Recently, I was asked this question by a friend, “What are the defining marks of a disciple of Jesus?” That’s a really good question. How would you answer that question?
At its core, the word disciple means follower or more specifically a follower who is a learner. A disciple learns and never stops learning the ways of his teacher or master. He learns by watching, listening, and mimicking his master.
The New Testament is chalked full of examples of men and women who who were called disciples of Jesus. The examples include people who followed Jesus both before and after they committed to follow Him completely (Jn.6:66; Acts 11:24). That’s interesting.
When it comes to being a disciple of Jesus, it is probably important to understand what Jesus expects of a disciple. John, a close disciple of Jesus, records a message given by Jesus that clearly outlines defining marks of a disciple,
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12–14)
In Jesus’ own words, we have three defining marks of a disciple of Jesus:
1) A disciple loves like Jesus.
Notice, a disciple is not marked by his knowledge of Jesus (which is important) nor the good things he does for Jesus (which is also important). A disciple is moved to act upon what He knows about God. As Jesus says, “you love one another as I have loved you.” (cf. John 13:35, 15:9, 12, 17). This is not an option, it is an order. A disciple is primarily and distinctively marked by the love he shows another.
You can manufacture this kind of love for a moment, but Jesus demonstrated it throughout His entire life. Jesus had an amazing capacity to love people. He loved the unlovely and His enemy. A disciple loves God and others, like Jesus, by learning from Jesus Himself.
2) A disciple is willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of Jesus.
The words that came out of Jesus’ mouth next are words I am sure you agree are true, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Yes! To that I heartily say, “Jesus, you’re right on! The highest level of love is a willingness to give your life for someone you really care about.” However, Jesus is not just sharing a truism. His intention is that you would connect this truth to the way you love Him (Eph.5:1-2).
Jesus had no shortage of followers. He wasn’t interested in crowds of followers, He was focused on the core of the follower. Some followed just to catch His next miracle, others followed to hear His earth shaking stories and sermons, while others followed for reasons both good and bad. Not everyone that followed Jesus loved Him, some hated His guts.
Jesus had a radical way of separating true followers from bandwagoners. Frequently He had crowd reduction sermons and say things like,
- “Sell everything that you have…and come, follow Me” (Mk.10:21)
- “Forsake your life and follow Me” (Mk.8:34-38)
- “Want to be great? Be a servant” (Mt.20:26-28)
- “If anyone does not carry his own cross daily and follows Me” (Lk.9:23)
- “If anyone comes after me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (14:27)
Afterwards, many would go home saying “Jesus, you’re just asking too big a sacrifice from me.” Others would mock His words saying, “You think your God or something?” And others continued to follow. They weren’t many, but they were committed because they counted the cost.
When Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” he was looking for a radical response. It’s as if He says, “If you are really My follower, then you will be willing to go to the grave for Me.” Wow. Let the words of Jesus sink into your skull for a moment. Did you think about that before you committed to follow Jesus?
A disciple dies to self. A disciple is willing to sacrificially lay down his life for Jesus, like Jesus went to the grave for yours.
3) A disciple obeys Jesus’ commands.
One who sacrificially loves, like Jesus, also joyfully obeys His words. Have you joyfully responded to His invitation? What invitation, you ask? Jesus gives you an invitation to be His close companion. This is more than an invitation to be buddy’s, pal, or homeboy. Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This is not a manipulative or coercive invitation, rather it’s a mark of a follower. A disciple is willing to follow whatever His teacher or master has asked Him to do.
This is good news. Jesus is the earth shaking good news. He followed every one of the defining marks of a disciple. He lived the words He preached. He mimicked His Heavenly Father. So much so, that if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. No one could find a fault in Him. He went to the grave an innocent man. He did not die a fatalist, a moralist, or the most liked by the populist. He obeyed His Father joyfully, even when it cost Him His earthly life. He loved sacrificially, so that by His grace you could live eternally with Him. That’s the kind of friend, teacher, master, God He is.
Jesus last words to His disciples after His resurrection were, “teach them [all future disciples] to observe all that I commanded you.” A disciple learns to live obediently to the teachings of Jesus and joyfully seeks to reproduce the same characteristics in others until He returns.
So what are the defining marks of a disciple of Jesus? Well, in Jesus own words, a disciple is one who loves like Jesus, sacrifices His life for the sake of Jesus, obeys Jesus’ commands, and helps others to do the same. What say you? Do you bear these marks?
Question every disciple should ask himself:
Do I love people more and more?
How do I love those I least like?
What is the motive behind my love for God and others?
Is my love coming from duty or delight?
In what ways am sacrificing my life for the sake of Christ?
What commands of Jesus do you have a hard time obeying?
How are you learning to follow more like Jesus today?
Now that we’ve discussed some of the common myths about missions, let’s hear from the Word of Truth Himself. Jesus has some words for us about your mission.
