Discipleship Models: Help or Hindrance?

I’ve mentioned previously how I was so impressed with More Than a Sunday Faith that I got a group of men together to read through and discuss it with one another. We had our first breakfast meeting last week and some helpful discussion took place.

Everyone was in agreement that the book would be a helpful tool to focus our conversation together. We also agreed that the topic of fostering a deeper relationship with Jesus as we work to follow Him and become like Him on a daily basis was worthwhile and that practical tools to help in that endeavor would be welcome.

Then, as postmoderns are wont to do, we went meta. While we all agreed that the SET FREE NOWWW process outlined in this book will be helpful, we pondered together the likelihood of it becoming just another checklist of spiritual to-dos. That led to a more general discussion of the value of discipleship models altogether.

There are many, many models out there. Just about every well-known personage in Christianity has written one or more books that describe a path or a routine or a process to follow that will lead to the rich, vibrant life Jesus promises His followers (John 10:10). I suppose so many such books are written because so few experience that sort of life and wonder what it is they are missing.

One of the men in our group drew a diagram that showed us on the left, all manner of different models in the middle, and Jesus and His powerful, abundant life on the right. The thinking, he said, is that we use the methods outlined in these different models to get connected to Jesus. They are conduits that help connect us to Him. As such, there are no right or wrong models, and there are so many of them because we are each unique and there are different pathways that work best for different people.

Model

This was very helpful. Nonetheless, we all agreed that what was really desired was Jesus Himself and the power of the life He gives us — His undying life in exchange for our own sin-stained and decaying one. So, we want to eliminate the methods from the different models (all the stuff in the middle of the diagram) and just connect directly to Jesus. Because the tendency is to shift our focus from the goal (Jesus) and onto the means (the methods). This is how these “means of grace” become life-killing to-do lists. This is the “form of godliness but without power” that Paul mentions and that is so prevalent today.

Despite this desire for Jesus directly and the potential downside of these methods or practices or disciplines becoming mere routine, we acknowledged that there is a real danger of falling into a sort of “vague spirituality” if we claim Jesus’ life but have no actions to reinforce that claim, no bones to give the body structure. Faith without works, after all, is dead! (James 2:17)

Without making any claim to have resolved this dilemma, this is how we left things at the end of our brief discussion together: The truth from Scripture is that we do have Jesus’ life if we believe Him and take Him at His word. So we start with Jesus. Connecting with Him and acquiring His life in ourselves is not the goal; it is already a fait accompli. Rather, becoming like Him more and more each day in every facet of our lives is the goal. We have His life, His example, and His Spirit to help us along this path of discipline, but we must nonetheless grow up into Him and who He created us to be. The methods or practices or disciplines espoused by all these different discipleship models and frameworks, then, are merely descriptive — not prescriptive! — of the sorts of things that disciples do as they follow the Master and learn to live His way. And we engage in them not as a duty or an obligation, although at times this may be how we describe our experience, but as a time-tested way to mature in Christ (Ephesians 4:14-16).

And if one practice becomes mundane, we are completely free to shift to something else! It is not the method that brings us life and growth. That is the work of the Spirit alone. So we are not bound to any certain practice or discipline. But we are bound to Jesus as His servants, and His Spirit will guide us into the practices that will best help us today to mature. Those disciplines may be different tomorrow. We are not able to develop a stale routine if we start with our vital connection to Christ and let Him lead.

As we say here in the Thrash Can, “test everything, hold onto what is good, and throw out everything else (at least for now)!” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

I’m really looking forward to our next group discussion!

Jeff Herron

Homeschooling dad of two boys. Husband of one terrific woman. Disciple of and disciple maker for Jesus. My cup runneth over!

2 thoughts on “Discipleship Models: Help or Hindrance?

