The stories in the gospels show the disciples walking with Jesus and learning from him throughout their time together. They walked with him throughout Galilee as he healed the sick and preached the good news of the kingdom of God. They watched him teach the crowds (Matthew 5-7). They watched him touch lepers, welcome children, and heal a centurion’s servant and a Canaanite woman’s daughter. As they learned from him, from time to time he would send them out two by two to heal and preach as he did. This is how Jesus made disciples.
Our purpose as United Methodists is to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This is why we exist. So how do we make disciples in today’s world? I think the best place to start is to first understand what a disciple was in Jesus’ day and then to see how he made disciples. In Jesus’ day, there was a distinct process for becoming the disciple of a Rabbi. A person had to pass all kinds of educational levels and be chosen by a Rabbi or Teacher. The remarkable thing about Jesus is he chose “ordinary folk” to be his disciples. He chose people like the tax collector, Matthew, that would never be chosen by another Rabbi. Jesus gives everyone the invitation to be his disciple. A disciple is a person who walks with the Teacher so that they can learn from the Teacher to become like the Teacher and experience God as the Teacher does. A disciple not only wants to learn from the Teacher, but wants to be like them.
As I look at how Jesus made disciples, he did it by apprenticing them. There are a few places that teach by apprenticeship today and often they are in the building trades. Apprentices learn by watching the master craftsmen (and women) and slowly gaining responsibility with lots of observation and practice. A plumber’s apprentice doesn’t begin by plumbing kitchens and bathrooms. They begin with carrying the tools of the master plumber, doing the clean up, and other “menial” jobs. As they learn and prove themselves, they are given greater and greater responsibility. Apprentices develop deep relationships with their teachers. They come to know them and trust them over time. This idea of apprenticing disciples of Jesus Christ is very relational.
One of the things I heard from so many people during last fall’s congregational meetings was that a primary way many of you experience God is through your relationships with each other. Isn’t that what Jesus promised in Matthew 18:20? “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” So, if our primary way of experiencing God is in our relationships, then an apprenticeship model of making disciples would be very effective. We learn from those who have become masters at walking his way and who have dedicated themselves to being like him. Recently two former parishioners who were masters of discipleship in my life died. These women were very different from each other and yet each taught me how to walk as Jesus walked, each helped me see and experience what being a disciple meant. Part of making disciples is having leaders who can apprentice others to walk as Jesus walked. I think it is important to ask leaders in the church to model discipleship if they are going to serve as leaders so people new to the faith or newly following Jesus can see it “in the flesh.” How would you go about discipling the people in your church if you “apprenticed” them into discipleship? One church, University UMC in San Antonio, ask themselves “what lessons are so important to build into a person’s soul that if they should leave the church without them, we would have failed them?” What lessons would you choose? As we continue to serve and minister, let’s keep our eye on our purpose and be intentional about apprenticing disciples.
In Christ’s service with you,
P.S. New and Vital Faith have posted a helpful resource from University UMC, San Antonio. It describes how they developed their intentional discipling process. Find it at this link https://dscumc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/University-UMC-Texas-Discipleship-System.pdf