This is part of our blog series from the free eBook Evangelism or Discipleship: Can They Effectively Work Together?
In the last post we said that perhaps our discipleship efforts are missing something. Here’s why we think this is…
“Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matt. 28:20, NLT).
The process of what we call discipleship is to be modeled after Jesus’ example with His own disciples. While this would seem obvious, unfortunately the contemporary church has greatly neglected it. Jesus entered into relationship with His men and trained them on the job. Over the course of His ministry on earth, the disciples observed Him and questioned Him; He shocked them, scandalized them, scared them, explained His teaching to them, and then asked them to try it out for themselves. They were connected to Him through His belief in them, the authority of His call, the power of His life and His clear focus on His mission to seek and save (Luke 19:10).
Because He knew them well, He was able to teach them deeply. That familiarity is easy to miss in the scriptures, but in the first few days Jesus spent with Peter, Nathanial, John, Andrew and Philip, He revealed He knew their hearts and motivations. He even gave them nicknames (John 1:35-51). Jesus gave His disciples what so many ministry leaders today are not willing to give—significant chunks of time. Some theologians estimate that He spent 90 percent of His time with the 12 men. A very private life in a way, but how He discipled had a very public impact. Many effective leaders spend large amounts of time alone or with a few others. Remember Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; He mentioned His followers more than 40 times. He knew he was entrusting the mission to them. In that prayer, He asked His father to take care of them (John 17:1-26). Because He considered them the key to His mission to redeem and restore the world, He made His most important time investment in His disciples
We’re not throwing a blanket over all ministry leaders and saying they don’t invest in others. But we will say that the leaders who do are in the minority and that most of the time their intentions are scattered. Jesus told us what the curriculum would be—not just any curriculum, not just any fashionable trend, but something simple, yet difficult. In fact, He said it would be so difficult that many would choose not to follow it. At its core, His curriculum would require every leader to do what He did: to lead, to be an example, to risk failure and to go against the grain of easy, fast success. It would be to “teach them to obey.” It would be personal, relational, slow, discouraging, ordinary and unnoticed by many. This is particularly true in our time. When you drop off the grid to engage in this kind of work, you don’t exist in the public eye.
Bobby Harrington, author of this blog, serves as Executive Director of Discipleship·org, which hosts the National Disciple Making Forum in Nashville, Tennessee! Join us in Nashville for this life-changing event. Click here to claim your seat now.
We have much teaching about what is right and wrong. You’ll find no shortage of teaching on moral behavior, and on doing important work around the world. In fact, you can find an avalanche of books, videos, conferences and social media pundits that remind us of what we should and should not do. But precious few committed pastors and leaders are teaching us how to become what is needed to carry out the Great Commission. The great omission in the Great Commission is the absence of accountability. The words of Dallas Willard come to mind:
“Ministers pay far too much attention to people who do not come to services. Those people should generally be given exactly that disregard by the pastor that they give to Christ. The Christian leader has something much more important to do than pursue the godless. The leader’s task is to equip saints until they are like Christ, and history and the God of history waits for him to do this job.”
If someone is anxious about the mission to seek and save those in need of Christ, the most important decision to navigate that anxiety comes from the pastor. What are his plans for the people of his congregation? That decision will determine what he does with his gifts, his time and his heart. The first accountability lies with the minister, pastor or leader. In Matt. 28:19-20, Jesus says that if you want Him to bless your effort—and stay with you to the end of it—then your effort must center on teaching people to obey everything He commanded.
In the church, we often talk about accountability more than we practice it because accountability and the commitment it requires can be unpleasant. In our (Bill and Bobby) most candid moments, we admit that the most important relationships in our lives have included some quarreling. No good relationship is conflict-free. This is true in our prayers, and in our discussions with spouses and close associates. Without some degree of frustration and disagreement, we can’t truly know and care about another person. We know that getting close to someone requires the risk of getting hurt and disappointed. Quite naturally, for those seeking to live trouble-free lives, accountability becomes something to be avoided.
This comes from the free eBook Evangelism or Discipleship, which you can download here.
When we work accountability into our lives, we begin to cultivate order and effectiveness. That is, until someone breaks rank or doesn’t show up or threatens group morale. Accountability is very comforting to a leader until someone who has agreed to it decides they don’t want to do whatever they have agreed to do. The simple truth is that if someone isn’t following through on a commitment, he is either unwilling or unable. If he is unwilling, it is a spiritual issue; if unable, often it is a time management issue. Both can be painful and messy. That’s why many leaders choose to insulate themselves from the process.
But when it comes to making disciples, to seeking and saving those who need God, accountability is the necessary missing piece. It must be done. And God has promised to stick with us until the job is done.
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NLT).
The promise is for those who are committed to this process. You can’t count on this promise if you’re wandering and meandering through life. In the next chapter, we’ll look at Paul’s understanding of how the church is called to practice Jesus’ commission to discipleship and evangelism.
1.See Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship (New York: HarperOne, 2006), p xi.
Written by Bill Hull and Bobby Harrington
Bill Hull is a Co-Founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Bill’s passion is to help the Church return to its disciple making roots. He considers himself a discipleship evangelist. This God-given desire has manifested itself in 20 years of pastoring and the authorship of many books. Two of his more important books Jesus Christ Disciple Maker and The Disciple Making Pastor have both celebrated 20 years in print. Add a third in the popular trilogy, “The Disciple Making Church,”and you have a new paradigm for disciple making.
Bobby Harrington is the Executive Director of Discipleship.org, a national platform, conference, and ministry that advocates for Jesus’ style of disciple making. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN). He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in consulting and has spent years as a coach to church planters and senior pastors. He is the author of several books on discipleship, including DiscipleShift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman) and The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick).
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