Making Disciples

In this earlier post, I shared what I learned about disciples in Jewish culture. To briefly summarize, a disciple is a replica of the teacher. As Jesus’ disciples, we should think like Him, act like Him, love like Him, serve like Him, pray like Him, teach like Him, be like Him.

Most of our Teacher’s ministry was one-on-one or in small groups. He spoke to the woman at the well; He visited Zaccheus’ home; He ate meals with sinners; He went away from the crowds with His disciples; He taught a small group at Mary and Martha’s home. But some of His ministry was to large crowds. He fed thousands; He went out into a boat to preach to the masses; He taught in a house so crowded a man had to be lowered in through the roof to get to Jesus.

Though I believe we will probably be most effective making disciples in one-on-one situations or in small groups, there are times when we Christians are called to speak to the masses. Think about those first Christians, the original disciples. They preached and thousands became believers in one day. I doubt Peter had intimate one-on-one relationships with the 3000 who trusted Christ during one of his sermons. Peter couldn’t live side-by-side with all of those people and teach them. After Paul began his missionary journeys, he sometimes spoke to large crowds and led people to Christ. I doubt Paul knew each one intimately, and he and Peter probably did a first-century version of “raise your hand if you just prayed that prayer” or altar call. Or maybe it looked more like what some missionaries experience in countries around the world today. Maybe one person shouted out, “I believe!” And then another shouted, “I believe too! It’s true!” And then another and another and another until a crowd of 3000 people were jumping and shouting like a crowd at a football stadium, crying and laughing and proclaiming their trust in Jesus.

So, I say all that to say that I believe it is certainly possible to preach the gospel and make disciples in large crowds. But I also know that some sort of personal follow-up, some real teaching and modeling and true interaction must follow. This is where I think we often drop the ball.

We know Paul wrote letters to the churches he planted. He rebuked them and taught them and encouraged them. He visited them when he could. And he arranged for a more mature Christian to come and stay with them and teach them and live among them and make them into disciples of Christ. Apollos and Timothy and Jason and Tychicus and others are examples of this. Undoubtedly, as these teachers lived in the home of a new believer and ate meals with the people and met together to study the scriptures and read Paul’s letters and repeat the teachings of Jesus, they formed deep relationships. We know that the new believers shared what they had with each other. They met often to eat and study together. I am fairly certain they did not dress up on Sundays, spend their hour together, and then go their separate ways.

These early Christ-followers were a community. Their teachers poured themselves into their disciples. Paul says that he was glad to be spent for his disciples. I think too often, we just don’t want to bother. We’re self-absorbed and busy with our own agendas and our own plans, so we can’t get too involved in other people’s lives. At least, I know that’s how I tend to be. We don’t spend time and energy and money and emotions building real relationships and investing in other people’s lives. It’s much easier to leave a gospel tract in the bathroom at a restaurant or even stand on a street corner and preach than it is to truly involve ourselves in the messy lives of people who need Jesus.

I have more thoughts, but this is long enough for now.

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5 Comments

Filed under Bible, Christianity, church, faith, missions

5 responses to “Making Disciples

  1. Jeff

    Thanks for the continued thoughts on this topic. I agree that at times we may be called to preach the Gospel to large groups, and the example of Peter on Pentecost is a great example, though quite a special one. However I will have to disagree that it is possible to “make disciples” in crowd that size, at least in the way Jesus commands us to. Yes, conversion is the first step in disciple making, but Jesus himself didn’t try to make each person who followed him his “disciple” the way he did the 12 and the women that seem to be at his feet throughout the gospels. Yes, he shared his message and teaching with the crowds, but he followed the model that the rabbis of Galilee used in selecting only a few to be his disciples or “talmidim”. I think if we have the privelege of preaching to a large group and the spirit brings those to life that were dead, it is our responsibility to make sure that those people have someone to come along and walk with them.

    As for Paul, I am missing this part on the trip right now, but from my little bit of study on him and his journeys, I think you can see a difference in how Paul approached his ministry. On the early journeys Paul moves around quickly from one city to another, preaching the message (sometimes by choice, sometimes because he was thrown out of the town). However, later in his journey, he spends greater amounts of time incertain cities, investing in the body, and truly making disciples. And more importantly, Paul selects some of his disciples to go on the journeys with him. How better to make disciples like himself, than to take them with everywhere he went. Sounds a bit like Jesus.

  2. “Though I believe we will probably be most effective making disciples in one-on-one situations or in small groups, there are times when we Christians are called to speak to the masses.”

    In my church we are working on building our home teams into powerful engines for bringing others to Christ as well as strengthening believers in Christ. I hope the Lord blesses this venture abundantly.

  3. Jeff, I think we’re probably saying the same thing. When I mentioned “making disciples” in large groups, I meant leading people to Christ and making them His disciples. Well, we don’t actually do that “making;” that is the work of the Holy Spirit. But I think you understand what I mean. And yes, I would assume that Peter and those first disciples encouraged the 3000, but we know they were from all over the place and spoke different languages. There really were just a handful of men and women who had been really close to Jesus and could have memorized His words and behaved like Him. How did they disciple the thousands? By traveling around and staying in homes and spending time with individuals — I guess. By writing letters — I guess.

    Next, I want to write a part two about making disciples — one key difference between the Jewish sort of disciples and the early Christian disciples.

  4. Jeff

    I think that will be interesting, and I’m not sure you will find much difference between the two, especially the very early Christian disciples. the main reason I think that is that in almost every early Christian community, there were Jewish converts to “the Way” as it was called. After all, Pauls practice was to enter a city, go to a synagogue and teach. After the individuals in the Jewish community had accepted or rejected the message, he moved on the the gentiles. So in almost every “church” or gathering of early believers there were Jews who were very familiar with the idea of discipleship, as well as providing the connection between the old testament or “tanach” and the new writings and teachings of the apostles. I thinkwe begin to see the difference once the church begins to hold some anti-semitic views, and rejects the jewish teachings and interpretations within the church. I think this is the beginning of the divergence in “believing in”, a western way of understanding, and “being like” a very eastern way of thinking. I personally think that both are important and you cannot have one without the other to fully understand and follow God.

  5. Jeff

    There is one additional thought that I wanted to add. In all of this discussion there is somehthing I have been assuming but I realized that it never was included in any of the posts. This whole idea of discipleship must be understood in the setting of community. In the Jewish model, the community was involved from the beginning of one’s life. The families lived in “insula” (not sure about the spelling), which were housing units shared by extended family. When a son got married, he would add on to his fathers house and when it was completed, would go to get his bride. (A bit different picture than I had growing up of “In my father’s house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a pplace for you . . . ). This new bride would then live with the extended family in the insula. Discipleship began in the home, continued in the synagogue and attached school, and possibly continued with a rabbi as a formal disciple. The community was the key component to growing in faith, and was secnd in importance only to the family. So in all of this talk about discipleship, my assumption has been that both family and community play a key role, and that our discipleship of and by others comes only as a result of the training from the family and community that surrounds us.

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