PFOA: Jesus and discipleship (Mark 3:13-14)
And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach", Mark 3:13-14 (NKJV)
Perhaps the most pressing need expressed by the Chinese house church leaders during my visits with them has been discipleship. This is not unique, as churches around the world also recognise this. The increasing pace of life, the plethora of options for work and leisure, present tremendous challenges to living the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Responding to this need, many churches have established discipleship programmes, designating pastors to be in charge of them. Para-church organisations have sprung up with specific emphasis on discipleship, unique programmes and training courses. There are numerous books on prayer, quiet-time, bible study, witnessing, etc. More recently, there is an increasing interest in the monastic traditions of the early and medieval church, with activities like retreats, contemplative meditation, and the exercise of the "spiritual disciplines"
Discipleship was just about the first thing Jesus did during His short ministry of 3 years on earth. From the Gospels we saw that He chose and called each disciple individually by name. He did not get a large crowd, just 12 of them. This twelve followed Him, eating, living, sleeping with Him. Jesus talked with them constantly, teaching formally sometimes, informally along the way at other times. They learnt when they watch Jesus heal the sick, love and care for the weak and hurting, challenging the scribes and Pharisees, preaching to crowds and feeding them, and watched Him perform miraculous deeds. It was a 3-year 24/7 schedule. And still, only 11 out of the 12 made the grade; one failed miserably. This was how Jesus called, trained and sent out His disciples, which after His death, turned the world upside-down.
How can we follow Christ's method of making disciples? I know of one training centre that attempts it. It is a small group, with a very low teacher-student ratio. Apart from the Biblical and theological curriculum, the teachers and students also live together, have meals and do the dishes together, do house-keeping and gardening together and go on mission trips together. Over the 1 or 2 years, the focus is learning together as a community.
You may say this is not practical for the rest of us. Indeed this model has been described as not efficient, not economically sustainable, so for the pragmatic let's at least draw some guidance from Jesus' method:
Each disciple is chosen and called by name, individually.
It is a small community of teacher and disciples, not one-on-one, nor one-to-too-many. Learning takes place from the teacher, but also from one another. Learning is during both formal and informal (life) situations.
Intimate relationships bond beyond the training/teaching sessions, with mutual encouragement and correction.
There is no substitute for time spent together as a community, whether continuously, or in multiple extended periods.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer proclaimed that discipleship is costly; are we prepared to pay the price?