This issue of Havurah examines discipleship from many angles. I hope you’ll read all the articles. Yeshua told us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19) and we need to obey Him.
However, our need to be discipled, no matter how long we’ve called on the name of Yeshua as our Messiah, is also important.
The saying holds true: We should all have a Paul and a Timothy in our lives. All of us ought to involve ourselves in the life of a younger brother or sister in the Lord with whom we have a discipleship ministry. At the same time, we must continue to learn and receive spiritual truth from others more mature than ourselves.
Dr. J. Robert Clinton, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, defines discipleship as …the process of developing a believer. A disciple is…a committed believer who increasingly is dependent upon Christ as life, who communicates with God, who uses his or her gifts to minister to God and others, and who relates to and depends upon others in the Body in order to live a life that is both personally satisfying and meaningful to God’s Kingdom.”
In other words, we never finish becoming disciples. There are at least two reasons why we need to continue in the process.
First, we all need the accountability that discipleship affords.
Have you ever met a believer in Jesus whose theology is strange (unbiblical) or whose behavior is not becoming to a follower of Yeshua? Why do some people who have been in the faith a long time still seem so spiritually “unkosher”?
Many believers develop and cling to sub-biblical behaviors or beliefs because they never learned good ones—whether for lack of teachers or lack of discipline. Others had good spiritual grounding. Unfortunately, they reached a point where they stopped hearing from sensible believers and began listening to poor teachers or no teachers at all.
When we lose forward movement spiritually, we tend to go backwards. That is the first reason why all of us should continue being discipled.
Twelve-step program leaders understand that each member needs a sponsor. Without that kind of support, the addict may resort to old behaviors.
We need to recognize that all of us have patterns of sin in our lives that are somewhat addictive—some struggles that just never seem to go away.
The Apostle Paul spoke very honestly, humbly and vividly of his own struggle in Romans 7:14-25. Take a moment to read that passage. Which of us has not, at times, identified with Paul’s battle? It is not the kind of struggle we can win alone.
We all have sins that easily entangle us. They might be sexual sins, substance addictions, or sins of speech such as gossip and slander. Other common sins are prayerlessness, hatred, selfish ambition and jealousy.
Many believers are adept at hiding these sins from others. Ultimately, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Luke 12:2). Why wait for that day when we can save much heartache by dealing with sin here and now?
If I approach my faith as a lone ranger and never make myself accountable to others, I set myself up to fail. I may drift into unbiblical beliefs. I may justify behavior that displeases God. With no one to correct us, we will stray off the straight and narrow path of righteousness in some way. This makes us ineffective as God’s servants, bound for heaven, but no earthly good. If we want to obey Yeshua’s command to make disciples, we must never stop learning how to be disciples.
Proverbs 10:17 says that if we ignore correction, we lead others astray. Our problem does not remain ours alone. We hurt others through our pride and willful isolation from those who would speak truth into our lives.
Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” After more than 25 years as a believer, I know that I still need to be accountable to others. When I’m not, I fall into a pattern of inconsistency in my walk with God.
There is another, more positive reason why we should continue in the process of learning to follow Yeshua. No matter where you are in your life as a believer, God has more for you. There is an ever-increasing intimacy with Him, an ever-deepening joy in knowing Him and ever-expanding opportunities to serve and be used by Him. Don’t ever think that you have learned all you can possibly learn about God in this life, that you have experienced as close a walk as you can this side of heaven. Don’t ever think that your potential to serve Him is limited to the life you are living today.
Just as accountability is a crucial part of discipleship to prevent us from falling, role models are crucial to the aspect of discipleship that keeps us moving forward.
Your role model doesn’t have to be one particular person. And, unlike those to whom you need to be accountable, your role model does not even have to be someone you speak to. A mentoring relationship where you can spend time learning from someone older and wiser than you is ideal, but not always possible—particularly if you already fall into the category of “older and wiser.” However, if you are intent on finding role models, you will, regardless of your age or spiritual maturity.
You can find role models in biographies of great men and women of God. You can find them in the character of people around you, as you discern which aspects of their lives you want to imitate and which aspects you should learn to avoid. Yeshua is our ultimate role model. Learn to recognize Him in others, regardless of their age or station in life, and follow their example. Be quick to discuss spiritual matters with believers around you, and you may be surprised by the insights they can share with you.
We all need accountability and we all need role models. Leaders, pastors and rabbis need someone to whom they can give account. It’s best if they choose others in ministry or people whom they do not lead. No matter what your position in the Body of Messiah, give someone you trust permission to ask you about areas of your life where godliness doesn’t come easily. A direct question—before something goes too far or gets out of hand—can prevent many tears. Our honest admission of failure and sin can help change and heal us.
Remember to keep striving for that forward movement as well, seeking role models who demonstrate God’s Word in action. Let your walk with Yeshua be a great adventure in which you continue to become more like Him. You will not only experience a greater joy and peace despite life’s hardships; you will be more able to help others see His glory and grace.
As we endeavor to disciple others, let us remember that we, too, need to continue being discipled. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24, 25).