Christ calls us to an active and progressive life of growing, serving and becoming like Him. Following Christ is a matter of becoming a “practitioner” of His form of living. We become “apprentices” of Jesus.
Did you know that the name “Christian” was not a name we gave ourselves? The Gentiles in Antioch called the disciples that in New Testament Times and it stuck. It means “little Christ’s” or “Christ-people.” It sounds a lot like the terms “Jesus People” and “Jesus freaks,” which were coined in the 1970’s.
Christians got this name because of the practice of learning and imitating Jesus. They called themselves disciples—disciplined followers, learners or apprentices. A disciple is someone who dedicates his entire life to learning from, and becoming like, his teacher or master.
To follow Jesus, you must become His disciple. Jesus gathered his disciples just before He left and told them to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing and teaching them to do all the things he taught” (Matt 28: 17-20). He did not tell them get people to attend any kind of church or to agree to some four-point plan of salvation or to pray “the sinner’s prayer.” He said to make disciples, that is, to teach people to follow Him just as they were taught.
Today, it is no different. Attending a church doesn’t do it. Associating with Jesus and agreeing to all the right theology will not help either. Being a genuine Christian and getting the benefit of reconciliation to God has nothing to do with membership. It is a matter of discipleship.
Jesus says to follow Him. He tells his original disciples to go out into the whole world and “make disciples.” There is no idea of accepting Him or going to church. In fact, churches in any form did not exist until around the fourth century. We don’t merely accept Him, we follow Him, obey Him, imitate Him, and learn from Him.
Discipleship, Part of the Package
Discipleship is not optional. It’s a part of the big upgrade you get when you are reconciled to God. You not only get your moral guilt canceled, you get to be changed into something better than you are.
Jesus gives you the right to become a child of God. These rights and privileges allow you to heal, grow, and mature into the kind of life He wants to give you—“abundant life.”
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12, ESV) 
When you believe in Him, you follow Him. When you follow Him, you obey and learn from Him. When you learn from Him, you grow to be like Him.
Following Jesus is what it is all about. This is why Jesus calls His followers “disciples.” A disciple is a disciplined follower who learns and imitates his or her master or teacher. It is like an apprentice, who learns a trade by being taught by his “journeyman” or “master;” he watches his journeyman and tries to do the work as he sees his teacher doing it.
“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. ” (John 12:26, ESV)
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”” (John 8:12, ESV)
This is not a new concept at all. It is, in fact, a very old one.
The Dust of the Rabbi
Jesus’ disciples followed Him and tried to learn and do everything he did. They listened to Him teach and questioned Him in order to understand more. They literally followed in the dust of His footsteps and stuck very close to Him and to one another. It is not so different for us.
We follow Him, too. We have the His teachings in the Bible. We are connected to Him and have the Holy Spirit inside of us. We are close to a community of fellow followers. Since we have so great a connection, we also follow in His dust. We become like Him.
Following Jesus is not a seminar. It is not a weekend retreat. It is not what you do on Sunday. You don’t have to “clock-out” or turn it off. It is your life (if you intend to follow Him), and it is far easier than you may have thought.
In following Him and acting like Him, the scripture calls us “Christ’s Body” here on earth.
A Conspiracy of Little Jeususes
Becoming like Jesus has vast implications. Imagine millions of people all over the world acting and thinking like Him in every culture, economy, and situation. Imagine finding people loving and serving others as Jesus does; struggling for life and reconciliation, for all people, all the time.
That is us, the disciples. We care for each other, and anybody else we encounter at the Lord’s direction. We love each other, as well as the not-yet-reconciled, as Jesus loves us. What can be more beautiful than that?
Priesthood and Discipleship
In time, we will talk about something called “the priesthood of all believers.” For now, I will just introduce the concept to you because it is a big part of what discipleship is.
When God led Israel out of Egypt, He took them to Mount Sinai. There, He laid out the parameters of His relationship with them as a nation. This covenant, or contract, contained the laws governing them as a group, but it also had an interesting declaration.
“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ the sons of Israel.” ” (Exodus 19:4-6, NASB95)
He said that if they obeyed Him, and held up the agreement, they would not only be His people, but also a “kingdom of priests.”
God’s promise was not just for Moses’ time. Later on, the apostle Peter says the same thing in a letter to the followers of Jesus in his day.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. ” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB95)
Now, keep in mind that Peter is not talking to Jews, but gentiles. They are ex-pagans who now follow Jesus. They are disciples just like us.
