Traditionally (at least for the last fifty years) we have thought of discipleship as something that starts at the moment of conversion and moves forward. But is this true? I would suggest that there is a broader and more helpful way to think about this topic.
I think discipleship begins at the point when two people meet. A discipleship construct is being negotiated at that instant. Each person is deciding whether they will be a disciple (follower) of the other. This social construct is part of all of life’s relationships and one, unfortunately, which we have not recognized as part of the discipleship process. Discipleship is not strictly a Christian construct. Every day we meet new people we make a decision as to whether to continue the relationship. Discipleship routinely takes place in all aspects of life, most of the time without a conscious thought. Social media has some great examples of this concept. Every time you send a “Friend Request” on Facebook, you are asking someone to follow you – i.e. become your disciple. Twitter and Pinterest might be the most blatant illustration of this idea. When surfing the website a user may sign up to “Follow” another person who shares similar tastes or has interesting ideas. In other words, they chose to become a disciple. In all instances, as people follow others, they are being discipled into whatever is important to the relationship. This may be related to sports, skill development, recreational activities, or any other aspect of life. When we meet someone, the decision about becoming a follower is being discussed (probably non-verbally and possibly unconsciously). Some of the questions being considered are: (1) Is the relationship going to continue? (2) Toward what end is the discipleship going? and (3) How long will it continue? When we meet someone and go through this process we need to think through one more question – 4) Am I taking them to Jesus? As Christians we should be seeking ways to disciple people we meet toward salvation and on into eternity. Every encounter is a discipleship opportunity. People are looking for answers and we have them. If you have read this far into this article you probably are thinking that this has an “old time evangelism” feel. While I agree that it is evangelism (i.e. introducing people to Jesus) it is not the “traditional evangelism” which has been practiced during the last fifty plus years (i.e. confrontational evangelism). At the same time it is not what traditionally has been called relational evangelism (i.e. developing relationships with the purpose of evangelizing). It is, though, living life and investing in others as they invest in you. Next month we will pursue this thought as we try to understand what has kept people from discipling others and helping them find Jesus. Hopefully, we will discover that what we are talking about is not a program or a memory aid to share Jesus, but a life to be lived and a hope to be shared