In my flesh I would never naturally pursue God. My bend is to pursue my interest. A sort of self-gratification. Before following Christ I was my god. So everything in my life was about pursuing my interest. I attended church and was very involved in Sunday school but even that was out of selfish desires. It was about what I could gain from the experience. I just didn’t connect with the truth of what God desired from my life. I couldn’t. Before we choose to follow Christ it is impossible to comprehend the truth of God’s word. Isn’t this what God means in 1 Cor. 2:14?
“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
No worries. As a teenager I was hastily lumped into the process of discipleship with every other teenager in our ministry. My youth group had a method. That method required enrolling every student in a Sunday school class. There wasn’t very much thought into their position in Christ. It really didn’t matter if we followed Christ or were even interested in following Christ. It didn’t matter if we could even be discipled. I eventually became frustrated because of my lack of understanding and inability to sustain what God desired from my life. It was out of this frustration that I walked away from church after graduation. I was not a Christian although I never missed a Sunday, participated in every possible youth activity, and even led some of our Sunday school classes. So I identify with the current culture of teenagers who make the conscious decision to walk away from church after graduation. I simply could not do what the bible required.
When it comes to discipleship, whatever method we use to grow in our journey toward holiness, maybe it’s small groups, or life groups, Sunday School, whatever, it is critical that we understand our audience. Student ministry discipleship models haven’t changed much since I was a teenager. Most lump everyone together with a goal to increase attendance. Let’s just be honest. How much do we really assess where someone is spiritually? It’s like when my girls starting going out with boys. I always asked them if their dates followed Christ. They usually responded with something like, “I think so but I’m sure I’ll figure it out sooner or later.” At which point I give them the stare of death that only a father can give. Their idea was a flirt to convert mentality. Let’s get them in the game and we can work on the rest later. This usually doesn’t work.
We often take the same approach with our discipleship models. Let’s just get them in a class or group and see what happens. Like some crazy experiment with an unknown result. But in this case God shows us the expected outcome. People who haven’t chosen to answer Christ’s invitation to follow cannot understand the truth of God’s word. This approach is like scattering seeds hoping that something grows. The “broadcast method” of planting. While this is a somewhat acceptable practice of evangelism it cannot work in the process of discipleship. We have to choose to follow Christ before we can become His disciple. This is what the Apostle Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 2:14.
Paul is explaining why some people do not respond to the Holy Spirit. I like what Keith Krell writes about 2 Corinthians 2:14:
”A “natural man” is a person who does not have a supernatural dimension—he or she is without the Holy Spirit. Their natural values are physical and material. A person like that cannot understand spiritual things. They are controlled by feelings, moods, urges, felt needs, desires…by natural reasoning, logical choices made on the basis of goals centering on this life—success, wealth, power, and pleasure. Such a person does not “accept” the things of God for they are foolishness to him. The term “accept” literally means “to welcome.” It is a word that was used frequently of the practice of hospitality.Thus, I think 2:14 can best be translated, “The unbeliever does not welcome the things of God.” Paul also states that the unbeliever cannot understand the things of God. There are two different words in Greek that are translated “to understand” in our English Bibles. One means to understand intellectually, while the other is often used to mean understand experientially, or “discern the true nature and importance of something.” It is the latter word which is used here.Paul is not saying that an unbeliever cannot understand the facts of the Bible or that he cannot grasp basic theology or even that he cannot interpret Scripture correctly. Rather, what he is saying is that he cannot know the things of God experientially—he can’t discern whether those things are true or good or valuable.
The best way I know to illustrate Paul’s point here is with the concept of radio waves. There are many, many radio waves in this room. But we can’t hear them because we don’t have receivers to pick them up. Our ears are not tuned to those frequencies. The same thing is true in the spiritual realm. The unbeliever doesn’t have the spiritual receiver, the Holy Spirit, to enable him to appreciate God’s truth. He is like a deaf critic of Bach or a blind critic of Michelangelo.Therefore, we should not get angry when unbelievers act like unbelievers. How else are they supposed to act? The deaf cannot hear, the blind cannot see, the lame cannot walk, the dead cannot move, and the natural man cannot understand the things of God.”
So it’s important to understand the very basic truth that some are not spiritually capable of being discipled. Sometimes in our haste to “grow a church,” we lead people down a path they aren’t ready to walk. Only those who choose to follow Christ are disciples and can grow spiritually. It’s at this point they can grow into the person God created them to be.
The first step in the process is choosing to follow Christ. Once I decide to accept Christ invitation to follow and all that involves, I am, by default, a disciple. One who follows Christ, led by the Holy Spirit of God. On the road to becoming like the one I follow.
