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Making disciples

October 18, 2013

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

For an evangelical that phrase is part of our marching orders, the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28.  You could make a reasonable case for saying that this is the foundational passage for evangelical activity.  Growing out of this phrase is a key activity we call discipleship, which is the name we cleverly give to the task of making disciples.  I’ve been thinking of late about our assumptions about what it actually means to make disciples.

It started earlier this week when I saw a course developed by a man in charge of discipleship at a large church in our area.  For the most part the course was standard evangelical theology and the various sections could be summarized as “what the Bible teaches about (subject of choice).”  On some of these subjects there is pretty widespread evangelical agreement.  On others, such as the role of women or Christians and government, his course assumes the Bible teaches some things that other sincere evangelicals might differ with.  All this is OK with me and I have no problem with the concept of such a course.

At the time I saw this course I was sitting with a group of men from our church and, seeing this was called a discipleship course, quipped “If I flunk this course, can I still be a disciple.”  Later on I began to think my quip over and wonder if I was smarter than I thought.  Is the foundation of discipleship having all the “correct” answers to theological questions?  Can people differ on some issues and still call each other disciples?  Is it possible to score 100% on the theology exam and still not be what Jesus meant when He challenged us to make disciples?

A few days later I was told the story of a middle-aged Christian woman in a south-European country who has made it her mission to rescue young girls (mostly shipped in from eastern Europe) from sex trafficking.  At great personal risk she strikes up conversations with these girls on the street and, when she finds some who want escape, networks with other believers to rescue and repatriate them, help them get re-established in life again (which is not an easy task), and in the process introduce those who are willing to Christ.

From what I read about this woman I sincerely doubt she could pass the theology-driven course I had just examined.  For her discipleship seemed much more about what she did than what she knew.  Now nobody, including the author of the course I bet, would deny the title of disciple to this courageous woman.  But it got me to thinking.  Are we American evangelicals too quick to intellectualize the idea of discipleship?

I suspect we are.  We probably can easily convince ourselves that “growth” in our faith is equivalent to getting more answers “right” in discipleship courses.  We can probably make ourselves believe that, by learning more, doing more is inevitable.  But what if that assumption is wrong?  What if learning more leads to smugness more often than servanthood?  What if discipleship is better defined by being out there in the world than in here in the Bible study?

I hate asking myself questions that make me uneasy.

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