Missions is about JESUS and His POWER to save
“all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.” Do you remember your mother saying, “Hon, can you clean your room.” And you’d ask, “Why mom?” With a strong tone she’d respond, “Because I am your mom and I said so.” Jesus pulls the authority card, but He doesn’t lord it over He loves it over. He is the card club carrier to all the cosmic power of the universe. He has been delegated authority from the Father. Now that Jesus has your full attention, He takes no questions because He has the right and power to do as He pleases. Today He rules over the earth. He has authority over politics and government, armies and military might, the stock market and your retirement, science and education, TV and Internet, natural disasters and natural phenomenon’s, He even has authority over your life.
Missions is about YOU
“Go and make disciples.” What is the command in Jesus’ word? Many often say it is “go”, but go is the action of the command. In other words it is as if Jesus says, “as you go” or “wherever you go” The command is to “make disciples.” A disciple is a follower or worshiper of Christ. The instinct of a Jesus follower is reproducing followers of Jesus through the power and message of Jesus. To make Jesus followers is just a thing you do! As Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” [Mark 16:15] And as Paul echoes, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace” [Romans 10:15]. Missions is not missions without you making disciples as you go, as you live. Coming to Christ makes you a Christian. Obeying Christ makes you a missionary. As my missions professor in college use to say, “Every believer is an immediate missionary for Christ.”
Missions is about PEOPLE EVERYWHERE
“all the nations.” The mission is to make disciples of “all nations.” The word nation here is where you get the word ethnicity [ethnos, cf. Revelation 5:9]. You see, God loves all the people of the world. He loves all ethnicities, nations, and races of people in the world. He does not see color, status or class. Since we are not God it is hard for me to love as broadly as God. I love the Green Bay Packers and mountain biking. I also love bratwursts and cheese. I really love my wife and family. As an “ambassador” of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 5:20] I am representative of a foreign land, a home I long for but have not arrived and whose ruler is my Savior. There is no culture or religion beyond the scope of the Great Commission, and Jesus wants to be exalted above every people, nation, and religion.
Missions is about CHANGED LIVES through the power of the gospel
“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Often these words of Jesus are known as the great omission of the great commission. The forgotten and forsaken part of the mission is to help people live in the power of the gospel. First, a changed life is willing to publically identify with Christ [and His death and resurrection] by walking through the waters of baptism. Second, a changed life loves to teach other about the words of Christ [Romans 1:16]. A changed life is one who is dying to self, bears his own cross [Luke 14:27], and is becoming alive to Christ. The road to Golgotha is tough, but people of the gospel count the cost and are willing to pay the price. But it is not a road we have to walk alone.
Missions is about living confidently within GOD’S MISSION
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus begins His short sentence with a great claim and a great command, but He finishes with a great comfort. Who promises to be with you? Jesus—the One with all authority. He promises His presence [cf. Jeremiah 31:33; 32:40]. There is power in God’s presence. There is confidence and courage in His presence. How long does He promise His presence with you? Always, which can literally be rendered, “all the days,” or “until the end of time.” He will be with you without breaks [Hebrews 13:5]. God will not take a vacation from you or His redeeming purposes. God is on a mission. And Christianity is a missionary faith.
I want to hold out to you four ways that you can respond today:
First, make prayer commitment for the rest of this year for an unreached people group [go to Joshua Project] or a missionary—for your own soul and vocational change.
Second, get a loose change can or jar and let it remind you to pray as you give.
Third, buy a good missions biography or other book on missions. Be warned. It is one of the most wonderfully dangerous things you can do to undermine your addiction to the American dream.
Fourth, make a bold commitment and acknowledge that God has been awakening you in both a willingness to go and a desire to take practical steps to be prepared to go. And tell your pastor.
DON’T BE A MYTH. MAXIMIZE YOUR ROLE IN HIS MISSION.
This week I have been trying out a new way of spending time with God in His word. It is a study process that I have often done while studying a passage to teach or preach, but it is also quite devotional. I would encourage all followers of Christ and lovers of the Scripture to try the CRA method with your family, small group, one-on-one discipleship, or within personal quiet time.
The CRA method of Bible Study [note: CRA is an acrostic for copy, rewrite, and apply] is quite simple and reproducible. It is a method similar to the scribes of the Old Testament who would copy, recopy, and hide the Word of God in their hearts. Here is the CRA method in 3-simple steps:
Let me show you how I have put this to practice using Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which includes the Hebrew shema. The whole process takes about 20-30 minutes depending on the length of the passages and the quality time you take to meditate upon it. If you read more than 2-3 chapters a day take the key passage of 5-10 verses and write them out using the CRA method.
1) Copy Deuteronomy 6:4-9 word-for-word.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [ESV]
2) Re-write Deuteronomy 6:4-9 in your own words.
Listen up! Children of God. You know YHWH, you God. He is God, the One God. He alone must be the fire that stokes your passions. He alone must be the control center of your being. No question about it, He must be chiseled onto the walls of your heart and mind.
Pass along your God-passion to everyone you know. Start with your kids, those next to you on the bus, those you rub shoulders with everyday, dream about it, tattoo it on your brain, and raise a banner over your home that says, “I love my YHWH, and Him alone!”
3) Apply the truth of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to your life [using “I will…” statements].
• I will cultivate a passion for God’s love through reading the Bible, applying the Bible, and letting others know what I love about my God.