This “chosen race and royal priesthood” is who you are and what you are becoming. Discipleship is the practice of following Jesus. There is nothing passive or overtly religious about it. But there is one last thing to mention here.
A New Look at the Man Behind the Pulpit
As we saw before, Discipleship knows no limits and we are deep in the life of serving Jesus. We are a kingdom of priests. We are not here to sit and watch while someone else does the serving. We do not bring people to “church” to hear the Gospel. We are the Church and we bring the Gospel to the world. We are the ministers and we are all missionaries.
Every disciple is engaged in ministry. The man behind the pulpit is not the only “minister;” but he serves a very important function for the rest of us. The pulpit people are gifts for us for our work. Their teaching equips us to do our jobs, just as it says in Paul’s letter to the disciples in Ephesians chapter 4.
Paul explains that Jesus conquered that which separated us from God. Jesus takes all those things captive in a great triumph and then gives “the spoils” to us. These gifts are listed in vs. 11.
You see, the people are the gift. The gifts are not “offices” or professions. They are people who God gave us to help us.
- Apostles: plant communities where none existed and get them started
- Prophets: Speak as God directs keeping us informed and corrected
- Evangelists: Grow our numbers, giving us new disciples to mentor
- Pastors: Guide us in our work and life
- Teachers: Instruct and mentor us in God’s word and God’s ways
Think of your service to God as a car race. These guys are your pit crew, and God is your sponsor. God put His stickers all over your car and He put you behind the wheel; and, He gave you this pit crew to keep you on the track and in the race.
So, Now What?
Discipleship is not an option, it is the option. You no longer need to think of following Christ as a passive, once-a-week act of religious devotion.
As a Disciple, you have something to do, rather than a list of things to avoid. You get to grow and practice new ways of living. You get to live a new life—not just talk about it, but actually live it!
Why Do We Gather?
The whole church-as-event experience seems to isolate us from people each other and from our mission as followers of Christ. For most of us, this is the big weekly thing. We come, get separated by age and interest groups and then re-united for the “big service.” After about an hour of so of that, everyone rushes back to their own homes until next week. But there is something more; something that is ancient, beautiful, scriptural and fun.
Jesus give us a mission. That mission defines what we do.
Our mission is to be agents of Christ in the world. We are a movement of people who act like the Son of God. We have a practice, and a destiny. We live and act like God to bring love, reconciliation, hope and healing wherever we are at all times. In his letter to the Corinthian community, Paul says that anyone follows Christ works to reconcile people to God Just the way Jesus did (2Cor 5:17-21). This is the mission of the people who follow Christ (called Saints in Scripture). Together, all of these people who are called “The Church,” or “The Body of Christ.”
You would think that this fact would define everything that we call Christianity, but a culture has been built around this fact and things have changed. The work and fellowship of the people called “The Church” were crammed into a weekly event called “church.”
One of the saddest things about this “event” is that the “Body of Christ” doesn’t really get to interact in a healthy and productive way. We sit and watch a group on the stage or a man behind a lectern. We do not get to share our experiences, insights, and encouragement with each other. We don’t get to plan together or work together. We just share “the event” we call church. All the saints come, sit shoulder to shoulder and watch an event. Granted, we stand up, sit down and sing when required but we have no real part in it. The “church service” reduces us to spectators. We are not required to do anything but come and watch.
Frankly, in 41 years as a pew-sitting-nobody, I have never seen this work. The “church as event” idea only leaves Christians passive, inactive, guilt ridden, weak and confused. That Mission I mentioned before becomes a distant dream or the dreamy reality of distant professional missionaries.
Wanna try something new?
Our work can never be accomplished by gathering once a week to sit shoulder to shoulder watching an event. We need to gather face to face to unite in our mission. We need to network, share meals, encourage one another and take care of each other. You can keep “going to church,” but there are so many other things you get to do. Try this, and you might have a lot more to celebrate on Sunday.
Come on and get some!
- Link up with other committed Christ followers in your neighborhood. Do not restrict this to people from your church. Unite with as many as you can find in your neighborhood.
- Have meals together. Talk over this “mission” of ours. Pray together and get to know each other. Don’t restrict your gatherings to “mini-church-services.” Try to focus on who Jesus is and what He does. Then, work together to do the same. Think of yourselves as a “conspiracy of little jesuses. It’s fun.
