Voices: Jesus-style discipleship

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It’s a glorious and beautiful day in Glorieta, N.M., where I’m attending Centrifuge along with the youth from my church. Before camp started, I had the “brilliant” idea to take the youth camping and backpacking nearby. We had a stupendous time, but I may have worn them out before camp even started!

Jonathan Smith 185Jonathan SmithTwelve youth accepted the hiking challenge. A strategic number? Of course! We even gave each disciple a nickname for one of the original Twelve.

Just before the hike started, I sat down with James, Peter, Nathaniel and the other disciples to discuss Jesus’s original call to many of the original Twelve. It was a simple teaching by Jesus: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” As we headed up the mountain, we repeated the phrase many times, broken down into three parts.

TBV stackedCome, follow me

Jesus’s call to be a disciple was based on the ancient Near Eastern practice of apprenticeship. The invitation to follow Jesus was a practice found all over the ancient world. Apprenticeship was considered formal education. Interestingly enough, those 12 men already had been in an apprenticeship as fishermen, tax collectors and religious leaders. Jesus called them out of what was familiar and into a new path of life.

Notice Jesus called them into a rich relationship. By all appearances, Jesus and the Twelve were together most every day. They literally followed him so they could hear his teachings, observe his ministry practices and be equipped for their ministries.

Not limited to a classroom, Jesus called them into a relationship. Jesus’ style of disciple-making was every day, not just Sunday—well, Saturday for them actually. They cooked together, ate together, prayed together, traveled together, learned together, mourned together and experienced success together. As many have pointed out, they did so in “one accord”—because evidently, Jesus preferred Hondas. The discipleship of Jesus is personal, portable and practical.

“Come, follow me” and hear my teachings, see how I interact, observe my miracles, serve the least, learn about Old Testament interpretation, pick up exactly 12 baskets full of leftovers, “because one day soon, you will be doing the same, including asking others to follow you as you make disciples of the world.”

Let me ask you: Does “come, follow me” resemble the pathway of discipleship in your own life? Who are you following—and not just on Sunday? Who are you traveling with along the arduous path of being a disciple of Jesus? Who is there to pick you up? Is someone nearby to point out the cliff? And equally important, who are you leading to deeper “wells” rather than puny gods? To whom are you saying, “Come, follow me?”

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And I will make you

Far too many church leaders have made discipleship about learning only. While the basic idea of a disciple is a learner, we’ve forgotten the reason Jesus had disciples to begin with—the furthering and completion of his mission. Jesus does the making! His life and ministry serve as the template for every disciple.

Many of you won’t like this next sentence, so know that I write it with a smile—an excellent practice when one is preaching hard truth: “If you aren’t being made into a minister and missionary, you are not a disciple of Jesus.”

Yes, bold! We have settled for making church disciples instead of making Jesus disciples. Church disciples sit and soak. Jesus disciples sit, soak and serve. They are “made” and equipped by pastors, teachers, evangelists and apostles because the fields are perpetually white unto harvest. Disciples of Jesus follow the practices of Jesus and the original Twelve. Novel idea.

For the last year, every 10 days, I sit with three men in their twenties and bare my soul, heart, sin, weaknesses and triumphs. We laugh, cry, pray, eat, fish, encourage and study together. When we finally finish our season of life together, we are going hiking for three nights. It’s been one of the most fruitful practices of my 26 years of ministry.

But with great intentionality, I’m preparing these men to turn around and lead a similar group on their own. Within the next 18 months, 12 more healthy disciples will be made through this simple process. What if all of those disciples made disciples? Within a matter of three years, hundreds of healthy disciple-making leaders could be born because of one disciple maker.

I’m certain if Jesus had Twitter in his incarnation, his handle would have been @Simply_Make_Disciples.

Let me ask you: Who is preparing you for ministry, evangelism and making disciples of others? Are you a pew-sitter, or are you following Jesus up the mountainside? Is there anything cheap about your personal discipleship? Who could you invite into your life for disciple making?

Fishers of men

Disciple making—think about the ultra-small group mentioned above—has always been the evangelism plan of Jesus. He trained the Twelve for ministry, and you are reading this article because of their ministry. He didn’t make them fishers of information. He didn’t make them fishers of church consumerism. He didn’t make them fishers of committees. Jesus took everyday, ordinary, simple people like you and me and made them into world changers, fishers of many men.

And if you will let him, he will make you into one who fishes for him.

I’m not much of a fisherman, but I have a new friend who is an incredible bass fisherman. He keeps an arsenal of over 100 lures at all times. I watched him catch a bass on eight casts in a row just a few weeks ago. Oh, that we would allow God to make us such successful fisherman. Perhaps, if we would follow Jesus’ practice of disciple making, our churches would baptize every week.

Are you fishing for more Bible knowledge or the transformation of others? Do you have a proverbial arsenal of ways to present the gospel? Do you know the names of your neighbors?

A healthy church

The church I pastor had $1.06 in the bank 11 years ago. By God’s grace and his gospel, our church campus is now for sale, and we are relocating to accommodate growth. I’m often asked by pastors, “How has this revitalization happened?” That’s a long discussion, but let me share the one main idea. How do you make a dying church healthy again? Programs? Culture? Friendliness? Parking lot greeters? Maybe. But the secret sauce is much more simple: Want a healthy church? Make healthy disciples.

“Come, follow me. And I will make you. Fishers of men.”

Jonathan L. Smith is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in La Grange, a revitalized congregation. He is pursuing a doctoral degree in church health and growth from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow Jonathan on Facebook.

We seek to inform, inspire and challenge you to live like Jesus. Click to learn more about Following Jesus.

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