• I will place reminders around me that point me to my First Love [i.e. verses in my house, wallet, office, computer, etc.].
• I will share with at least one person today my love for God.
• I will read the Word to my wife and kids.
• I will memorize at least one verse of Scripture this week and quote it with my wife.
• I will not read the Bible as a textbook, but as truth from God Himself.
• I will chew on the Word each day I read it.
When I think about Old Europe I am drawn to the massive cathedrals. These marvelous monuments to Christendom took hundreds of years, thousands of man-hours, and millions of dollars to build. Dedicated craftsmen have embossed cathedrals with ornate artwork, colorful stain-glass, meaningful sculptures, and rich relics, which all add to the message of Scriptural themes. To this day these cathedrals are engineering marvels.
The church is often misunderstood and misapplied. As beautiful as these cathedrals and churches may be they are not the church. The church is not a building—it is people. The church is built up by followers of Christ displaying the glory of God and discipling one another to godliness.
The purpose of the church is quite important as it relates to the growth of the people within the church. Discipleship is often described as a one-on-one personal if not private endeavor. As we disciple someone in Christ the first things we teach them is about private growth: practicing devotions, private prayer life, and personal obedience. This is good and true, however, the personal growth in Christ also happens biblically through community within the Body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12]. Seldom is discipleship viewed as a community project.
EPHESIANS 4:11 And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:11-16, teaches us about the corporate aspect of discipleship. Once a follower commits to Christ they can immediately contribute to the Body of Christ [cf. Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-10; 1 Peter 4:11]. Without contribution to the Body of Christ we fail to mature in our faith or have accountability to continue in our faith. Christian growth does not happen in isolation, rather growth happens in community. According to verse 13 there are three aspects of discipleship that cannot happen in isolation: unity, mature in knowledge, maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ.
Unity of the faith is the first and most obvious aspect of community discipleship. Communities have common goals for the benefit of one another. God’s people are moving towards the goal of one faith. Faith is not just personal, but it is a public way to stir one another to faith and good works [cf. Hebrews 10:22-25; Philippians 1:27]. This means followers are using their God-given gifts for His glory and the growth of the community. New believers need to see the unified community of faith [cf. Colossians 2:7].
The second aspect of community discipleship is maturing in the knowledge of the Son of God. Knowledge is not only a personal entity, but refers to the community of followers [cf. v.12]. The knowledge of Christ is the core of the church. Together we encourage one another know Christ and make Him known. This maturity of knowledge is illustrated by infants of who are immature and unstable, like a storm-tossed boat blown in all directions by the winds of false teaching [v.14]. Mature followers are able to discern more clearly what is true and false, but new followers need to grow in their knowledge of Christ. Knowledge of Christ is not an end in itself, rather being transformed by Christ is the goal of this knowledge [cf. 1 John 2:3-4].
The third aspect of community discipleship is maintaining a measure of fullness of Christ. This is the end result of community discipleship—being like Christ. Now the church is already the fullness of Christ [1:23; cf. 4:10], but the future element is still present in our need to be like Christ. The maturity of this growth is measured by nothing less than Christlikeness.
Community discipleship is critical to the growth of the individual followers. Rechargeable batteries do not power up by themselves. They need to be plugged into a power source in order to be recharged. So it is with Christian maturity—followers cannot grow apart from being plugged into the church.
Christ is both the Builder and the Foundation of the church [2:20; cf. 1 Timothy 3:15]. Without a connection to the community of Christ—the local church—we cannot grow, as we ought. If we do not encourage new believers or immature believers to be connected to the Body of Christ they will remain immature, if not disillusioned by true Christian growth. A believer can growth through Bible Study, prayer and personal obedience, but more complete growth happens in the context of the church community. When this is happening the members of the body are being built up and growing the way God intended.
It takes a village to disciple a follower. The church is that village, and together we can encourage one another to unity, mature knowledge, and fullness of Christ. As John Stott says, “Maturity in unity which comes from knowing, trusting, and growing up in Christ.”
 John Koessler, True Discipleship. Chicago, IL. Moody Publishers, 2003. 180.
 John R.W. Stott, God’s New Society. Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1979, 169.
The Discipleship Experiment.
This year our student ministry leadership set a goal: be disciples discipling others to be disciples. We decided to do ministry biblically, thus the discipleship experiment took life. It was a risky move, but a bold biblical endeavor.
We had some speed bumps, U-turns, and engines overheat along the journey, but overall I am ecstatic to see our adult leaders become more actively involved in the spiritual growth of our students. Though many would admit, “I feel like I’ve failed.” I would say their input into the lives of the students was exceed by the spiritual output. In other words, high risk [discipleship] equals high reward [disciples].
What is biblical student ministry?
Student ministry biblically is a ministry of the church coming alongside families equipping them to become faithful followers of Christ. Student ministry is intensive discipleship geared towards students and their families. Intensive discipleship is both encouraging one another to follow Christ [evangelism] and equipping follower in Christ [followership].