- Assess the needs in your community and plan acts of kindness and restoration. Don’t make people come to you. Go and do your good works as a gift and a statement of God’s love and concern. Be the hands and voice of the Son of God. That’s fun too.
- Get to know your neighbors. Make friends and show them what God thinks of them. Have meals. Invite them over for a night of Wii, or movies, or anything fun. Don’t control things and don’t preach. You are the message. You will earn your opportunity to explain later. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. You want to see them again for more fun.
- Did I mention having fun?
- Get involved in community activities and causes that interest you. Instead of forming a “Christian” group, join the groups that already exist and get to know people. Imagine your neighborhood transformed from a “bedroom community” to a home where your friends are and where celebrations happen.
As we care for each other, we expand our care outside our group. We begin to engage people outside of “church” and heal the world. This can never happen if we do things that isolate us from each other and from those we were destined to help.
Tell your story
I want to hear how you do with this. I suspect that some readers are already doing it. Please post your stories so participate with you.
If you like this article, please feel free to re-post it.
Oh, and in case I have not mentioned it yet; have fun!
I teach technical classes all around the country. People often ask, “how is the class going?” My answer is always the same; “I don’t know, you should ask my students.”
You see, my impressions of what I am doing don’t mean much. The people I affect have a much better take on it. What I think about my teaching doesn’t matter.
I have known many Christians who thought they are awesome. Yet non Christians around them thought they were insensitive jerks, idiots or worse. In too many cases, I had to agree with the non Christians.
Statements of theological beliefs are absolutely meaningless if they are not backed up with actions. You can’t say you believe in God’s love when nobody around you knows you to be a loving person. You can’t say you trust God when everyone knows you to be a fearful, anxious and negative person. Your profession would be pure nonsense.
Your “statement of faith” is you actions. They are the evidence of what you believe. The best and only evidence of your “Christianity” is what you do with it.
Every person who follows Christ is a practitioner in the art of imitation. We imitate the Son of God. This is how we follow Him.
When Jesus was approached by His first two prospective followers, they asked Him where He was staying. Jesus could have answered with a lengthy explanation of His itinerary and the reasons and goals for His journey. Instead, He just answered “come and see.”
Imagine if your “statement of faith” were just “come along, you’ll see.”
I have been trying to explain the values and practices of what has come to be known as the Missional Movement for years. Even to give the reader an overview of this would take pages and pages of blog space and a great deal of time.
What I would like to do is give you a condensed video presentation which explains this movement, and the values that motivate and inform ordinarypractice.com
I’m putting up a collection of seven videos by Alan Hirsch, an author and speaker on this topic. Each of these videos cover an aspect of what the missional movement is trying to restore and establish in the church today.
Perhaps you will find it useful.
A new book by Lance Ford and Alan Hirsch was finally released last week. Its title is “Right Here, Right Now.” It is the newest in an emerging series of books written to and for ordinary Christians like us. Think of it as post cards from two ordinary guys inviting us into a life that is doable for any of us.
Its topic is “missional Christianity–A spunky, high impact , life-oriented, world transforming, joyous, living for Jesus our King. An outward focused, kingdom-oriented discipleship that changes our world.”
The book is not the only thing offered. The authors have put up a companion website with video, downloads and other resources to help readers.
Each chapter has a video with Lance and Al discussing and expanding on the chapter in an informal conversational format.
The downloads section of the website offers discussion guides for the individual chapters and the videos. These “Discussion Starters” are in PDF format.
There is so much more to the life of a Christ follower than attending church. We have a mission and a destiny, but few know more than just church. These two authors seem deadly serious to bring that mission and destiny to us, right here and right now.
- “Right Here Right Now” is written for “lay” Christians to engage in their work for the Kingdom right where they are.
- Authors are Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford. Publisher: Baker Books
- The book is out as of this week (also in Kindle format)
- the Website is up and running with the videos, downloads and more
This is just a preliminary “first look.” Look for a full review in the coming weeks. In the mean time, check out the website (links above) and get the book.
If you got the book, tell us about it. Please post in the comments below
Recently, one of my students, a professed Christian, told me:
“I’m a Christian. I believe what they tell me.”
