Discipleship is often treated today as an end in itself. And to a certain extent, I’ll agree with that. When we worship, pray, study Scripture, fast, do works of mercy and works of piety, etc., these activities are the point. They’re means of God’s grace and ways we honor God, so we do them.
But it’s also important to note that the disciples became apostles! The primary designation for this bunch throughout the gospels is disciples. Once we get to the book of Acts, though, their primary designation becomes apostles. [There are no hard lines here. We see “apostles” in the gospels and “disciples” in Acts.]
That shouldn’t be surprising. When Jesus calls the disciples, he says, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” At Jesus’ discipleship call, he tells them their roles will change. He will send them. They will end up going out to make disciples.
It’s not just that the disciples will be inwardly transformed — becoming people who know God differently, who pray and read Scripture and do good deeds and avoid evil. They will be sent to reproduce themselves with more disciples!
When we call people to discipleship today, do we tell them we are calling them to send them? My experience is that we too often simply call people to be disciples. We say something to the effect of, “Come, follow Jesus… so that you can keep following… and keep following… and keep following.” And keep following we must! But that isn’t all.
If this is all we call people to, many will imagine themselves going to Bible studies and learning new interesting things, and perhaps applying small bits of those in their lives from now until they die.
But do they understand that they are called to be sent? Do they understand that a call to discipleship inherently includes preparation to become apostles and pastors?
By “apostles and pastors,” I don’t mean to suggest here that all Christians must become career ministers, who draw a paycheck from a church or missions organization. Quite the opposite. Many of the early Christians remained as carpenters, fishermen, and tent-makers, yet spread this radical revolution across the land. Many of the unheralded heroes of the early Methodist movement continued on as plant workers, yet served as the pillars and backbone of local churches as class leaders (see my post “Re-evangelizing America…”)
What I mean to suggest is that Christian engineers and landscapers and business(wo)men must see themselves as people sent to be apostles and pastors. That these people see themselves as the pillars and backbone of the Christian movement today. That these invest themselves as seriously as they can in their own discipleship, because they know it leads to a sending.
Disciples, are you treating your discipleship as if you’re being prepared to be pastors and apostles, leading others to the Christian faith and/or discipling them in that faith? We need you!
Career pastors and preachers, when you call people to discipleship, do you say, “And I will send you out to fish for people.” Is that your expectation of disciples? And are you investing enough in them to make that a reality?
[I want to be careful here not to contradict my post “When ‘missional church’ gets too outwardly focused.” I think there’s a place for what I said there and what I say here. I was addressing one problem in that post, and a problem on the opposite side in this. If you think I’m just contradicting myself, call me on it.]