In my early 20s I led a team to India. Early on we were invited to a Bible study by an elder of the church we were working with. Kumar was a wrinkly old man who never left the house without a bright smile, but he wasn’t particularly charismatic. Arriving at the meeting, I was shocked to discover there was basically no space left in his large living room. It was packed with young people eager to hear God’s Word.
Afterwards I asked how he managed to gather such a group. Being a wise old man, he answered with a story. His house was directly opposite the Bishop’s residence and church offices. Years earlier a church official had moved in. From his comfortable, second story window he could see young people streaming in and out of Kumar’s home virtually all the time. Puzzled, he visited and asked why people were visiting a regular church elder instead of him. Kumar’s response was both brilliant and blunt: “With you it’s all structure and hierarchy. But with me, they know my door is always open. You rely on your rank and status to attract people to yourself. I just seek to live out the Gospel.”
Discipleship in a nutshell
Jesus called twelve disciples to follow him. They weren’t there just to listen to his teachings (Matthew 5:1), to help him out (Matthew 10) or to act as his self-appointed bodyguards (Matthew 19:13). In Jewish culture, you followed a rabbi to become like him, to do the things he did and to live as he lived in every way. That’s what being a disciple meant, and that’s what it means today: being people who are becoming like Jesus.
What is discipleship at the end of the day? It’s following your master. It’s looking like Jesus. It’s being Jesus to the world. As Dallas Willard said, a “disciple is who Jesus would be if he were you” – with your personality, skills, family, knowledge, culture.
But Jesus didn’t just call us to be disciples but to make disciples (not just converts!), and I don’t think that’s a role reserved for the elite. We’re all called to be disciple-makers. While it’s easy to overcomplicate, the core of disciple-making is actually beautifully simple: we’re to demonstrate what following Jesus looks like (1 Corinthians 11:1). Disciple-making isn’t about having enough knowledge. It’s not about being up to date with the latest discipleship techniques or models. It’s not about being a skilled teacher or having a charismatic personality. It’s about whether you’re living a life worth imitating.
And it’s not just about me as an individual. Try following Jesus alone. It doesn’t work! It’s not supposed to. That’s why Jesus gave the charter for his people’s way of life to a community (Matthew 5-7). Learning to follow Jesus is something we’re supposed to learn in community, not as islands. Likewise, people can only imitate me within a community because it’s in community that the way I interact with others is on show. (Try teaching someone to love one another without any others around!) Individually I can only tell people how to live – in community I can not only demonstrate it, but welcome people to participate in it. But when someone joins your community will they see and learn how to follow Jesus, or will they just learn how to run a good church service?
What did Kumar do? He opened up his life so people could imitate him as he sought to imitate Christ. It’s easier to rely on rank, status or programmes… but these things don’t make disciples.
Jesus’ disciples were with him, learning to be like him. Is there space in your life for people to be ‘with you’ like the young people with Kumar?
In what ways can people see Jesus in the way you live? What would it look like if Jesus had your personality, skills, family, knowledge and culture?
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