Discipled by a Baptist
In the first year of my ministry, I got networked with a Baptist youth pastor in my community. We were each fascinated by the other’s heritage. In particular, he wanted to know how we Lutherans did confirmation. He was intrigued by the formality of the process, the theological depth, and the importance the whole congregation placed on it. “We would love to start confirmation,” he said. I laughed.
On the flip side, I was intrigued by what they called “discipleship.” (This was the topic for Regeneration 2.0 in Milwaukee.) As Lutherans, we mostly use this term in reference to its Scriptural occurrences. We typically don’t talk about discipleship in terms of a present day process of spiritual apprenticeship (although confirmation is this to a degree). I admired the fact that he would take 4 younger men with him wherever he went. They watched his ministry first-hand. They debriefed in the car-ride home. He met with them intentionally for Bible study and general discussions about their lives. They simply had a culture of discipleship, where spiritual fathers poured into the lives of sons, and spiritual mothers into daughters.
There is a simplicity to discipleship. Christ lived with 12 guys for three years. Certainly there was formal instruction (Sermon on the Mount). And there was on-the-job training (sending them out in two’s). And there was “watch what I do” (healing, or his responses to the Pharisee’s opposition). Regardless of the pedagogical format, discipleship at its core is simply following the Master, a response to Jesus’ invitation to “follow me” (Matt. 4:19-22).
I have come to believe that the future of my congregation necessitates a strong culture of discipleship. Our mission includes the serious engagement of a large number of non-Christians. “Coming to church” will NOT be how we engage them. Therefore we will need every one of our members actively witnessing to and discipling large numbers of people in our community.
As a pastor, my wife would leave me if my job was to reach and disciple 500 people in my city. The 90 hour weeks would rightfully incur her wrath. So I have begun an intentional process. First, I am discipled by a team of older, wiser men. This includes an 80-year-old pastor with 56 years of ministry experience. I want to be him when I grow up.
Second, I am discipling young elders in our church. Monthly gatherings. Reading Scripture together. Discussing real life ministry scenarios. Teaching them how to teach our new member class. And we’re planning a retreat together. I want to pour into 5 guys who will in turn lead 25 others. And I want those 25 others to reach 10 people each. Then we’re halfway to 500.
I have a long way to go in this discipleship process. After all, Eugene Peterson calls it “a long obedience in the same direction.” Jesus lived with 12 guys for three years, and in many respects they didn’t learn much (until the Holy Spirit possessed them at Pentecost). I have been working with a document we call “The Profile of a Missionary Disciple.” It is centered on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, and lays out the basic areas of discipleship we seek for every member. What’s your experience? Can you disciple me in discipleship? A Baptist youth pastor has . . .