Look around at the Christians you already know. How would you define what a follower of Jesus really looks like? Perhaps your list looks something like this:
- Careful student of Scripture
- Zealous and active in their stand for God
- Appetite for worship and prayer
- Consistent in worship attendance
- Practices Scripture memorization
- Not afraid to pray in public
- Active in the local church
- Fasts and tithes regularly
- Has desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
- Has firm grasp of basic foundational theological truth
For a long time I thought this is what would bring honor to God and help me become more like Jesus. In my early years of ministry, when I was young and stupid, I thought helping people to “look like this” was making disciples. But look again; these are behavior traits not of Jesus’ disciples, but of His chief opponents, the Pharisees.
I’m convinced that real-life discipleship (becoming more like Jesus in character and attitude over a lifetime) is what happens between the gathering times at church. What are people like at home, at school, in the lunchroom, in the office, on dates, at parties, in the locker room, in the boardroom, on the computer, or the after-school job? What are they like when no one is looking? Do they demonstrate unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, concern for others, kindness, servanthood?
Real-life discipleship is marked more by footprints than by monuments. For me, discipleship focuses on our long-term commitments rather than a one-time decision to “accept Christ.” It is forward motion, a journey, a marathon. People may look at imperfection and failures of so-called Christians, but remember that the word disciple means learner, not expert.
Basically, what we need is to develop what I call a firsthand faith. This is not faith that is inherited from parents, or Sunday school teachers, or the pastor, but we take ownership of our own faith. Once faith becomes firsthand, it transforms into a conviction that will not be swayed by competing worldviews or other religions. Is there little wonder why teenagers often leave the faith when they leave home, but also graduate God after they graduate high school?
The church must stop trying to cram our bags with only the right beliefs and make us carry it because they said so. Rather, use questions and strategies that help people unpack the baggage they’ve been carrying. Re-examine the faith they have and discover why it’s in there.
My mentor Rick Leineweber gave me this definition of a disciple; “A disciple is a follower of Jesus who is developing the convictions, character, competencies, and compassion of Jesus, and at the same time, leading others to do the same.” These four mentioned areas deal with the head, heart, hands, and heels of the person.
For more on this topic of discipleship, find my booklet called, “The Discipleship Pathway.”
After all this, what should a disciple actually look like? Check this out.