Discipleship is difficult. It’s difficult because of the cost involved. The cost may involve time, studying the Word to help student see their lives mirrored in the Word, willingness to get messy as students fall into sin, and desire to pour your life into another by living in a way that models a disciple of Christ. Discipleship takes a willingness to be selfless for the sake of another to see and savor Jesus Christ.
Discipleship is all for Christ and all about Christlikeness.
It is easy to disciple for all the wrong reasons. Some disciple to feel needed, important, or appreciated. Others disciple to impress, lord-over, or act as mini-Messiah’s. This is not discipleship. We don’t disciple as matter of self-defense or self-promotion. You don’t pour your life into others to fill yourself up. How selfish. Discipleship is selfless because it is promoting Christlikness.
When you gaze at the cross and get a glimpse of the gospel you see that you are unworthy, but God in Christ is worthy. Discipleship must always be rooted and nourished by the living message of the gospel. Jesus died, He was buried and resurrected that you and I might have abundant life [Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:20-21]. Without the gospel discipleship is dead.
This year I watch Brent pour his heart into middle school boys. Middle schools are not the easiest flock to shepherd. He would take them out to Taco Bell before FUEL or have them work on construction projects at the church. These middle schoolers know that Brent cares. Brent made a risky move–doesn’t feel like he did enough–but was willing to pour Christ into middle school boys. To Brent discipleship was more of a risk than being a stunt man. He was willing to get get messy and be spent of the sake of Christ.
Successful disciples are servants first [Matthew 20:25-28].
Christ became the servant of all. It is crazy to think that a King and Creator of the universe became a servant to His creation. Jesus gives us a genuine model for leadership and discipleship: humility [Matthew 11:29; Luke 14:7-11; Philippians 2:3-4], trust [Mark 10:32-41], shepherding [Mark 10:45; John 10:11], gift oriented teamwork [1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Luke 9:1-2], responsibility [John 13:15; Ephesians 4:11-13]; and risk [Hebrews 11:1].
Discipleship is a risky move, but it has great rewards.
I have been reading the book Radical by David Platt it is an excellent book that answers the question, why following Christ means being so radical?
This is one book I wish I had written myself, but that you need to dig into yourself.
Followership is radical. We are not talking about Christian jihad or political-far-right, but being a follower in a passive and putrid American society is risky. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle that is active and living, and revolving around Himself. The cost of committing to Christ is radical and means I must abandon all my American dreams for him. Jesus asked me to leave behind security, money, a life of ease and even those that I love the most to be His follower. That sounds radical. That is exactly what this book is about.
Followership is more than believing in Jesus, it is also obeying Him. Jesus wants to change me and culture from the inside out, not from the outside in. I am ready to take The Radical Experiment. To find out more about this one-year journey to authentic followership you will have to just read the book.
“Are you willing to obey the orders of Christ? Are you willing to be like Him? Are you willing to risk your life to go to great need and to great danger–whether it’s in the inner cities around you, the difficult neighbor across the street, the disease-ridden communities in Africa, or the hostile regions in the Middle East? Are we willing to fundamentally alter our understanding of Christianity from a luxury-liner approach that seeks more comforts in the world to a troop-carrier approach that forsakes comforts in the world to accomplish an eternally significant task and achieve an eternally satisfying reward?” [p.171]
David Platt, Radical, Waterbrook Multnomah, Colorado Springs, CO. 2010.
“Our Lord’s first obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of men. His obedience brought the outcome of the saving of men. If I am devoted to the cause of humanity only, I will soon be exhausted and come to the place where my love will falter. But if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity though men treat me as a doormat.” – Oswald Chambers
followership begins with a passion for God and compassion for people.
True followership begins with a passion for Jesus Christ. Jesus is passionate about building His church. This passion is as contagious as a runny nose in mid-Winter because it flows into our compassion for others. Those who discipled me from middle school until now have modeled a real passionate faith. So passionate that I want to be like Christ because they looked so much like Christ.
Whether we are discipling to Christ or in Christ all Christ’s. I cringe at the idea of calling someone “my disciple”. This is a term we find in the New Testament only coming from the mouth of Jesus. As believers in Christ we are His disciples. I am not a disciple of any man but Christ. Paul talked about “my son” Timothy, “my brother” Ephaphroditus, and co-laborers as “my fellow servants”. New Testament authors never called a fellow believer “my disciple” or “my follower.” in fact, Paul freaks out when he hears that some are calling themselves followers of Paul or Apollos. “ Is Christ divided? he wrote, with evident frustration. “Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” [1 Corinthians 1:13] Paul had his eyes on Jesus, so He must be our focus and passion as followers too.
followership invites others to “be with” you.
Christ appointed twelve followers and “designating them apostles, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach.” [Mark 3:14] Christ is the initiator in challenging and calling men. His vision is clear: before they were unleashed to the world they were invited to “be with Him”.
As a follower of Christ His presence is with us always [cf. Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5]. The original twelve followers were “with Him”, and Jesus “with them.” We find Jesus in their homes, having dinner with their friends, and engaging lovingly with their enemies. True followership begins by inviting others to be with you.
followership is being shaped into the image of God together.
