assemble.
And today we’re going to talk about an integral facet of discipleship . . . one which is all too often ignored or for which we substitute a sneaky counterfeit.
But before we jump into that I want to invite you to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Parler. There you can hear me be pithy, find the occasional rant, watch random videos, and even find some behind-the-scenes looks into the Brewster home.
I’m not sure why you’d want to do that . . . but you can.
And don’t forget about today’s free episode notes and transcript on The Celebration of God Blog at CelebrationOfGod.com
I’m pretty sure that the average professing Christian is uncertain, hesitant, and potentially a little confused about what it means to disciple someone.
I think the main reason for this is that the common usage of the word has fallen out of our cultural vocabulary, and as the church has increasingly ceased to talk about it, it becomes a bigger and bigger mystery.
But it’s not mysterious. In fact, it’s a really, really, really simple concept, and today we want to talk about one of the foundation aspects.
If you’ve never listened to our introductory episodes, I want to strongly encourage you to do so since it’s during those episodes that we look at many foundational concepts. Without that foundation, many things we discuss may seem confusing — kind of like discipleship.
But allow me to boil discipleship down to its most basic parts.
1. Discipleship is teaching someone how to be like you or someone you’re trying to be like.
Plato and Socrates had their disciples. Jesus had His disciples. Modern day motivational speakers have their disciples.
But you have your own disciples too. In fact, I can put a bunch of children into one room and all the parents into another, spend time with both groups, and then — with a high degree of success — group them into family units. Why? Because kids act just like their parents. They gesture like their parents. They talk like their parents. They look like their parents — even if they’re adopted.
And all the family’s with adopted children are knowingly nodding their head because they have actually been told that.
“But,” you may protest. “I don’t have kids, and I’m pretty sure I’m not teaching anyone to be like me!”
2. Everyone disciples.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally everyone teaches those around them how to be like them.
I’m always amazed by a good impressionist. The way they’re able to manipulate their voices and their bodies and their faces to become someone else is fantastic. And there are few things less funny than a bad impression — which, you know, anyone can do.
But, you know what . . . no celebrity ever sat down with an impressionist and taught the impressionist to impersonate the celebrity. The celebrity just existed. He just lived and spoke and moved, and by watching and listening, the impressionist was able to perfectly mimic the celebrity.
The only way you can say that you are not discipling anyone is if you have zero human contact. Even if you argue that everyone hates you and they would never want to be like you, you’re still discipling. You’re just inadvertently discipling them for someone else. You’re teaching them all the reasons to not be like you and why they should be like someone who is the opposite of you.
You see, disciplers are simply influencers. And we’re all influencers. God created us to influence and be influenced. He created us for community.
So, discipleship is simply teaching someone how to be like you or someone you’re trying to be like, and everyone disciples to one degree or another, and . . .
3. Discipling is as easy as living.
The more time an impressionist spends studying his favorite celebrity, the better job he’ll do. The more time we spend with Christ, the more we’ll become like Him.
Those are the three most basic truths concerning discipleship. You can’t help but train people to live like you (or the person you’re trying to live like), and it becomes easier and easier the more time you spend together.
Your students, family members, friends, church members — they’re all learning to be like you every moment they spend with you.
I know people say that “birds of a feather flock together,” but what most of us fail to realize is that those flocking birds of a feather start to imitate each other the more time they spend together. In fact, anyone who works with children will be able to think of at least one person who started hanging out with people who appeared to be very dissimilar from them, and in a relatively short period of time the child was nearly indistinguishable from the other members of that group.
Whether good or bad, this is how discipleship works. You’re already doing it whether you realize it or not. But, are you doing it well?
What makes someone a good discipler?
Well, there are many answers to the question, but today we want to focus on only two.
The first is one is obvious. Within the context of this discussion, you’re not a good disciple if you’re not showing people how to be a disciple of Christ.
Sure, you may do a good job showing people how to live without Jesus, but you’re discipling for the wrong side.
So, assuming the question is being asked within the right context, what makes a good discipler for Christ? Again, there are so many important answers, but we’re going to address one today.
And in order to illustrate this one character trait that makes a good discipler, I want to consider two passages.
The first passage is I Timothy 3:1-13. In this chapter Paul gives Timothy a list of qualifications for pastors and deacons. Many people have noticed the similarities between the character of a deacon and a pastor. But there is one key difference. Listen closely. “Deacons . . . must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
Of pastors/elders/overseers, Paul tells Timothy, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
Even on a casual reading, you likely heard the many similarities. But before we point out the difference, I want to read the other passage.
The second passage is II Timothy 2:24-25. Here Paul has just one list for elders: “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition.”
And both of the pastoral lists have the requirement “able to teach.” Deacons don’t have that specific requirement placed on them, but pastors do. Why is that? Well, it makes all the sense in the world that the guy who’s supposed to be teaching the Bible be able to teach it well.
But why am I bringing this up within the context of discipleship? Am I suggesting that only pastors should disciple? Are deacons incapable of doing it? And don’t even ask the Christian in the pew.
No, obviously all Christians have the command to disciple. We’re already doing it, but God wants us to do it for Him as we strive to do everything we do for His honor and glory.
But here’s the thing — the entirety of Scripture falls under the category of communication. It’s a book. In addition to that, Jesus’ whole ministry was preaching, modeling, and then putting a divine stamp of approval on the teaching of His words and deeds by performing miracles. How many times do the Gospels tell us about Jesus teaching people the Truth?
