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The Great Commission (Photo credit: Brother Timothy)

Today is Saturday.

That means that I’ve heard that “the Church is in decline” approximately a hundred times since Sunday, give or take a few.

It means that I’ve heard that the answer is “to make disciples for the transformation of the world,” approximately seventy-five times. You may have noticed that I hear about the problem more often than I hear about any proposed solutions.

But there is a great deal of confusion about what it means to “disciple” someone. The word, after all, is a noun and a verb.

But who are we to be “discipling” anyone?

The Tutor

When I was kid, my mother volunteered me to tutor the daughter of a friend of hers. There were only two  problems with this idea: First, she was having trouble in Algebra, and, second, I hadn’t yet told my mother I was having trouble in the same subject, albeit at a different school.

Nonetheless, a deal had been struck. I ended up studying harder than ever so that I didn’t look like an idiot in front of this girl. But the numbers continued to swirl and my confusion mounted up on wings as eagles.

I was doomed.

When I arrived at her home, I was greeted warmly and expectantly by her mom. You could tell she was thinking: Finally, a mathematical savior!

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her daughter was more likely to teach me Algebra than I her.

But a funny thing happened as I sat down and opened our book. Taking the concepts one at a time, I discovered that I knew more about them than my muddled brain had been ready to admit. Concept after concept became clear to both of us.

In teaching, I began to “own” the concepts.

Discipling vs. Teaching

Methodists know about classes. We also know about small groups. One might say that the United Methodist Church doesn’t exactly do small group ministry well on the whole. But we’ve placed a recent emphasis upon it, and churches are starting to come back around to the notion.

But that’s not exactly the same as discipling someone. Many classes in which I’ve been involved had the leader asking students their opinions on topics about which they seem to know very little.

Discipling someone means taking personal responsibility for their education and development in the faith and practice of Christianity (my modified definition).

Ask yourself this: Do I have any disciples? Do any of us have them? Our first responses are humble: “No, Jesus had disciples. We are his disciples. We don’t have disciples ourselves. That would be pretentious.

But a quick review of history shows that many of the disciples had disciples.

  • The Gospel of John was completed by his disciples, perhaps by their disciples.
  • Paul had Timothy, among many others.
  • Peter had Mark.
  • Jude (or Thaddeus) was a disciple of Jesus — and he was writing that epistle to disciples

Though the record is incomplete and vague in some places, disciples of Jesus became teachers in their own right, some with small bands of disciples and assistants.

Discipling is the Next Step for Many of Us

The funny thing is that some of you are going to tell me that you don’t feel qualified. I have two answers:

  1. What is it that you’ve been doing all these years in Sunday School? In Vacation Bible School? In worship during teaching sermons? In Wednesday Night Bible Studies?
  2. God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies those whom God calls.

Besides, you probably already teach and train people on a regular basis. Whom do you name as a disciple? To whom are you telling the Gospel Story? To whom are you relating the tenents of our faith, the practices of our shared traditions?

There are several resources that help you to do this, but you don’t have to have one of these to disciple someone.

One of the simplest in terms of process and practices is Multiply, a project put together by David Platt and Francis Chan.

A more Wesleyan (but more small group and less discipling) resource is Companions in Christ. I also recommend and use Disciple Bible Study. Whatever mode you choose, there is a real danger in getting caught up in the conversational rather than the transformational.

How are you training the next generation to not only follow Christ, but to help others to do the same?

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Author: Joey Reed

Joey is married to his best friend and they live in Kentucky. Joey serves Mayfield First United Methodist Church, the Purchase District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.