Demythologizing Discipleship

To demythologize a subject is to reinterpret it so it is free of mythical or heroic elements.

This needs to happen with our concept of discipleship in the local church.

This occurred to me recently in a conversation with someone at OGC about his need for a discipler. Try as he might, he has failed to enlist the help of another believer in teaching him all that Christ has commanded – the essence of discipleship (Matt. 28:18-20).

I empathized with the disappointment. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. This applies to discipling as it does to evangelizing (though both concepts actually fall under the command to make disciples). Chronic shortages seem to apply on both fronts.

But after resonating with the frustration in this regard, I summoned the courage to ask a question. Whom are you discipling? I was working off a concept I read recently by Randy Alcorn in an article in the current edition of Eternal Perspectives. In dealing with the challenge of depression he writes:

Hurting Christians increasingly complain about the treatment they’ve received from other church people. If you’ve had a bad experience, write out a list of what you wish church people had done for you and what you wish they hadn’t done. Then follow your own counsel and use it as a guideline to reach out today and minister to others who need your wisdom and encouragement.

My brother immediately responded, “I can’t disciple anybody. I’m not spiritually mature enough. Discipleship means somebody further down the road spiritually taking someone less mature under their wing and helping them grow in the faith.”

That certainly can be the case. Consider yourself blessed if you’ve got someone like that in your life. But must we limit our definition of discipleship to such narrow parameters?

I think not. Jesus commands all His followers to make disciples, as referenced in the Great Commission passage mentioned above. A disciple (the Greek word is mathetes) means simply a learner. The moment I cast my allegiance with Jesus as Savior I instantly became a learner of all His teachings. I will never outgrow that definition until I go home to glory. He commands me to own the identity as discipler – helper of others in the learning process. John MacArthur puts it this way:

There are only disciplers and we are all disciplers. It’s only a question of the availability to God to be that wherever we may be. It’s irrelevant. It’s immaterial where it is. It’s only material and it’s only relevant that it is that we are disciplers. You’re not a discipler because you went to Bible school. You’re not a discipler because you went to seminary. You’re not a discipler because the church pays you to do it. You’re not a discipler because you joined a missionary organization. You are a discipler because you’re saved, because you’ve come to Christ.

I pressed in the conversation with my reluctant discipler friend with another question. If you had another Christian come to you confessing a struggle with worry, where would you take them in the Bible to help them with the problem? Now admittedly he felt put on the spot by a pastoral pop quiz. But he eventually got to Phil. 4:6-7. I tried to bring home the concept that discipleship isn’t a super-spiritual believer helping a not-so-spiritual one get with the program. It’s brothers and sisters in relationships bringing the Word of God to bear on one another’s lives in the power of the Spirit.

Are you looking for someone to disciple you? How about reaching out and discipling somebody you know? Friendship with a compass, our recent women’s retreat speaker called it. If the principle what you sow you will also reap (Gal. 6:7) is true, and I believe of course that it is, then you may get closer to having a discipler if you determine to live like one yourself.

2 responses

  1. Your alliterative title scratches the surface of the wonderful truths contained herein. As we are going throughout the world, we should make disciples. And believing in God, I trust that when I am in need of being discipled in a more specific way, he will allow me to have access to the disciple-maker I need at that instant, much like your friend had you!

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