This was his “statement of faith.” In essence, he was saying, “I am a Christian, but the my leaders define what that is, so I can’t really say.” It was a remarkable statement, and completely meaningless.
After three straight days of interaction, I knew him well enough. His profession had no meaning because his words and actions did not square with it. Professions don’t define us, actions do.
I think that the only valid statement of faith is words and deeds caused by that faith. Ticking off a list of theological propositions which do not fuel your actions or interests is totally irrelevant. Ticking off a list which you contradict in life and action is even worse.
It’s not what you profess. It’s what you produce.
The Apostle John puts it simply in his first letter:
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,
but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1Jn 2:3-6
I think that most of us Christians forget that we are not in this for ourselves. We are followers of Christ. We do as He does. We say as He says. We are ourselves, but we do not represent ourselves.
We are in transition. We are being transformed. The process is “walking as He walked.” This biblical metaphor of “walking” means you practice what He did and live like Him. You can see from what John says above, it’s not optional. You either do it, or you are a fake.
There is no need for shame, but if you profess “Christianity” and find it difficult to explain you actions, you need to learn how to walk.
Is “Revival” Overrated?
It’s an integral part of the Protestant culture and story. “Revival” is the spark of excitement after a long patch of dull “business-as-usual” church life. It’s a cycle that plays out over and over again in recent history in the West. Revivals usually don’t last long (less than a generation) and are usually gone within about a decade.
Revival creates a positive peak in a sort of “sine wave” of church activity. After many years of stagnation, the church explodes in a flurry of excitement and activity. In some revivals, the church engages its community and culture in a meaningful and redemptive way. Then, it slides back into its semi-conscious prior state.
This same pattern appears in the Bible in the book of Judges. Israel soars to ecstatic heights of prosperity and close communion with God. Then they forget these practices and spiral down to crisis. Next, they cry out to God. A leader is sent and they get back to the things they were doing at the peak. Then, after a little time goes by, they spiral back down into crisis, and so it goes. And I have to ask, is this what God had in mind? I think not.
God meant for us to be a light in the word. I don’t think he had a blinking light in mind when He said this. We have been equipped for constant and continuous service. Discipleship is not part time, or when we feel inspired, it is the source of our inspiration and our constant desire. In it, we transform ourselves and the world. Living out Christ in the community is not something you have to wait for. It’s something that you get to do all the time with all the creativity, fun and heart you can put into it.
You don’t have to wait for some fire-brand pastor or evangelist to lead you into this. Your leader is the Son of God Himself, and He has given all of us what we need. We can do far better than “revival.” We are the people we have been waiting for.
Take a look at the following passages and think this over:
We were made to do good things
Look at Ephesians 2:1-8 (emphasis and conclusion on vs. 8.)
He Gave Us Everything We Need
There are many passages about this, but Check out 2Peter 1:1-15. The practice of discipleship is progressive and transformative. Everything you need, you have.
I know for a lot of us this is tough to believe, but practice these thing and you will begin to see what these passages mean.
Practice Makes Permanent
It’s not the teaching that you get, It’s what you do with it that makes a difference. You learn by practice. Look at Hebrews 5:11-6:3. This is a bit of a rebuke from the writer to his readers. Look for the emphasis in 5:14. No matter how good the teaching, you only learn and mature through practice of what you are taught.
Do not look for personal guilt or failure when you explore these passages. This is about what you were re-born for. It’s yours, and you get to do this. Forget the “dead works” and get into the good stuff.
If we all practice discipleship together, gifting each other and the world with actions based on God’s kind intentions we can do much better than the revival “spasms” of the past. We will create massive Jesus movements bringing hope, kindness, reconciliation and rescue. And we can start right here and right now.
How do you spell faith? R-I-S-K. You simply cannot live a vibrant life of faith in a safe and protected place.
From Neil Cole’s Search and Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Make A Difference.
What is faith without risk? (O.P.)
Alan and Deb have teamed up to write a vivid and practical book on the art and practice of following Jesus. Both have been foremost authorities on missional community and ministry speaking and teaching all over the world.
In my experience over the years, most books on discipleship center on the theology and not the practice of following Jesus. Untamed, is a fresh and practical perspective on what it looks like to follow Christ. It is not a theological tome, nor a package of rules, lists and formulas. It is a frank discussion of what being a disciple of Christ looks like right here and right now.