“We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all His might, which so powerfully works in me.” [Colossians 1:28-29] Our goal for every follower is to reach maturity in Christ, that their life begin to look like His.
An artist was asked what he would paint on the white canvas. “You see a blank canvas,” he said. “But I see a mountain, lake and beautiful sunrise. As I gaze at the canvas I smell the mountain air, feel the brisk morning air coming of the lake, and then simply brush the strokes of color onto the canvas.” As followers of Christ His portrait should always be before us, and the canvas of our lives is being transformed into the beautiful image of Christ.
followership is not complete until the follower becomes a teacher.
In Matthew 28:19-20, we often miss the an important point of the Great Commission. I would call it the Great Omission because Jesus says to His followers, “teach everyone everything you have heard and seen in me.”
As a follower of Christ I am doing the ministry of multiplication. No one is becoming mature in Christ until they begin to reproduce Christ in others. Jesus sent His followers out to serve without Him. He warned them they would need at some point to carry the message on their own. A follower of Christ was prepared from the beginning to make other follower, who in turn made other follower, who made still more follower. And so the gospel of Christ reached you and me.
What if doormat discipleship characterized each of our ministries? What if people were truly shaped into the image of Christ through discipling relationships? What if followership began to take on a life all its own, bigger than any program in our church? What if people left our ministries and continued to make followers of Christ for the rest of their lives? This is the path Jesus destined for His followers to walk after His death [Matthew 28:19-20].
Build it and they will come: Changing the way we do gospel ministry
Changing the way we do ministry towards a gospel-centered focus is not easy. It is a paradigm shift from the cry of our culture. Or cultural proverb says, “Build it and they will come.” There is some truth to this Field of Dreams proverb. However, it depends what you build on that could affect whether it will last.
We are not about building the greatest ministry that makes the cover of Christianity Today. We are not about growing huge numbers, having the coolest coffee-shop-like atmosphere, blasting the craziest and latest worship tunes, or any other low-level purpose. We have a higher purpose: we build on the foundation of Christ [1 Corinthians 3:9-17]. All other foundations mentioned above–if not grounded in the bedrock of Christ–will blow over in the gale force storms of culture or sink into the quicksand of lustful lures and low-level goals. Christ is our goal and the gospel is absolutely central to a surviving and thriving ministry.
Our number one job and joy as ministry leaders is gospel centered discipleship [Acts 28:31]. Between Acts 1 and 28 the church of Christ grew not by a Christian circus rolling through town, but by constant and relentless followers proclaiming the core gospel truths about Christ. Our student leadership has been growing in their understanding of this truth this year as we have implemented changes to meet this goal. We have seen first hand how difficult it is to cultivate a Christ-centered culture of followership. The past few months, I have observed some amazing blessings through the diligence and sacrifices of our student leaders:
Followership is contagious reformation to Christ.
Our students are recognizing and excited that their leaders really care about their walk with God and want to help them apply God’s Truth [Philippians 2:12-13]. Followership is fulfilling your role as a priest under the Priesthood of Christ [1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10]. Every believer is a priest of Christ who is leading others to Christ worshiping and sacrificing for the sake of the glory of Christ. Like Luther, we are reformers who desire to point people to the person and work of Christ.
Followership is active participation in the Gospel.
Our student leaders are less passive and more active in their faith knowing that they are expected to dig deeper into the lives of one another. By its very nature the gospel is the saving sacrifice of Jesus’ person and work. The gospel impacts every aspect of our life. The gospel never sleeps and is actively involved in the process of conforming us to the image of Christ [Philippians 1:5-11]. Followers are participates of Christ’s gospel to the world and specifically to those they are ministering.
Followership is the incarnational.
Our student leaders are coming along side our students encouraging them to follow Christ. By doing this they are resembling the incarnated Christ to those they are discipling. They struggle along side the students striving to live for Christ even though they see themselves as chief sinners [Philippians 2:4-5] spreading the grace of Christ with compassion.
In conclusion, our number one job and joy as ministry leaders is gospel centered discipleship [Acts 28:31]. Changing the culture of our youth ministry to model this goal is a process that will not happen over night, in a semester or even in a school year, it will be an ever-changing process. Followership is a life-long process followers encouraging others to follow Christ too. Building a ministry that will last is built on the gospel of Christ. He has built it, all we need to do is come to Him.
A follower. What a unique word. Not many people aspire to be a follower. When we play the game follow the leader most want to be the leader and have all the followers mimicking behind them. Do you know that you are called to be a follower?
Being a follower is not like being a nun or monk hidden away in a mountain monastery. God doesn’t call us to be quiet, secluded, and sheltered about our faith. Quite the country. He calls us to be actively following Christ and seeking other followers to mentor. He does not call us to a monastic list of rules, but to a monastic view of our sacred vow to Jesus Christ. He doesn’t call you to put on the drab nun garb, rather you are called to be peculiar people because of the change Christ has done in your soul as His follower.
