It helps to view discipleship as a continuum. Instead of falling lockstep into a single method, it’s best to view discipleship as a spectrum along which any gospel-related activity can fall. It’s worth quoting Wilkins again: “discipleship is not just one aspect of the church’s mission, but it encompasses all that the church does.”16 If we view the church’s activities through the lens of discipleship, everything will have a unifying purpose. This does not diminish the roles of other aspects of the gospel but enhances them. Because discipleship is a pretext for all gospel activity, it puts them in perspective and also gives them context. David Platt says it best: “Disciple making is not about a program or an event but about a relationship. As we share the gospel, we impart life, and this is the essence of making disciples. Sharing the life of Christ.”17 Interpreting our lives through discipleship brings us into harmony with the Great Commission and provides cohesion to our efforts. All means work toward a single end, for the gospel and for the glory of God.
And on the practical level, viewing discipleship as a continuum helps us visualize how our efforts fit into the big picture. We might see how in some situations one-on-one mentoring may not be a good fit and why a triad might be a better option, or how a small group of committed, passionate Christian disciples can lead to other ministry opportunities. The keys are flexibility and adaptability. Anyone who’s seen the film Heartbreak Ridge knows that Marines improvise, adapt, and overcome. We specialize in regimen, discipline, and order. But contrary to the stereotype, we are neither rigid nor inflexible. We are one of the most flexible organizations on the planet. We are put into chaotic situations where those disciplines provide a point of departure from which we operate. Our actions?informed by training and discipline?are situation-dependent and vary, but the principles upon which they are based are fixed. This serves as a great illustration for our vision of discipleship. While the means by which we disciple may differ, the principles do not. We are to love God and love others, and the situation will drive the method of discipleship.
Regardless of the shape of our vision, it’s useless unless it starts with you and me. The Great Commission is not an abstract doctrine to be relegated to theologians or left for missionaries. It’s our mission and we must act. As Dietrich Bonheoffer stated, “The life of discipleship is . . . obedience to the Son of God,” and, “It is now only a question of yes or no, of obedience or disobedience.”18 If we choose the life of discipleship, “We must get into action and obey.”19 So let’s join CSLI in the Decade of Discipleship by casting our own vision. We cannot wait for it to come from the pulpit or for a church committee to implement a formal discipleship program. We should encourage this but not wait for it.
I challenge you to look at the spheres in which you live, work and play and consider the opportunities before you. For some, the workplace is a harvest waiting to be reaped. For others it may be your neighborhood. For all of us, the church is a great place to start. Let’s reclaim our churches from MTD and reverse the trend of nominalism. Let’s stop blaming the ills of the church on the world and pinning our hopes on politics. Let’s stop blaming the pastorate by examining ourselves and realizing that it starts with us. If we will invest in the lives of a few at a time with the intent to reproduce and multiply, we will make ripples that will extend beyond our line of sight. And if we share this vision and encourage others to do the same, we’ll create a community of committed, thriving Christian disciples fulfilling the Great Commission. Let’s teach our youth and watch it transform them. Let’s encourage an older generation to mentor a younger one. Let’s teach it in our small groups and form triads of our own. Let’s seek people in whom we can invest our lives and disciple through the ministries in which God has placed us. Let discipleship unite us in the building up of the body of Christ in the knowledge of God, and let us respond as the Twelve did to our Lord: with obedience.20
1. Kerry Knott, “Sparking a Discipleship Movement”, C.S. Lewis Institute, http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/blog/2011/06/sparking-a-discipleship-mov... (June 1, 2011).
2. Thomas A. Tarrants, “The Transforming Impact of True Discipleship,” Knowing & Doing (Spring 2011), 1.
3. David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010), 3.
4. Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 153.
5. Michael J. Wilkins, “Discipleship for Changing Times and Ministries,” Knowing & Doing (Spring 2011), 8.
6. Ibid., 30.
7. John Stott, The Radical Disciple (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 13.
8. Ibid., 14.
9. Knott, “Sparking a Discipleship Movement”.
10. For a thorough treatment of this deficit, I highly encourage you to read Greg Ogden, “The Discipleship Deficit: Where Have All the Disciples Gone?,” Knowing & Doing (Spring 2011), 6–7, 24–28.
11. For a detailed explanation of triads and quads and the advantages/disadvantages of small groups, teaching, preaching, and discipling see Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship, particularly chapter 8.
12. Platt, Radical, 50: “We can so easily deceive ourselves, mistaking the presence of physical bodies in a crowd for the existence of spiritual life in a community.”
13. Michael J. Wilkins, In His Image: Reflecting Christ in Everyday Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), 49: “Sadly, too often in Christianity we have taken a cookie-cutter approach to Christian discipleship.”
14. Wilkins, In His Image, 52. See also Thomas A. Tarrants, “The Grace of God,” CS Lewis Institute lecture, 2007: “[You must] live this out exactly where God has you. We don’t need more people going to seminary. In fact, you could argue the case that we’ve had too much of that. Seminaries have killed off the churches in many places. What we need [are] people just like us living out the Gospel in the midst of the people God has surrounded us with who don’t know the Lord.” It can be found at www.cslewisinstitute.org/node/332.
15. Ogden, Transforming Discipleship, 134.
16. Wilkins, “Discipleship for Changing Times and Ministries,” 30.
17. Platt, Radical, 96.
18. Dietrich Bonheoffer, The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R.H. Fuller (1959; repr., New York: Touchstone, 1995), 76, 78.
19. Ibid., 78. See also 61: “But then discipleship can tolerate no conditions which might come between Jesus and our obedience to him.”
20. Ibid., 57; see also Ephesians 4 and Mark 2.
To hear Karl Johnson’s thoughts about the Fellows Program please go to:
Karl Johnson, Lt. Col., USMC, is an active duty Marine and a C.S. Lewis Institute Fellow. He also serves as vice president of the Tun Tavern Fellowship, a network of Christians in the Marine Corps. He credits the Fellows Program with providing the vehicle and context by which his faith was sharpened, focused, and refined. Karl’s passion for discipleship has grown into a calling, and he desires to pursue formal studies upon his retirement from the Marine Corps this summer. He is currently stationed in southern California with his wife, Nidia, and two daughters.
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