Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 11 January 21:
Matthew 11:1 — “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.”
Healthy churches are heavily engaged in discipleship, teaching believers how to follow and obey Jesus and how to subsequently teach others to do the same (multiplying disciples). Discipleship is a life-long process of growth for all Christians facilitated by meaningful relationships among fellow believers, guided by the Holy Spirit. Today and throughout this year’s readings, we will learn from Jesus’ example what discipleship should look like. An important part of our personal discipleship training is learning how to make disciples as Jesus did.
In our future readings, Jesus will give us the Great Commission – “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus commissioned His church not to make believers only, but rather to make “disciples” who had been taught to observe “all” of His commands. Teaching to this level is no small task – it takes much time, energy, and effort. Jesus demonstrated how to make disciples who, in turn, make disciples.
A military mantra for instruction is, “Educate; demonstrate; replicate; evaluate; and remediate.” This means, teach them; show them; have them do it; evaluate them while they do it, and coach them to higher levels of performance. Jesus appears to use a similar approach with his twelve disciples.
We observe in Matthew that Jesus begins his ministry by teaching and healing. Then, He begins explaining the cost of following Him (Matthew 8:18-21). In chapter 9, Jesus picks His disciples. Then, after much demonstrations and teaching, Jesus sends out His twelve apostles in twos to likewise teach and heal. Chapter 9 of Mark records that, though empowered by Jesus to heal, the disciples fail in at least one case – “And someone from the crowd answered [Jesus], ‘Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute…. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” (Mark 9:17, 18) Jesus heals the man’s son and then quietly remediates His disciples, helping them understand what they needed to do differently – “And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’” (Mark 9:28, 29) Next, Jesus continues to teach His disciples before going out with them again into the field. Jesus appears to repeat this general process over time much like a coach.
A few additional observations:
1) Jesus picked only 12 apostles. It is very difficult to truly disciple more than a small group.
2) Discipleship is much more than just classes and small-group discussions. In fact, most discipling is done ‘on the job’ and ‘in the field.’ Football players don’t get better at football by just talking about it, neither do disciples get better at spreading the Gospel only by sitting in small group with other Christians – both athletes and disciples need to practice under the watchful eye of a good, experienced coach.
3) Jesus didn’t send His apostles out until they were ready, but as soon as they were ready, He sent them out into uncomfortable, challenging situations. Leaders know “there is no growth in the comfort zone, and there is no comfort in the growth zone.” Who is encouraging you out of your comfort zone? Who are you encouraging out of their comfort zone?
4) Discipleship includes both successes and failures. You don’t get better at anything without making a few mistakes. As the adage goes, “Repetition is the mother of skill.” When the disciples failed, Jesus was there to coach them and send them out again.
5) Jesus sent His disciples out in twos. Accountability partnerships and peer-to-peer counselling are key. We interact with peers differently than we do with the teacher. We are usually more transparent with a peer and more comfortable failing in front of a peer. We are also usually more comfortable receiving assistance from a peer. And even is a small group we generally have greater accessibility with a peer. Two-man fighting positions are always more effective than a one-man fighting position.
- Proverbs 27:17 -- Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
6) Jesus walked daily with a small group of disciples for years. Discipling others is a big, long-term investment that involves close, meaningful, fully-committed relationships. Jesus knew His disciples better than they knew themselves. He continued to coach them, and He abandoned none of them, not even Judas.
7) The power of multiplication: Jesus’ plan to spread the Gospel to all nations started with a full-time investment in twelve. Yes, He preached to large crowds and reached out to many personally, but His primary commitment was in preparing His twelve to replicate His example and multiply. To highlight the power of multiplication, someone once asked, “Would you rather receive one million dollars in one month or a penny doubled every day for 30 days?” The answer to this obvious trick question is not so obvious – doubling a penny every day for 30 days results in a total of $5,368,709.12! To take the metaphor one-step further, if these pennies were people, one person would spend thirty days with two other people, rather than one person engaging a huge crowd of people only once in a month. Which approach would be most likely to produce real change in a person’s life? Unfortunately, we tend to give notoriety to the person who can attract a large audience but little credit to the person willing to faithfully disciple a small group for years. However, the disciple-maker produces lasting, powerful change in lives. Case in point – I bet you remember the name of your first or second-grade teacher. Why? That person taught you (and a small group of others) every day for nearly a year – teaching, encouraging, testing, and remediating you. We remember fondly those people who truly invested in us.
Who is discipling you, and who are you discipling? Who are you intentionally walking with as an accountability partner? Who has invested in your spiritual development in a positive way, and in whom are you investing? How committed are you to these relationships, and are they multiplying?
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 11 Jan 21: Today, assess how well you are fulfilling the Great Commission of making disciples. If you are not being discipled and discipling others, take the appropriate next-steps today.