Alan and Deb have produced a highly useful and highly quotable work. It is loaded with practical instruction delivered in an encouraging and engaging style. Each chapter ends with “Suggested Practices” and “Discussion starters.” These sections bring some suggestions about how to “try out” what you learned, and discussions which help you develop your own ideas without performance-oriented guilt (in most common Christian works, I find discussions beginning with the question “Discuss with the group how you fail at this.”).
As I said above, the book deals with following Jesus right here and right now. In a simple, contemporary, practical and straightforward approach, Alan and Deb tackle discipleship in these four contexts: God, Culture, Self, and Mission. Within these four, just about everything you can imagine (and perhaps some things you can’t) is covered quite well.
This book provides one of the best resources for the art of discipleship that I have seen so far. It is excellent for new believers to get a good start. It is also essential for old believers who need a new start.
The most important value of Untamed is that it provides useful ideas which lead to action. The ideas the authors provide, along with the suggestions help the reader “act his or her way into a new way of thinking” making their discipleship a matter not of empty theory, but fulfilling practice.
The Three Virtues
The Bible speaks a great deal about wisdom. Understanding and knowledge. I wonder if the reason may have something to do, not only with living well, but preventing trouble.
The Three Virtues (covered in the wisdom books of the Bible)
- Wisdom: A skillful knack. The ability to take what you know and what you understand and make things in life work for you.
- Knowledge: The facts. All the meaningful information.
- Understanding: The ability to put all the facts (knowledge) into context so that they are useful and relevant.
Consider the polar opposites
- Ignorance, misconception (also expressed as being gullible or naïve).
- Foolishness: opposite of wisdom (stupidity)
- Confusion: opposite of understanding (often expressed as error).
In proverbs, much of the teaching about wisdom understanding and knowledge, is compared with their opposites: Ignorance, foolishness and confusion. It occurs to me that the antithesis of these three virtues are the engines of oppression. The absence of these three virtues is a vacuum which allows a lot of suffering.
In Proverbs 8 wisdom is portrayed as a lady calling out to all humanity (Children of men) in verse 4. The real telling portion of this is down around the end of the chapter. Wisdom is characterized as a fundamental force of the universe and the very reason it is established and why it works. It is the attribute that made all the good that we know possible. But, as I said before, it’s absence bears horrible consequences. The absence of these three virtues is not merely unfortunate or even tolerable. It is toxic and dangerous.
Wisdom concludes her speech with this thought:
and now, oh sons, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wide, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me favor death.
Without wisdom things tend to fall apart. If you live this way your affairs tend to self destruct. This is not a moral statement. This is a simple observation of the way things work in life.
Does this seem unreasonable? It is not a moral statement but a statement about the way things work. Think about it: what does ignorance, foolishness and confusion generally lead to? Living like this does not lead to a rousing good time and laughs for everyone. It leads to misery and self destruction. The lack of wisdom, understanding and knowledge is destructive and dangerous. It’s a risk that nobody needs to take. But wait, it gets worse.
In the corporate community sense, the lack of the three virtues opens the door for exploitation, abuse and perpetual misery. Oppressors love ignorance. It makes it easy for them to hide themselves and their intentions. It even allows them to make supporters out of their victims! Without these three virtues it’s easy to be trapped by any number of scams.
Recent history of ignorant group-think really illustrates this fact. The recent financial collapse was made possible by ignorance and confusion. Investment bankers created bad investments which were designed to fail and then conspired to profit from their failure, they made hundreds of millions, leaving the rest of us with nothing but losses, destroyed banks and expensive bailouts. Why? Because they took advantage of people who did not have wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the markets and investments.
A Christ follower does not need to live like this. Part of your transformation involves your mind. We get to grow smarter in all affairs of life as we grow in Christ. In Romans 12, Paul talks about being “transformed, by the renewing of your mind.” Just as there is not longer any reason to wallow in sin, there is no reason to wallow in ignorance, confusion and foolishness.
Wisdom, knowledge and understanding are not only notable virtues, they are a means of self defense in a spoiled and dysfunctional world. Without them, you are an easy mark in a fallen culture. Fortunately for us, scripture provides a promise and a truckload of easy-to-study wisdom literature.
Jas 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
- Portions of the Psalms
There are hundreds of one-verse-wonders covering matters ranging from finance, to relationships, even to office politics. All practical advice stated plainly.
Stay tuned. We’re going to unpack this truckload in the next post.