Have you heard of the spread of Christianity in China? It is amazing. I have never been there to see it ground level, but I have heard first hand stories from Chinese followers. There is a movement in China of Christ’s church that is rising up underground taking His message to that nation and others with relentless passion. We can learn from the Chinese followers about true followership in action. Their monastic followership resembles that of Jesus and His followers. It is like an apprenticeship: followership is incorporated with all of life, followers are considered learners, learning is viewed as a lifelong process, and maturity comes through holistic imitation of the Master.
I am not a big Star Wars fan [unlike some of my friends], but another take on followership that follows this apprentice learner mold is the way of the Jedi. Christ follower are like young padawans following their Grand Master. There is no dichotomy between secular and sacred for the progressing Jedi. There is no rush to fix everything today: patience, persistence, and practice over a lifetime will yield results [note: progression from follower to faithful follower; John 1:25ff; John 18:1ff; John 21:1ff; Acts 2:14ff; Acts 4:11-12]. Seeking to emulate the one you follow. At times the process begins when the apprentice is quite young [8 years old], but the process is lifelong no matter when the training begins.
A call to followership is not tucked away in a monastery, but visible in everyday living. Unlike China, the American church has largely lost this sense of apprenticeship. We follow our Master, Jesus Christ the Grand Master, after whose pattern we are recreated as image bearers. Followership is a lifelong process without immediacies, but you must be driven to invest in yourselves in others because that is what followers do.
What is worship? What is a worshiper? Worship is about God, to God and for God. Worship is about what you love. You love something or someone. What you love you give time, talents and treasures to without thinking. Worship comes natural to us because that is how God wired us. We are wired to worship.
The Bible is chalked full of men and women who followed God with an unquenchable thirst. Followers of Christ are worshipers. Followership is another word for worship. One such follower is Habakkuk. Even in bleak circumstances battered by extreme doubts he praises God [3:17-18]. Then there is the Paul who is imprisoned for his faith [Acts 16], but still finds a way to share the good news.
Over a hundred years ago there was a songwriter by the name of Fanny Crosby. As a baby she experience a traumatic life-altering situation. This is how she describes it,
“When I was six weeks old I was taken sick and my eyes grew very weak and those who had charge of me poulticed my eyes. Their lack of knowledge and skill destroyed my sight forever. As I grew older they told me I should never see the faces of my friends, the flowers of the field, the blue of the skies, or the golden beauty of the stars…Soon I learned what other children possessed, but I made up my mind to store away a little jewel in my heart which I called content.”
When she was only 8 years old she penned this song:
O what a happy soul am I! Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy, that other people don’t.
To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot, and I wont.
I wonder what my response would be like if I were in the same situation as these saints who have gone before? Would I have complained or become calloused? Or would I be content, compassionate and worshiping God? Though blind, Fanny could not wait to see Jesus’ face. She has an eye for worship. She didn’t see an end in blindness, but viewed endless opportunities to praise God.
Once you get a glimpse of God you are never the same, even in a world that does not acknowledge His presence or purposes [Isaiah 6:1-13; 29:13]. What we learn from Isaiah in the divine throne room is that God is full of wonder, awe and mystery. He is Qadesh [Holy]. His name is Holy One. There is nothing or anyone like Him ever. He is set apart, therefore, He is worthy of our fear, reverence and life. Once you have seen God you become a worshipful follower. On this side of heaven we have only get to see a drop of His glory in the ocean of His splendor.
Here is both a comforting and convicting fact of the Bible: You become like what you worship. What you follow you worship. Who you follow is who you worship. You will become like the object of your worship either for your ruin or restoration. You will either be blind, deaf and lifeless like idols or full of life like God. Worship must be about God, to God and for God. Worship is about what you love. You love something or someone. What you love you give time, talents and treasures to without thinking. Worship comes natural to us because that is how God wired us. We are wired to worship.
 Fanny Crosby, quoted in S. Trevena Jackson, This is my story, This is my Song, Emerald House, n.p.
 G.K Beale, We become what we Worship, IVP, 2008.
Does God want to change my sinful behavior into behavior that glorifies God? You bet. However, you must be careful that you do not make behavior modification the goal of discipleship. God desires transformation in His followers.
“When morphing [transformation] happens, I don’t just do the things Jesus would have done; I find myself wanting to do them. They appeal to me. They make sense. I don’t go around just trying to do the right things; I become the right sort of person.”
People will come to your church to know more about God [in fact, this was the number one survey reason why teens come to FUEL]. People are curious how God fits into their life. They take the bits and pieces they like or pick and choose the ideas they are convinced will change their situation. However, viewing God like this is no different that believing He is a psychologist, medical antidote, or genie-in-a-bottle.
Changing the outside of a man doesn’t mean his insides are changed [cf. Matthew 23:25-26]. In other words, asking an unbeliever to be like Christ is similar to asking an alcoholic to quit drinking cold turkey. The alcoholic may go to AA, find community, and successfully quit his/her drinking addiction, but often trade addictions [i.e. begin smoking] because they are not encouraged to deal with the root issue of their addiction. Encouraging a non-follower to change attitudes and actions without the heart motivation doesn’t lead to lasting or permanent change. They will eventually fail because they do not have a relationship with Christ or true connection to the community of Christ [His church].
