In the movie, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madras, Humphrey Bogart confronts a group of bandits posing as Mexican police. When the bandits can’t produce any proof that they are Federalies, they give one of the most famous lines in all of Hollywood.
“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”
Unfortunately, I have discovered the same could be said of discipleship in 20th century America. “Discipleship? What discipleship! I don’t have to show you any stinking badge of discipleship!”
Discipleship in our churches has been replaced with programs, entertainment and an intellectual approach to scripture. It appears, at least to me, that the ancient ways of discipleship in the eras of long ago have eroded into a shallow, vain and even depressing religion. Some churches claiming to have discipleship as a core function actually are nothing more than some program one goes through in a Bible class or small group study.
So, just what is discipleship? Discipleship is simply the process of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ through the lifespan we have on earth. Discipleship is growth. Discipleship is discipline. To get a better understanding about what it really means to be a disciple one has to travel to the East…where the concept has its roots and is still accepted even to this day.
During Jesus’ days on earth, the concept of a master/disciple was common. The society of the day completely understood the idea of being learning from one who has mastered life. Today, one can travel to Asia and see the very same idea played out in Hinduism, Buddhism and even Islam. I’m not sure why the American church has decided to completely abandoned such an idea. Perhaps we believe people will thing we are Buddhists. Yet, Jesus’ model of teaching and imparting life was precisely through the process of a master/servant/disciple relationship.
The master is the one who teaches through example, words and action. Jesus’ early disciples followed him through thick and thin. They listened to spiritual teaching and watched the Spirit working through their master. They would soon discover that this same Spirit would move through them. However, there is one extremely important ingredient needed to make discipleship work: Relationship. Without relationship, it is impossible to disciple someone. That’s why I am astonished and perplexed when I hear pastors discuss how they disciple their churches. None have been able to explain to me how they have managed to disciple 500 members of their church effectively. Why? because it is impossible to do so. Perhaps that is part of the problem.
Today’s church member’s idea of discipleship simply means going to church, hearing a sermon, singing some songs and dumping money into a collection plate. The more serious “disciples” go to Bible class. And the most serious disciples actually attend morning, evening and Wednesday services.
That is not discipleship.
Discipleship is about developing the fruit of the Spirit, not just learning about them. It is not an intellectual exercise. It is a spiritual endeavor. That is probably why so many accept the watered down version of Christianity. After all, it is much simpler to go to church, agree with the minister and talk about how immoral the country has become. But to dedicate one’s complete being to a master only to have that master completely rework that life in painful and difficult ways is often too much to ask. Don’t think I’m against attending church. But when we think attending church is discipleship, then we have some serious misconceptions about what it means to be a Christian.
It’s not that we don’t want Jesus in our life, we just want him to be quiet and help us when we have a problem. In the meantime, we will work on being good and moral people. At least what we think is good and moral.
If that suffices for you, then so be it. That’s your call. However, if you want the fullest life Jesus promised in John 10:10, then there is some really great news! But prepare to pay a price. Whoever says that there isn’t a cost to being a disciple of Jesus had no clue what they are talking about. Even Christ himself said there was a cost. Yet, the rewards are eternal.
The disciple of Christ, the Master, doesn’t have to show a badge of discipleship. Their lives will show them to be disciples of Jesus. It doesn’t mean they are perfect. After all, each disciple is in a different state of maturity. What it does mean is that the disciple will show signs of growth. Slow or fast, there will be some sign of growth.
As for those of you who minister or pastor a church, be very honest with yourself. Are you developing disciples? Or, are you just indoctrinating those sitting in the pew with the teachings of your denomination… Knowing the Bible is one thing. Even the Pharisees knew the scripture. Yet, they didn’t know the first thing about what the scriptures were trying to say and teach: discipleship. Many people have left churches not because they are heathens and hate Jesus. They’ve left because they were not being fed anything of substance. To them, church was like visiting the fair: lots of cotton candy and interesting shows. But nothing of any substance.
I believe there is something very great in store for the kingdom of God just around the corner. I believe the time for substance has come and is coming. While churches scramble to look for ways of attracting (and keeping) membership, people looking for the depth and riches promised by the Master are finding each other. God is leading them to form relationships that will nurture growth; Kingdom growth, not church growth.
I plan to post much more on this subject of discipleship. Not simply to criticize, but to help bring light onto what Jesus meant by true discipleship and not the image that many churches and pastors have created in the name of discipleship.
In the meantime, let your light (fruits of the Spirit from discipleship) shine to a world looking for substance.