Now, obviously the best learning occurs when teachers teach well, and the best teaching requires good communication.
And since the Bible is filled with instruction concerning our communication, we could take months of episodes just reading the passages. How we speak, when we speak, and the fact that we must speak is a central theme of the Scriptures. In fact, at the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1:3, Moses masterfully introduces the power of communication when he tells us that “God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.’”
All throughout the Bible we see that change happens when people talk. That change can be for good as when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, or it can be harmful as when Satan manipulated Eve.
I think this is all pretty straightforward, and we can all agree that we will disciple for Christ better as we can converse better.
But here’s where I want to explain what I meant earlier when I said that we can substitute this vital element of discipleship for a sneaky counterfeit.
For those who are comfortable using the term “discipleship,” it’s very possible it’s most often used in regards to a program, class, curriculum, or group. But in episode 8 I mentioned that discipleship is not a program. It’s not a booklet, class, or small group curriculum. Discipleship is a lifestyle that works best when the disciple and the discipler spend time together.
Small group is nice, but too often we spend our small group time discipling for all the wrong things. Sure, we might read our Bible passage or excerpt from a book, and even if your group is really good and it’s filled with people prepared to exegete the passage and plumb its depths, you still have a specified period of time where people talk about God, about the Bible, and — very often — about themselves, and then 15 to 45 minutes later its over. We’re now down with our small group time, and then everyone gets to talking about what really interests them — their health, their kids, their work, sports, movies, and the like. And generally the communication that is used to discuss our interests is far better and more natural and more energetic than the communication used to discuss the Bible.
Since I’m always discipling, you can bet that I’m discipling while at small group. But in this situation, I’m teaching them that God and His Word have their place, but given the opportunity to talk about what’s really important to me, I’m going to discuss nearly anything and everything other than God.
And my words and lifestyle and habits scream that fact every week during small group.
That’s what I meant about substituting a sneaky counterfeit. Talking about God — and even talking well about God — but only during prescribed times . . . is a counterfeit.
If I tell you I love a sports team A , but spend all of my time praising sports team R, you’re going to rightly ascertain that I’m not really serious about sports team A.
If my conversation is constantly about the grace and beauty and charm and attractiveness of a woman other than my wife, you need to sit me down for an important heart to heart because my communication is betraying where my heart is.
In the same way, we may tell people that God is really important to us, and we may communicate with expertise what the Bible says, but when the people who know me realize that I don’t actually live and talk those truths in the nitty-gritty of my weekend play, work, parenting, studying, or whatever . . . they’re going to rightly deduce that being a disciple of God is for the churchy times.
But that could not be further from the Truth. Someone who claims to be a follower of Christ, but who only follows Him during religious events and churchy experiences is not a follower of Christ. And everyone they’re discipling is learning very well how to be a non-disciple of Jesus.
Instead, what if you and I had a relationship where we spent copious amounts of time together. Maybe we work together. Maybe we have shared passions. But instead of only interacting with you within that structure, we also get together outside of those prescribed times? What if you saw me live and parent and work and play and entertain and do chores, and you discovered that God is not merely an element of my life, but He is the driving motivation, focus, and passion of my life? What if you saw that my belief in God and submission to His Word touches everything in my life? What if nearly every conversation we ever had tied back to some Truth about God — an encouragement edification, or rebuke? What if you learned from watching me and talking with me how God’s Word could be practically and relevantly lived out in every moment of every day — both in the High Days of feasts and festivities and in the Low Moments of everyday Thursday afternoons?
My friends, discipleship requires conversation. And the more conversation there is, the better chance your disciplee will become more like you. And if being like you means submitting their lives to Jesus, then you will be discipling your friends and students and church members and children and coworkers for Christ.
Yes, we should all be able to teach — or at least just talk about the glory of God!
But if we’re going to relegate churchy discipleship time to once a week sessions for 30 minutes, we’re actually undermining our whole purpose.
Am I suggesting we toss out small groups? No, I’m saying they should be the natural outflow of already formed relationships that are already interacting and growing and talking and mirroring and modeling and — most importantly — doing so as a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
So, if you find it hard to talk about God, you can know that you are discipling, you’re just not discipling anyone to be a disciple of God. You’re discipling them to be a person who says they love God but then never acts and talks like they really love God.
And if you are one of those people who can unpack the Scriptures in small group, but who doesn’t live out those truths in your life . . . the Bible has a warning for you too.
In one of the most famous passages about the power of communication, James records in chapter 3 “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
Again, James wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t be adept at teaching others the truths of Christ; he’s saying that we should not strive to be in a position of a teacher if we’re not prepared to do it well. Teachers who teach poorly will incur judgement.
In the same way, we are disciplers whether we like it or not. That position holds a lot of responsibility. If we set ourselves up in small group as someone who really knows God, but our lives betray the fact that we don’t really consider Him in our moment by moment decisions, there will be judgement for that.
Now that I’m sitting here saying all of this, it’s causing me to realize that perhaps this is why the American church doesn’t do life together very well. We have our church friends and our regular-life friends. Maybe that’s because were consciously or subconsciously uncomfortable with the idea that the people who hear us talk about God at church may come into our homes and realize we’re very different people.
My friends, teaching others to be followers of Christ requires conversation. And I would argue that life-on-life conversation that glorifies and uplifts the Lord is the best way to disciple.
So, as we move through the Celebration of God, take every opportunity you can to better know, love, and serve the Lord. And . . . then teach others to better know, love, and serve God by walking with them through life telling and showing them how a follower of Christ is to live.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.