Whither Discipling?

Reflection: Matthew 28:16 — 20; Ephesians 5:1 – 21; Philippians 3:15 – 21.

Looking around at the Christian community today, I ask myself, why is discipling within the body of Christ not more widely practiced? Jesus’ only Commission to his fledging flock is to “make disciples” – by calling all people into a personal discipleship relationship with himself, and he visibly modeled it too over a period of three years. Bearing in mind our Lord’s and Paul’s own examples, I sense that growth by imitation is not as straightforward as one might expect. Jesus’ disciples followed him closely and watched his every move. Paul made it very clear to the Philippian believers that they are to follow his modeling and observe those who walk according to the pattern they have in them (Phil 3:17). A few traits described in Ephesians 5 are imitable, but by and large, most of us would find Paul’s instructions tough going.

We all know how children learn from their parents and adults around them; their mimicry and replication is self-evident in their learning curve, even before they are able to comprehend values and language. This unconscious learning eventually yields a familial and/or other imprint that seemed to be hardwired, whether we like it or not. Consequently, Godly intentional parenting will be rewarded with fruits after their kind. Similarly with adults – without the consistent example of a living model, imitating someone only exists in one’s imagination.

We return to the question above. Why? There are a hundred and one reasons, but just a few thoughts here. As many of us do not have a problem learning a skill from an artisan as an apprentice or as an adult learner in the classroom, is discipling so very different? Is it possible that the emphasis on individuality in our upbringing makes it incongruous? Admittedly, the level of intensity in involvement, transparency, and accountability in a one-on-one relationship is humanly inhibiting to anyone who highly values independence. It’s certainly not a ‘quick fix’ kind of ministry nor can it be mass-produced. Perhaps other more engaging business and activities trump discipling. Are there no willing models? Or does being discipled indicate that we are less than complete? But we are according to God, and it is by watching another and being answerable that we learn what heaven on earth in community is all about.

A shortlist of traits I noted in the one who discipled me soon after my conversion: a humble man who loves God and his people, regularly studies the Word, a person of prayer, possesses an expansive heart and is approachable, secure in himself (that is, not a control freak), patient and gracious, willing to expend personal time and resources, wise and understands human nature, spiritually insightful, who walks his talk, and is in a stable structure (eg. a church) and himself accountable to others of his peers.

Discipling is meant to be an inside-out life changer, with the focus on learning to love God and neighbours above self in obedience to his Commission, a distinction that has its tensions, but becomes progressively God-centred as a choice, in becoming more like Jesus (Phil 1:20).