If we teach change before teach about Christ we are setting our disciplees up for disaster. Changing behavior to be like Christ without having a relationship with Christ can feed pride, give false assurance, and create an I-am-all-right-with-this-now attitude. Behavior on the outside might appear Christ-like, but on the inside they have a twisted and wicked heart. Whatever rules the heart will exercise inescapable influence over the person’s life and behavior. I am reminded often that God is solely after obedient hearts.
“These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up only of rules taught by men.”
Don’t piecemeal God into your life; He wants to break you so that you give Him everything. I want to encourage those I am discipling to or in Christ to stop fitting God into their plans and start fitting their life into God’s plan. I want to help them count the cost of commitment to Christ. Help facilitate change of the heart first and foremost to see God bring about transformodification [and yes, I did make the word up].
 John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan, 1997. 23.
 Paul Tripp, Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands, P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2002, 68.
 Isaiah 29:13
Are disciples looking for perfect leaders or authentic leaders? As Christian leaders, it is tempting to want to put on a mask that hides the fact that at times you struggle with sin and fail in your faith too. Now I must never give glory to my sin, but glory in the grace I have in overcoming sin. Here are some biblical ways we can build trust and increase deeper counsel with those you are discipling:
Transparent prayer. Our prayers can be vague and lifeless. Learn to pray honestly and humbly. Pray expresses our neediness of God and that He is the only One able to meet our needs. Psalm 32 and 52 are great examples of transparent prayers that express need for God.
Share your life story. I am sure you have been through some valleys and climbed some mountains. Like the apostle Paul we have a story dotted with dark spots [cf. Acts 22:1-21], but those times make God really big. Sharing how you have been transformed by the power of God and continue to battle against sin take be a tremendous encouragement to those you are ministering.
Ask for Help. You are never self-sufficient or independent of your need for accountability and ministry from others. It is helpful to get others believers to pray for you and hold you accountable. You have not arrived yet, nor are you invincible. I need your help in the partnership of the gospel [cf. Philippians 1:3-18].
Admit you don’t know it all. What do I do if someone asks me a difficult theological or practical questions I do not know how to answer. I say, “That is a good question, I do not know, but I will find it out for you. I believe the Bible has the answers. Can I get back to you on that question?” [cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; Isaiah 55:9]
Be real. Do not hide your pain, sorrow, joy, heartache or frustration [cf. Romans 12:9-21]. God gave you emotions to use for His good [cf. Jeremiah and Lamentation]. Real men cry.
Point to the promises of God. Putting on the mask of sinlessness fails to help others to see the God’s faithfulness [Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 Corinthians 1:9]. Whatever good I have in my life was put their by God. I am not holy, but He that is holy has helped me to become Holy by the Power of His Spirit [cf. 1 Peter 1:13-25]. People need to see and hear that from you. Pull off the mask and let people see how God is at work in and through you.
True followers are seeking other genuine followers who are following hard after God.
“I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser…Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the Vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” [John 15:1-5] Abiding in Christ appears eleven times in this passage and it also appears throughout the Bible [cf. 1 John 2:6]. If a word appears like this as often as it does, it is probably important.
The phrase abiding in Christ [μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί; John 15:4] is an aorist active imperative. In other words, “You are to keep on remaining/abiding in Me.” Abiding is not something you get, it is something you are. If you are in Christ, stay there. Don’t go anywhere else. I am an American: by birth, citizenship and passport. As a follower of Christ we are already have a passport to the kingdom, adopted as citizens of heaven. Having this divine imperative brings a lot of freedom for living in the here and now. I abide in Christ because I know I will be with Him one day, but I can also strive to be like Him today.
What is the difference between being and doing? How do I be? Some followers of Christ get so worked up over performance and playing the part that they forget that Jesus has already performed the work. Children are taught from a young age, even by godly parents or teachers at the church kids program, that if you do this you will be a good Christian. If you memorize these verses, complete this Bible study or workbook page, if you follow all the commandments and pray you will be a complete bonifide follower of Christ. Now each of these disciplines are valuable in themselves: hiding Gods Word in your heart that you might not sin against Him [Psalm 119:9-11], saturate yourself with God’s Word [Psalm 63:1; 2 Timothy 3:16-17], and keep the commands of Christ [John 15:10-17], but doing is not as important as being.
Doing simply leaves you and others exhausted and unmotivated. Each of the verses above and the disciplines within them have a common artery: to have my heart parched for the greatness of our God and utter dependent upon Him for daily nourishment. It is not do this and you will be this, rather it is be like Christ and you will live [do things] like Christ. Being in Christ is what I am because I am grafted into the Vine. I am to be a branch that is abiding in the life-giving, fruit bearing doing of Christ. Christ’s doing [sacrificial death] comes before my being [saving faith], and my being [saving faith] comes before doing [sacrificial living].
So how do I love people who are hard to love? I be like Christ. Sure, I am commanded to love [John 15:12], but just because I am commanded to do it does not mean I am motivated to do it. When I consider the Gospel and how Christ became love [John 15:13], it gives a new perspective on how I can become love to others [John 15:17].
