Hello everyone I hope this finds all of you thriving in the word and Spirit of our Lord and Savior Yeshua HaMashiach.
Before I begin I’d like to state that while I’m no expert on the subject matter of Jewish culture, I have taken time to do some research and have always believed the western church should do more to reconnect with its Jewish roots as there is much we can learn as we study scripture through the mindset of the Jewish men who wrote it.
For this post I’d like to discuss discipleship in the 21st Century western Church.
The reason for the topic is the church where my wife and I attend has been having a weekly discipleship course. The past couple of weeks a few questions have come up regarding the challenges or obstacles the American church faces with actually making true disciples and not merely converts. And this past week the Spirit of God really began to stir me to look deeper into the differences between the way Jesus made disciples and the models the American church attempts to follow.
First off, we know Yeshua commanded the first disciples, and He continues to command His followers through scripture today, in Matthew 28:19 to “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” But what was His model and what made it so successful?
Personally, in order to understand the model Jesus used we must remember Jesus is Jewish. He observed Jewish customs and participated in all the Jewish observances, feasts, and He was probably very involved in the community. The Jewish people are much more community oriented than western society.
I believe when we, American gentiles, read the gospels and the calling of the disciples we tend to see Jesus as this larger than life figure, who had this aura around Him that when He told each of the disciples to follow Him they jumped at the opportunity.
But we read in Isaiah 53:2 that: “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”
The Bible tells us there was nothing in His appearance that would have drawn people to Him. So why did the men He call jump at the opportunity?
If we were to look at a map of ancient Israel we would see that Galilee was a region and that Nazareth was one of many towns or cities within the region.
Most, if not all, of the disciples came from the region of Galilee. Why is this important?
Back in Jesus’ time there were not synagogues on every corner like there are churches in 21st century America. There were possibly one or two synagogues per region and they would serve several towns. In fact, I recently read that archaeologist have only uncovered one synagogue in Galilee that dated back to Jesus time. This means many of the disciples probably knew Jesus long before He began His ministry. They attended synagogue together, they probably went to school with Him, hung out with Him, and their families may have even come to His family when they needed some carpentry work done.
It’s also possible that some of the disciples, when they were children, where in the same synagogue with Jesus when he was 12 years old as is recorded in Luke 2:41-52. They may have been there listening to Him speak to the rabbis before they were summoned back to their parents and left Him at the synagogue. I know all of this might seem a little far fetched when viewed through the western mindset, and there are no written records of this, but if we were to study Jewish culture we would know that whole towns and communities made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. It wasn’t single family units jumping into their wagon and meeting everyone there. No, they traveled as a community of families.
The idea that Jesus was this isolated figure all of His life until He turned 30 and began His ministry is just not true. But that’s what our Western mindset would have us believe.
The truth is, the men that Jesus called observed Him and how He acted and reacted to people. What they saw was more than just His appearance, they saw His compassion, the love He had for others, and I’m sure they listened when He offered advice and knew there was something different about Him.
You see, western thought is that Jesus called all these “strangers”, asked them to blindly open their lives to Him so that He could ask them to do whatever He wanted and they just followed Him around like puppies. As a result we, the American church, believe that by merely spending an hour or two a week with someone gives us the right to speak into that persons life without first earning their trust and proving to them we are trustworthy.
Personally, I believe the western church has lost sight of what it actually means to make a disciple, and be a disciple because it has severed itself from its Jewish roots. I’m not saying that gentiles need to become like Jews, but it would not hurt gentile believers to attempt to have more community within their church body, and by that I mean more than just Wednesday night meals and Sunday services.
Allow me to share from my personal experience. When I finally repented and gave my life to Jesus over 20 years ago I was exceptionally blessed in the early days of my faith walk. I was blessed to have a campus minister, Bart Jones, take the time and get me rooted in the word of God. Secondly, the church I began attending had an international bible study. It met once a week but we met for a couple of hours, sometimes longer. Out of that group there were several people I became friends with and we saw each other more frequently. We had awesome fellowship together. We became close friends. There were nights we stayed up all night praying and worshiping the Lord together. I recall one time we brought in the new year worshiping God all night long! Yes, we were all younger and didn’t have the responsibilities we have today but each person earned the right to speak into each others life. The key word here is, the rights were earned. We encouraged each other. We prayed for each other, and it was through that discipleship experience I grew the deepest in my faith.
To be honest, there’s no way I’m going to open up completely to someone I only see on Sunday. Personally I don’t care how adamant someone may be about accountability, unless you can prove to me I can trust you, you don’t get in, period. In fact, to just blindly open up is very unwise. Proverbs 20:6 says: “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, But who can find a trustworthy man?”
Trust is earned through time spent with someone.
In fact, in John 2:24-25 it says: “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
If Jesus is our model, and He didn’t blindly entrust His time or teachings to just anyone, it’s not wise to entrust our hearts and our walk with the Lord to just anyone either.
So, what should the model of a 21st century western society disciple look like?
The first thing I’d say is we must be a disciple of Jesus and fully submitted to the conviction of the Holy Spirit in our own lives. If we are not submitted to the Lord and we’re not allowing His Spirit to convict us of sin and shape our lives, how in the world can we expect to take someone new in the faith and bring them along beside us? If we don’t allow God to convict and change us what right do we have to speak into anyone else’s life?
Only God’s Spirit within us can bring victory over sin and change us into the image of His awesome Son.
When it comes to discipleship, we must be sure our motivation for doing it is love. We must first love Jesus far beyond everything and everyone, and next we must love the person we are going to disciple. If we attempt to disciple someone out of a fleshly motive it will not produce good fruit. In fact, we could end up doing more harm than good and that’s not something any of us want to answer to God for doing.
Lastly, what would 21st Century discipleship look like?
In my opinion, it would look like friends gathering more than once a week. It would be people unafraid of opening up because the time and effort has been spent to earn the trust of all involved.
Activities could range from game nights, to dinners, or group hikes, or long walks on the weekends.
Once the time and work has been completed and a true discipleship and friendship has begun it would simply look like people who genuinely care about one another and their relationship with Jesus enough that they spend time with each other to continue to grow spiritually in all the ways God has for them.
21st Century western discipleship would look much different than it currently does and who knows, perhaps it could set the world on fire once again.
Thank you for your time and I hope to bring you more through the year.
Till next time:
May the Lord bless you and keep you, May He make His face shine on you and be gracious to you, may He turn His face toward you and give you His shalom.