Choosing to accept Christ invitation to follow is a conscious decision. It’s not just an agreement to some spiritual facts. It’s choosing to enter a relationship with Christ with the goal of becoming like Him.
Notice the call from Christ to his disciples. He says, “Come follow me” (Matthew 4:18-22). “Following” and “Disciple” are synonymous. The second those boys chose to follow, which is a significant decision that starts the process, they are considered disciples. If they said, “Nah. I’m good,” they wouldn’t be disciples. Just another person who rejects Christ. But they didn’t. They walked away from their life, their goals, their plans for their future and followed Jesus. It’s as though their entire life to that point just stops and now they start new. They are now His disciples. It is only after their decision to drop their nets and get out of the boat that they follow Christ.
Now they can learn from Jesus and do what He does.
Jesus calls us to make disciples. Not to get people to simply say a prayer and check a box on a card. This isn’t the biblical definition and example of discipleship. I’m pretty sure He isn’t impressed with our numbers as much as He is concerned about our passion for making disciples. Jesus gave His life to make this possible. This is our highest call as followers and leaders. But in our drive to produce we miss the most important step in the process of making disciples. People must first choose to answer Christ’s invitation to follow.
Our methods of discipleship are so important in helping followers of Christ grow toward holiness. It’s not just something we do or trying to meet the “Five Functions of the Church,” but a very high call from our Lord. It should never be reduced to a church growth method. That is, we shouldn’t create great discipleship methods to merely increase our numbers. Can you imagine how Jesus feels about the current trivialization of discipleship? We must lead discipleship with a sense of and in obedience to Christ’s mandate.
This mandate values people who God loves and Jesus gave His life over processes and nose counting.
But the process of discipleship is for those who follow Christ. It’s designed to lead God’s people into becoming more like Christ. It is so much more than great lessons taught by gifted teachers. That’s not how Jesus led His disciples. He taught the truth but also lived it out and allowed them to learn, grow, and make mistakes through the process of doing. This connected the truth with life. It demonstrated the life of a true follower. We are to lay down our lives and follow.
But following precedes discipleship.
What did Jesus say? “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). A clear prerequisite of discipleship that is often omitted when considering our discipleship models. Let’s just grow those groups!
Our process of discipleship must consider the people God allows us to lead. God tells us to exalt Christ, to make Him the priority and passion of our ministries, and then He will bring people to us. I know we like to think it’s because of our great efforts and programs. It’s not. God gives the increase. After all, we aren’t asking kids to join our programs. Right? Is that the end goal?
This means every kid that walks into our church community, through whatever means, is hand delivered to our door by God. So how should we lead the people God brings through our doors? If we are just counting people we are easily satisfied. But if we are seeking to disciple those God brings our way we will take a different, much more focused approach. We will genuinely care about the spiritual condition of every soul. We will care enough to tell them how to follow Christ. If they choose to follow we will break our necks to make sure they connect with the life of Christ and His perfect example of being Christian. This is ministry. There is no greater call. Until ministries fully embrace the mandate of Christ to “Make disciples” and develop a process that follows the biblical pattern of spiritual growth, we will continue to spin in this sick cycle. Just running people who God’s loves through a process with little evidence of spiritual growth.
I see teenagers go through this all the time. They were foolishly enrolled in a group without much consideration to their spiritual condition. They languish under the burden of trying to follow God under their own power. They ultimately become frustrated and walk away or simply put on the mask of a follower to stay connected. They become disillusioned by what they can’t possibly understand without first accepting Christ’s call to follow. We should never become satisfied with just increasing the size of our discipleship groups. This mentality has eternal consequences.
I’m sure I had that experience as a teenager so God could make me extremely sensitive to the process of discipleship. I have this intense desire to lead like Jesus. This requires me to love the students in my community so much that I am clear with them about the central biblical truth of salvation. It creates a desire in me that wants to help them understand where they are spiritually based on God’s word. It also means I want to love them so much that I design a discipleship model that not only teaches the truth of God’s word but provides examples of what that looks like in their daily lives and gives them opportunities to live it out. I never want our discipleship model to create a false sense of security by simply lumping them into a group or class to increase our numbers. And I never want to cause students to walk away from God in frustration because they simply can’t sustain God’s desire for their life. That’s not honest leadership. It’s not how Jesus leads those who dropped their nets and followed.
So. First follow. Then grow. Does this look anything like your current model of discipleship?
- Gospel Driven Discipleship – Go on the Ride for your Life! (mudpreacher.org)
- The call to discipleship (cwrede.wordpress.com)