How are you doing as a follower? As a follower of Jesus? Are you making follower of Jesus? Depending on your answer you might be joyful and excited or confused, guilty, and frustrated. There are some misconceptions of what a follower of Jesus is and what the process of becoming more like Jesus really looks like. The following are common misconceptions of what discipleship is:
“I attend church and that’s enough for me.” Following Christ is a relationship. It is a lifestyle within a community. It cannot be tied to a program or church. A lot of followership can happen at church, but most of the time it doesn’t and shouldn’t. Following Christ happens in a community of followers doing life with one another [Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25]. Following never happens alone. If your only following is sitting under your pastor for an hour or two a week that is a poor view of followership.
“I can grow on my own.” Left to ourselves following Christ does not happen–for long [Luke 9:57-62; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-16]. I grow by becoming constantly confronted with the gospel of Jesus. Lone Ranger and Tivo Christianity do not cut it. I must be willing to count the cost and commit to be vulnerable within a family of followers.
“I am more mature now; following is for new Christians.” You are never too old to be discipled. Seasoned Christians realize that problems do not go away because they are Christian, they simply realize they are sinners [1 Peter 4:12-13]. Until we leave this planet we will continually struggle with sin and our faith. As a follower of Christ, I am not quite like my Master yet, so there is room for followership.
“I read my Bible.” We must not be content with only reading and knowing more about the God of the Bible. Some Christians are like an overstuffed Chipolte burrito. It is not just what you know, but what you do with what you know [James 1:19-27]. There is a great difference between being a student and a follower.
“I am not responsible to change everything.” Following Christ cannot be compartmentalized or systematized. It is all of me or none of me. Christ wants to be all and in all. Christ wants to be involved with my money, parenting, marriage, singleness, career, resume, fashion, habits and more. Sound intrusive? That is discipleship. It is not behavior modification, rather it is dealing with sin and living like Christ. True followership takes all of Christ’s teaching and applies them to our life.
“I do not have time.” If someone in your family dies you make the time to be with the ones you love. You ask off of work, you reschedule your plans because family matters [Luke 9:57-62]. So it is with your faith and the faith of others around you. Followers understand they have been given a whole new identity, a whole new agenda, a whole new mission, a whole new community, and a whole new life through the gospel. Followers of Christ make the time because it is a relationship with a living God and our faith at times of dying.
“I don’t know enough about the Bible.” Followers are not just theology PhD’s or seminary trained pastors. In Jesus day, they were fishermen, tax collectors and everyday people fired up about what Christ can do in a life. If you have a Bible, if you have one verse memorized or if you are a follower of Christ that is breathing you can disciple [1 Corinthians 11:1]. Sharing the gospel is enough.
“I am worried I will lead other followers astray.” If you stick to the Word of God and teach the truth therein you are not accountable for how others respond to God [2 Timothy 3:16-17, 4:1ff]. Speak the truth in love. Even your struggle with sin is a great teacher [Colossians 3:13; Philippians 3:12-13]. Authentic followers attract more followers than they distract.
Following Christ is learning what it means to live your whole life in light of the gospel of Jesus. Living as a follower of Jesus is learning how to live in the reality of this new life you’ve been given through faith in the gospel. Not that it’s easy, or without pain or cost. The joy and excitement of living in light of all that God promises in the gospel outweighs any pain or cost.
Before you take any trip you have to map out where you are going or you might get lost and watt a lot of time and money. It is also the same with discipleship in the church. Before you guide another on the journey of transformation you must consider the keys to the map.
Being a follower begins and ends with God, not man. God calls us into a relationship with Him by following Him. In Jesus day students would usually ask their Rabbi’s if they could follow them, but with Jesus that Master of all He asks us to follow Him. God initiates the relationship. He is the starting point of our relationship with Him [Rom.8:29-30].
Being a follower means knowing Christ personally and intimately. Is a relationship with God personal. Yes, it is really personal. It is not just knowing facts about Jesus, but a lifelong commitment. When a student would ask a Rabbi to be a mentor it was a life long commitment. The same for a relationship with Christ. He asks us to commit for the long haul. Knowing what the Bible says about Jesus is not enough. Jesus is the living God [John 1:14].
Being a follower has to do with the image of God. We were created in God image and likeness. We are dominioneers [Ge.1:27]. This gives and eternal and valuable aspect to our following Christ, the King of the dominion of man. Discipleship is not our agenda, but Gods, “teaching them to observe all I commanded” [Matt.28:19-20].
Being a follower means God is for us, not against us. Do not believe in the god of your own opinion, but the God of the Bible. The way we view God, can be on of the biggest distraction to our spiritual growth. A little view of God can mean little growth. God is not a gregarious ogre, He is a Rescuer, Savior, Lover, Helper and Care-giver.
Being a follower starts and end with God. If we think we have any part in changing a person we are prideful and overly arrogant. Give God the credit and glory for what He can do in a followers life. Followership is not a program, behavior modification, a magical formula seen in Scripture, or a sacred system that works for every person. It is a daily delightful relationship with the God of the universe. This is the journey to discovering the life of a true follower.