I had an interesting conversation recently with a pastoral candidate who I am mentoring. I challenged him with a plausible scenario: A young man walks into your office on a Monday morning and says, “Hi Pastor! I made a decision last Sunday, after hearing your sermon, to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Now what?”
The pastoral candidate’s answer was exactly what I thought it would be. In fact, it is almost the standard answer I hear from many pastors. “I guess I would say,” he replied, “‘Begin to read your Bible every day, come to church, pray to God, and share your new found faith with others.’”
After his response, I asked him a follow-up question, “Where in the Bible does Jesus talk about discipleship or even use the term disciple?” We looked up several verses, which the pastoral candidate identified.
Love One Another
Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, NASB). Clearly, Jesus is talking about what is most important as a tool for witness and of confirmation of true discipleship: love. One can go to church every Sunday, read their Bible every day, pray without ceasing, and talk about Jesus to everyone they come into contact with and still not meet the defining characteristic of a true disciple: love for one another.
Faithfulness To Christ’s Teaching: Love
Just then pastoral candidate thought he might have an argument for a cognitive imperative for discipleship when he retorted, “What about when Jesus said, ‘You are truly my disciples if you are faithful to my commandments. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (cf John 8:31-32). So, I asked, what were Jesus’ most important commandments? “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39, NASB). Jesus even said that this ultimate command was strikingly new, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34, NASB).
Fruit Bearing Discipleship: Love, …
“But what about the passages about bearing good fruit for Christ,” the pastoral candidate protested. “Isn’t Matthew 7:16 about all the good things we do for Christ on earth?” My reply was simply another question, “What are the fruit of the Spirit?” “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23, NASB). Once again, the essence of being a disciple is squarely on the loving character, the humble heart, the profoundly compassionate and merciful spirit of a born-from-above follower of Jesus.
If the Church is going to make disciples, which is her duty and responsibility, then the overarching focus should be on helping people who have not fully loved God and other people to be changed into people who do. Church leaders should teach and model for disciples how to love, to care, to forgive, to reconcile, to be merciful, to endure hardship for the sake of God and others — this is Christ’s idea of discipleship or spiritual formation. Now, certainly worship (corporate praise, prayer, Eucharist/Communion, Scripture study, and the proclamation of the Word) is basic to being a follower of Jesus. But when Jesus said, “Go and make disciples…,” He wasn’t saying to turn people into those who act like good church-going Christians, but people who actually love and care like Him.
(c) Paul Dordal, 2014