It is interesting when you talk to people about discipleship that they almost always think only in terms of one-to-one informal meet-ups. One-to-ones are great, as far as they go. I don’t see a right lot of them in the Bible though. Informal meet ups are also great, as far as they go. I see a bit more of that kind of thing in the Bible, though it is rarely scheduled in as far as I can tell. Neither thing is bad or wrong; in fact, they are quite good and well worth doing. There is clearly a lot to be said for meeting up with people and chatting about Jesus.
I am just keen to make sure that, when it comes to discipleship, we don’t forget the formal stuff. Indeed, these are often the things the Bible specifically calls us to do to achieve what God wants rather than stuff we think (albeit legitimately) might be a good means of achieving something else the Bible wants us to do. So, we can be quick to talk about reading Christian books and one-to-one discipleship – both potentially good means of achieving the discipleship the Bible calls us to, though means of achieving it the Bible doesn’t specifically call us to do – whilst overlooking things like the preaching of the Word that the Bible specifically calls us to do.
I wonder, sometimes, whether something goes on that doesn’t consider the formal aspects of church life – Sunday sermons, communion, bible studies and prayer meetings – to be properly a part of discipleship. Discipleship, for many, is all that informal stuff you might do outside of church. It’s the stuff you do to talk about Jesus with other believers when you aren’t together on a Sunday or you’re just getting about living out your ordinary Christian life. I’m not quite sure what we categorise as the more formal stuff, but discipleship usually isn’t it.
Again, I’m not saying that informal stuff is unhelpful or wrong. Far from it. Much of it is good, right and proper. Many of our churches could do with much more of it going on. I’m just conscious I don’t want us to forget that the formal stuff is discipleship too.
Perhaps, at this point, a basic definition of discipleship wouldn’t go amiss. I consider discipleship to be anything that aims to cause us to press on and grow as disciples of Jesus. So, if we think of two big tasks of the church – evangelism and discipleship – evangelism is telling unbelievers about Jesus so they might come to know him personally whereas discipleship is telling believers about Jesus so they might grow up in him to maturity. So, anything that is aiming to help believers grow up to maturity in Christ can properly be called discipleship.
If we are alright with that definition (feel free to have a go at it on your social media platform of choice!) then both formal and informal stuff can rightly be called discipleship. The preaching of the Word on Sunday morning, that is designed to help you understand scripture and apply it to your life so that you might grow in christlikeness, is properly discipleship. The Bible Study midweek that is seeking to apply the truths of scripture to your situation, to help you see Jesus more clearly, to help you change and become more like him is properly discipleship. The one-to-one meeting you had with someone over breakfast to chat about a Christian book you had been reading to see how it might help you grow up in Jesus is properly discipleship. The family that invited you over for lunch and wanted to hang out with you as they get about their ordinary everyday stuff because it is good for you to see how Christians live day by day in Christ is properly discipleship.
What all these things have in common in the desire to help believers grow up in Christ. They are designed to help them understand the Word better, to apply the truths of scripture to themselves, to see something of the gospel more clearly or to see how these things are practically applied (and can be copied). All of these things are discipleship, both the formal and informal.
I sometimes wonder, because things like listening to preaching and singing songs happens every week, whether we sometimes come to disregard these things. These are not the proper things of discipleship. It’s only that extra stuff. The stuff that goes beyond. That gives me something more. This is proper discipleship. Well, some of that stuff might be, but so is the formal, weekly, routine stuff too. Don’t despise it because it is routine, recognise it is designed to help you grow up to maturity in Christ as much as any meet up or informal chat you might have informally outside of Sunday. Indeed, much of this formal stuff has been ordained by God as the primary means of growing his people. If we can’t call that discipleship, what can be called discipleship?
So, I am not knocking the informal stuff. It can be really important. Meeting up and talking about Christ informally is great. Let’s just not forget, formally sitting down to study the word in community is a God-ordained means of growth too. Discipleship isn’t only informal, but extends to the routine, weekly stuff most churches do too. Let’s not forsake it.