The concept of discipleship was ingrained in me early on:
Who is discipling you? and who are you discipling? were familiar questions.
It was normal to be in a discipleship group–a group that taught the ways of Jesus. The motive was (and is) pure and good.
However, over the years, I have discovered that neither the words ‘discipleship’ nor ‘discipling’ are in the Bible. From all I can surmise, we made up those words over time to describe what we are doing.
Apparently we in Christendom, pure heartedly, have veered off course. Way off course. Let me explain my point of view.
At age 24, I went to seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I had been working with teenagers since I was 19. I had quite a bit of favor with teenagers (youth) but no education in that area. The next seemingly apparent step was to earn my Masters in Religious Education.
Early on during my time at this fine institution of higher learning, I found a church that I liked. What I really, really liked most about this church was my Sunday School teacher. His name was Dr. Stan Lee. He and his wife, Marlene, were real life missionaries in a foreign land. For some reason, though, they were temporarily at this church. While there, Dr. Lee taught Sunday School.
Each Sunday I, along with a few others, went early just so we could watch him as he prepped to teach. He would stand in front of two chalkboards for a bit and just stare at them.
And then, as if an unseen checkered flag dropped, he began to write—he wrote and wrote until both chalkboards were filled up. And the words he wrote were full of RAW LIFE. Then Dr. Lee took the next 45 minutes or so and spoke about all the words on the board. Again, LIFE. I was mesmerized, challenged, and hungry for more!
One Sunday I got up the nerve to wait after class to ask Dr. Lee one simple question, “will you disciple me?”
Side note: I was naïve about the obvious taboo male/female discipleship thing. However, I was very pure hearted and eager to get more of this life-filled teaching, which is what I believed discipleship was.
Awkwardness appeared. Dr. Lee looked angst. Yes, my query was definitely troubling him.
He looked away, looked back at me and looked away again. He opened his mouth, closed it, and after a few more seconds, he spoke slowly methodically and this is what he said: “Only One disciples. And his name is Jesus. I disciple no one.”
I smiled politely, curtsied and excused myself. (Okay, I didn’t curtsy, but I did hightail it out of there.)
I was so embarrassed. What the heck did he mean?? I had asked a very common Christian-type question and he, figuratively, slammed me.
Yet, I really heard what he said. I thought about it a lot. And over the days, weeks, months, and years to come, it resounded. It resonated.
And it altered my life’s trajectory.
That very day, Dr. Lee contributed to making me a disciple as well as giving me a much greater understanding to actually what making a disciple meant and means.
“Go and make disciples…” was the very thing that Jesus told all of us to do in, what we call, the Great Commission. Disciple means a devoted follower. Dr. Lee didn’t mind teaching me; he simply did not want me to follow him.
Jesus did NOT tell me (or any of us) to disciple anyone.
If someone is discipling me, I am following them.
If I disciple someone, then they are following me.
If I am making disciples (devoted followers), then I am pushing them (or compelling them) to follow the One and only person that God wants us to follow, that is Jesus.
Over time, I have learned the simplicity of what it means to go straight to Jesus. I am still learning how to walk with him and talk with him and most of all, listen to and follow him.
I have learned that he is life and gives his life freely. I have learned that his yoke (teachings) are easy (oh, so easy) and the burden (expectations) he places on me is oh. So. Light.
I am his disciple. And the way I make disciples is to push others (believers and unbelievers alike) to him. Again, I am here to push people to him, not to bring them to me.
Yes, I teach. (And listen to other’s teachings.)
Yes, I equip. (This is what I think most people are actually doing when they are discipling others. I do think the semantics are important.)
Yes, I mentor. (And have a few mentors that I can call on.)
Yes, I make disciples. (That is now normal, and very easy.)
But, no, I do not disciple, because that is not what he asks me to do.
Thank you, Dr. Lee, for not discipling me, but instead for doing what all of us are called to do: for (contributing to) making me a disciple.