What does it mean to be discipled?
According to Billy Graham, it essentially meant read the Bible, go to church, tell others about Christ.
According to Chuck Smith, it essentially meant study the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation verse-by-verse by listening to him or someone he approved of.
The Navigators, Precept Ministries, and Bible Study Fellowship all have workbooks and study groups that are designed to disciple people. Most denominations have similar programs.
All well and good. All beneficial.
One can, however, engage in any or all of that and not have much of a transformation of character. For some, discipleship programs even feel more like brain washing meant to solidify adherence to the status quo.
A Christian disciple is a follower of Jesus. The purpose of discipleship is spiritual formation, which means becoming increasingly more loving, more forgiving, kinder, more gracious, more accepting, and more compassionate. It means growing in humility and being a radical seeker of truth regardless of the source of that truth. It means increasing our practical care for those Jesus called “the least” of his siblings – the sick, homeless, mentally ill, incarcerated, displaced, food insecure, war-torn, those lacking the basic necessities of life like healthcare, housing, clean air and water, proper sanitation, and so on.
Discipleship means becoming increasingly more like Jesus.
Learning the Bible is essential. Every Christian needs good Bible teaching. If you stop there, however, you wind up with a head full of doctrine and no love in your heart. You may become a Pharisee.
Every Christian needs to be around others of like precious faith, but not just others who look, think, and believe exactly as we do. The Christian world is vast. We need diversity. We need to be influenced by the ideas of those who love God and are from other cultures and have differing experiences. We need the wisdom of elders – female as well as male elders, black as well as pale elders, liturgical and well as free-church elders, southern as well as northern hemisphere elders.
Every Christian needs to pray, but not just by listing needs. We need to learn contemplative prayer from a wise spiritual director or guide. We need to learn deep, silent, imaginative scripture reading, putting ourselves in the story, appropriating the story as our own, listening deeply to the inner voice of love.
Christians love God. We need to learn to love God with our entire beings – our minds, as well as our hearts, souls, bodies. We need to learn to think critically, ask questions, in humility admit we have a lot to learn and might be wrong about this or that. We need a safe place to challenge and push back. That’s loving God with your mind.
Loving God with your body or strength is serving the least, washing feet; it’s the simple task of helping where help is needed.
We need to worship, to express love and gratitude to God in song, dance, words, and psalms. To become more like Jesus, we need authentic community.
Discipleship should be spiritual formation, becoming increasingly like Jesus. It happens as we engage consistently in:
1. Expository Bible study in historical and cultural context
2. Lectio Divina
3. Contemplative prayer
4. Imaginatively entering the gospel stories
5. Exposing ourselves to diverse expressions of the faith
6. Practically serving those in need
7. Expressing gratitude, praise, worship in a welcoming, authentic community of faith.