3 Steps of Discipleship and should we leave it all behind?

Francis Chan: Why I quit my megachurch and started again.

That was the headline from an article I read this morning online.

Here’s another one:

Peter, Andrew, James and John: Why we quit our business and started again.

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4 v 18-22)

There are many conversations amongst Church leaders about discipleship than anything else at the moment. In each and every one of those conversations the question has arisen: what is discipleship?

Sometimes I wonder if we over complicate things? Why does everything always have to sound like you need some sort of degree to be involved in the conversation? Why do I have to carry a thesaurus around so that I too can use words that have never been used before?

Here is my attempt at what discipleship is?

The steps of discipleship are:

  1. Encounter

We have to hold the Matthew verses to one side for one moment realising that this is not the first time that these 4 radicals had met Jesus.

In John’s gospel he tells us that Andrew had left John the Baptist’s discipleship team and joined Jesus having brought his brother Simon Peter to him also.

Andrew and John (probably) had been following Jesus at a distance until he turned around and asked them what they wanted. They replied they wanted to see where Jesus was staying. So Jesus took them into his house and it radically changed their lives. These 4 radicals were following Jesus before the call that Matthew records. In this following they were encountering Jesus who said things like, “you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) They were going to see an open heaven and he would take them on an incredible adventure as Jacob experienced in his dream of which the next day he called the place Bethel, the House of God. In fact the whole purpose of John’s gospel could be that he is revealing Jesus as the new Temple, the House of God. We certainly need the encounter of God. May our homes, work-places and our churches be places of Bethel!

2. Practice

These 4 radicals accompanied Jesus to the Wedding of Cana where it was there that they believed (2:11). They witness others encountering Jesus and they baptise with Jesus. They see the Temple being cleared out and the encounter with the Samaritan women at the well. In their journey to be a radical they witness Jesus as a radical offending the norm. Above all they are listening to what he is saying. After all that is the mark of a disciple and their rabbi. The disciple wants to be able to copy exactly what their rabbi has said just as Moses copied exactly the Torah from the mouth of God.

We certainly need the practice of discipleship in our homes, work-places and our churches. We can see evidence of that. We can see the transformational stories that Jesus brings. We can see the teaching of Jesus that Christians base their life on.

I know that the Church in the UK is needing a revival but let us not fall into the danger of rubbishing it all. There is so much good that is taking place. The Church you attend has many stories of engaging with the community through projects such as Foodbanks etc. Faithful men and women serving the community and each other in the church giving their time, energy, money to the work of mission here in the UK and internationally. Each week listening to sermons and then trying to apply the lessons into their life so that they might become more like Jesus. Steadfastly praying for the good to happen, for God to be glorified and people to know Jesus.

But there is more and it is where we now pick up Matthew’s verses.

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

3. Sacrifice

I am writing this in bold because it is directly connected to the verses in Matthew and my main thoughts this morning.

It is nearly a year that has passed since they first met Jesus. They are living their lives so much better now that they have encountered him and been involved in what he is doing. During that year something was rising within their spirit so that when Jesus came by one day they responded easily to the official call he gave them.

Let me caveat what I am about to write: Sacrifice isn’t necessarily seen in leaving but staying in your home, work-place and church but leaving the person you are in those situations.

  • Matthew doesn’t record that any of the radicals were frustrated with their business prior to leaving and that is maybe because they weren’t. Frustration isn’t always the sign from God to quit.
  • They didn’t take the catch of fish with them but they didn’t burn their fishing boats either. We know at the end of John’s gospel Peter went back to his business.
  • They left their father in the boat but they didn’t abandon their family. Matthew will record how Zebedee’s wife, their mother, was one of the women at the cross. They had kept a good example which led their family over the next couple of years.
  • They sacrificed to be fishers of men. They were not leaving their family units to join some Qumran Jewish monastic group. Mission is everything. If the lost were not going to be caught then they might as well have continued fishing for fish. They left for mission. The sacrifice is mission.

In conclusion. Whether Francis Chan was right to leave his mega-church is absolutely nothing to do with me. I am more concerned about the 4 radicals and what they can help me with. Sometimes when we make that final sacrifice and leave, people question us. We disturb their status quo perhaps and they dont like what our actions say about their apathy. I just don’t see that from the families of the 4 radicals. If it happened, the gospel-writers don’t mention it. But they do tell us what discipleship involves: Encounter, Practice and Sacrifice. I believe those 3 principles are in a recurring cycle of experience for us. Which principle are you at right now?

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