Weekly I meet with a group of guys for mutual encouragement and edification. We talk ministry, church, Scripture, and read books we hope to be helpful for all those things. Typically, these books are used to spur conversation, we quickly contextualize the written material to our lived reality in life and ministry.
Recently, we picked up a book on discipleship. Now, I have read my fair share of books on this subject, undoubtedly like any believer serious about the Great Commission. I have read discipleship books that cover topics ranging from the scriptural arguments for it, the philosophy behind it, the nuts and bolts of how-to, and numerous others. The current book is billed as offering the proper foundation needed for creating a discipleship culture.
One of the questions that arose from our discussion was what is necessary for creating a good discipleship culture. Obviously, we started by mentioning all the typical things, the word, the life-on-life methodology, having an eye cast toward the nations. While all these things are good and true, I could not help thinking that we can over-complicate how we talk about discipleship and over-complicate developing a culture of discipleship.
Admittedly, I was oversimplifying perhaps, but creating a discipleship culture boils down to men and women who love Jesus, genuinely love Jesus. A discipleship culture will not happen when people co-opt Jesus for their own agendas, use Jesus for their own benefit, or halfheartedly swear allegiance to Jesus then abandon that commitment when difficulty arises. A discipleship culture will be an overflow of a genuinely loving commitment to Jesus Christ. Those that do love Jesus experience the joy and peace of that relationship and long for others to have that experience. Therefore, disciples that love and follow Jesus will make much of him and call others to love him and make much of him.
Think about it, the same is true about anything in life. You think about what you love. You strategize about what you love. You champion what you love. You make much of what you love. You don’t quit on what you love. This applies to something like the high calling of marriage and family, and to things in life that are simply enjoyable. I have friends and family that love hunting. As a result, they think about hunting, they strategize about hunting, they champion hunting and encourage others to learn. Now, apply that same logic to discipleship.
Imagine a person or group that loves Jesus. They will think often of him, they will strategize about how they can know him more truly and how to help others do the same, they will champion him when opportunity affords, they will consistently make much of him, and, held firmly by his grace, will not quit in their pursuit of him. If this is true of a person, or persons, then you have a discipleship culture.
This reality means that every aspect of the local church feeds, or more accurately IS, the discipleship culture. Each and everything that the church does ought to encourage a deeper love for Jesus. From the preaching to the preschool, from the Bible study to the business meeting, the church needs to see each as an opportunity to promote the love of Jesus. If you have a church that loves Jesus, is consistently reminded of Jesus’ great love for them through the Gospel revealed in his word, then you will have a people that consistently call others to love Jesus and point them to the same revealed Gospel.
Now, this raises a question, “Are you saying that a church without a discipleship culture doesn’t genuinely love Jesus?” Sometimes the answer to that question is yes. Perhaps Jesus has been co-opted in that context, but that is not universally true. It could be that the loving passion for Jesus has been mischanneled. It could even be mischanneled into focusing on making disciples. If your effort is focused on the practice of making disciples you miss the point, your focus should be on loving Jesus. Similarly, in John’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t call his disciples to bear fruit, but to abide, and in so doing they will bear fruit (John 15).
The good news is that the simplicity of a discipleship foundation based on men and women genuinely loving Jesus is that there is a consistent, ready-made assessment tool. For each thing that the church does a simple question should be asked, “How is this helping people love Jesus more or providing an opportunity to do so?” If it doesn’t, why do it and invest the effort? Also, asking that question will help be a corrective when there is a drift toward co-opting Jesus. It will reveal when you are simply using Jesus versus genuinely loving him.
Genuinely loving Jesus does not mean fostering a discipleship culture is or will be easy and doesn’t take work. It doesn’t mean there won’t be times of heartache, disappointment, and failure. It does mean it should be organic and unforced. It will happen as believers go through life genuinely loving Jesus in their God-ordained contexts. Hence, you want to make disciples, and help create a discipleship culture, then genuinely love Jesus and help others to do the same.