  1. Love the heart in this group. I wish only more were thinking like this! You can’t program your way to Jesus. Checklists don’t work. I know. I tried them!
    Having said that, I would like your group to think about something. What is the biblical definition of discipleship? With so many ideas swirling around about this fundamental truth, I’d like to throw another in the ring.
    As I studied the word mathetes, the Greek word behind our English word disciple; I discovered a very simple definition: to become more like the one you’re following. In other words, you are not a disciple of Jesus if you are not becoming more like Him as the disciple has not been discipled unless what they put into their head comes out in their behavior/life. Biblical discipleship is not about gaining knowledge, but about seeing those truths change your life. For if discipleship were simply about knowing truths about Jesus, then demons are the best disciples! They actually see Him! They are not disciples because of what they know. No, they are not disciples because they don’t choose to become like Him.
    So the natural question to ask then is, “How do I become more like Jesus?” This searched led to the book More Than a Sunday Faith as Christianity had failed me with it’s various check and to-do lists that “Good Christians” must do. I went back to the source – Jesus Himself, the one I’m supposed to follow and become more like. Therefore, how does Jesus, the Word of God, tell us in Scripture how to become like Him?
    A checklist will not do as it leaves me in control, but isn’t being in control what gets me into trouble in the first place? Furthermore, when Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished!” He meant it. He doesn’t need me to do anything for Him as He is the author and finisher/perfecter of my faith, not me or some checklist of “Good Christian” activities. He didn’t come to add Himself or new behaviors to me. No, He came to replace me with Him, my sinful character with His holiness, my temporary with His eternal (i.e. gold, silver and precious stones). The natural question is how does that happen?
    My search led me to the scriptural process laid out in the Set Free Nowww acronym, which was only made to help me remember how to biblically think through every decision. Romans 12:2 says our lives are transformed by the renewing of our mind. The FREEdom (FREE of the acronym) process lays that out in an easy remembered way. It is not a checklist, but the biblical process of renewing our minds. It is a “checklist” if you will to help one examine one’s sinful choices. It’s the biblical process of how to critically think through and filter out Satan’s attempt at “blinding our minds” (2 Cor 4:4) so we can hear Jesus’ voice through all the others clamoring for our attention; and then, follow Him like He asked of His sheep in John 10:27.
    The SET part of the acronym simply are the foundational principles that show why the FREEdom process works in seeing the Spirit change our lives. The NOWWW principles guide us on the journey of processing our daily decisions, no matter where we are, using the FREEdom process to choose to listen to and follow Jesus, the very definition of being a disciple. Bible Impact Groups are simply a tool to hold each accountable to using the FREEdom process to become more like Jesus. Why? Once you see the Spirit transform one area of your life, He will pick another area to transform, where He will use the same Set Free Nowww truths.
    Thus, Set Free Nowww is simply that how that transformation process comes about. It can be a checklist only in the fact that is like the list a pilot goes through before taking off so he gets the plane safely in the air. They simply represent the biblical process of how to renew our minds and then make faith choices in the Spirit’s power to choose to trust Jesus with each decision/choice.
    Is it not our choices, our daily ones, that draw us closer to Jesus? And yet, if what is stored in our brains is faulty, will not our choices be faulty as well? And how would we know they’re faulty if we don’t have a scriptural process to filter those thoughts through? (I believe this to be the battle mentioned in Galatians 6 – flesh vs. Spirit.) Simply focusing on behavior through adding more to-do’s doesn’t work as it doesn’t get at the source of the problem, the very lies stored in our heads. And yet, how would we know they are lies unless we had a process to detect those lies and then exchange them with the truth? SFN is simply the process God uses, outside the miracle, to change our lives, to replace us with Jesus.
    And if we helped every disciple get better at listening to and following Jesus, wouldn’t the Bride be much holier than she is today? Bible Impact Groups is a biblical tool to practice using the Set Free Nowww principles with other disciples to better listen to and follow Jesus. He is the one we are to follow, not some checklist. With this I wholeheartedly agree. He is the seed that bears fruit in our lives. All the Set Free Nowww principles do is show us how to do that, nothing more, nothing less.
    Just something to think and talk about, something I’d love to do with you all.
    Chris Suitt

    1. Chris, thanks so much for your helpful comment. We’ll definitely talk through it at our meeting this week. I really appreciate your passion for this very important subject. Glad to be walking the path with you!

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