Creating Disciples

I was in college in the mid-70s when an extreme discipleship program reached out and touched me.

It was the Shepherding Movement that began with a group of six prominent Charismatic pastors. These pastors developed a system of accountability that spread throughout the charismatic movement. It was built on a covenant of submission so complete that shepherds even dictated decisions on personal matters such as marriage. The leading pastors shepherded individuals, who then shepherded others, who shepherded others in a pyramid of authority resembling a multilevel marketing program.

I was surprised when one of my fellow college students tried to recruit me into an accountability relationship with him as my shepherd. I declined.

Creating Disciples

The Problem with Many Discipleship Programs

The Shepherding Movement was very extreme, but other discipleship programs have similar deficiencies. As part of evangelism, discipleship is supposed to bring a new believer to spiritual maturity, but much of discipleship involves telling the new believer what to believe and how to act.

This discipleship is much like creating someone in my image—much as I have been created in someone else’s image: believe what I believe; do what I do. If you don’t, then you have failed as a believer and I have not discipled you.

Discipleship is often about authority and dependence; the new believer is more an apprentice than a friend. Discipleship is often about doctrines and rules of behavior instead of learning to internalize Jesus’ principles of loving the Father, ourselves, and others. Discipleship is often about judgment, correction, and conformity.

The way many conservative churches promote discipleship reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 23:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

Be a Mentor—not a Discipler

I think new believers do need assistance as they grow in following Jesus, but they don’t need someone to dictate to them how to think or act. They don’t need someone to hold them accountable. Instead, they need mentors (hopefully more than one) to help them as they grow.

We are mentors—not masters, and mentoring is a voluntary relationship. As mentors, our place is to:

    • Answer questions
    • Offer suggestions
    • Let them decide
    • Provide support
    • Point them to Jesus

But we are not to hold those we mentor accountable to us—that’s not our job; they are accountable to Jesus and their own hearts. And we are not to substitute our thoughts and conclusions for theirs; we must respect them as intelligent people, allow them to think for themselves, and let them come to their own conclusions about what to believe and how to behave.

They shouldn’t follow us; they should follow Jesus. Our objective should be to point them to Jesus and let them learn from him.

I Have No Disciples

In my earlier days I was very willing to tell other believers what they should do and how they should act, but I haven’t done that in many years.

All I am is a fellow follower of Jesus and a fellow traveler on the road of spiritual development. If other travelers can benefit from things I have learned on my long journey then I am willing to share, but I have no authority over Jesus’ followers and I have no business judging them.

If someone asks me, or if I have an established trusting relationship, I am happy to share why I think or act as I do, but even then I rarely offer strong recommendations. Their journey is their own journey. I can make helpful suggestions, but they are only opinions; the choice and responsibility is theirs.

I think we have distorted the concept of discipleship as making people into copies of ourselves by telling them what to do and how to think. Though we who are farther in our journey might help them as models, we have no right to dictate to anyone.

The Passion of My Blog

In his letters, the apostle Paul stood firmly against the Judaizers who wanted to circumcise gentile believers; Paul did not tolerate the teaching of Jesus + (something). I call that ‘something’ baggage, and this is the theme and passion of my entire blog.

I see that some Christians today are much like the Pharisees and the Judaizers—heaping burdens and judgments on the people the Father loves and to whom Jesus brings peace and reconciliation.

My mission is to share the good news of Jesus and to expose the baggage that burdens believers down and distracts them from following him in peace, freedom, and love. I am no authority for anyone; I am only a follower of Jesus who has journeyed for more than fifty years and learned many things. If those things are helpful to others, especially those still struggling with religious baggage, then I am content.

Photo Credit: PolandMFA via Compfight cc
I invite your comments and observations below.
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Have a great day! ~Tim
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20 Responses to Creating Disciples

  1. michaeleeast says:

    I think you are a role model in the way you mentor others.
    An Indian yogi once said to me “About development nothing can be said for certain,”
    This leaves us with tremendous freedom.
    Our job is to be sign posts..


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.


  3. Marc says:

    I like what Michael said about being sign posts. In the beginning followers of Jesus Christ were called followers of “the way.” The twelve Disciples became the Apostles to share with others the teaching (or discipline) of “the way.” The Apostles ordained many to be bishops, presbyters, and deacons to bring Holy Order to the followers of “the way.” These leaders of the early Church were those whose lives reflected the discipline of “the way.” As proven disciples of Jesus Christ they became sign posts for the other to follow.

    Because the Biblical criteria for leadership is often ignored among all Christian communities, unfit individuals have often entered into positions of authority. These people often have the capacity to appeal to those who will not take control of their own lives, thus forming a cult of personality with all kinds of abuse. This is some of the worst kind of baggage, and should be discarded where found. True discipleship is to strive to discipline ourselves to follow the way of love revealed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Other can serve as mentors and sign posts, but we must take responsibility for our own lives and not give control to someone else.


  4. Chas says:

    Tim. I am required to return again: for how long I do not know. The experience that God has given me strongly supports what you have written, because many church leaders try to impose their own views and beliefs on their flock, rather than offer guidance that is to be accepted, or rejected.

    There are three passages in the Bible that are relevant:
    James 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

    Matthew 18:4-6 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me, but if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

    Acts 4:18-19 Then they (the Sanhedrin) called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, but Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.”

    The last of these shows us that we should not obey anyone in temporal authority, but only God, and even in that passage those in authority are invited to make the decision for themselves.


  5. sheila0405 says:

    Reblogged this on temporary and commented:
    Another re-blog!


  6. sheila0405 says:

    None of the churches I attended had radical discipling, as you describe. In my own experience, people were encouraged to break into smaller groups, with each group having someone as a guide. S/he was referred to as the “leader”, but generally the groups studied the Bible or a Christian book, and used the “iron sharpens iron” approach. Of course, each group had to promote the doctrine of the particular church in which it met. A good group would be like this blog, with ideas being debated and hashed out. A poor group would center only on what that church held as essentials to the faith.

    I often think about the problem of discipling new followers of Jesus in a mega church setting. When you have multiple thousands of members, how can that work? Maybe you can address that in another post.


    • Sheila, I don’t know how discipling would work in a mega-church, but I suspect it would be based on relationships. In the largest church I attended (about 2000 attendance), most of the direction was in the preaching of the pastor; that is not a lot of relationship.


  7. fiddlrts says:

    I am reminded of an anonymous poem my pastor shared with us some time ago:

    Believe what I believe – no more, no less,
    That I am right, and no one else confess,
    Feel as I feel, think only as I think,
    Eat what I eat and drink what I drink;
    Look as I look, do only as I do,
    Then, and only then, will I fellowship with you.


  8. Wow Fiddlrts, this poem really captures the attitude in some Christian circles!


  9. Chas says:

    Tim. The other thing that has struck me about this is that throughout the world there is a tendency for people in positions of authority/power to try to force other people to do what they want them to do. This goes against God having given us free will, because these people are trying to steal free will from others, so we can see that such people are working against God. This in turn shows that certain strands of Islam are wrong to try to impose the wearing of the Hijab and Burkha on women.


    • Yes, enforced tradition is not limited to conservative Christians. “You must do and believe as I tell you. I know it is the right way because someone told me I must do and believe as they did.”


      • Chas says:

        Yes, it is easy to see how schisms and new denominations developed by this process, as well as various forms of intolerance in all societies. This opens a new topic that you might like to take on: whether a husband should have and exert authority over his wife and how her role as an adviser (able to give a different point of view) should be respected. I note that the word ‘helper’ used in the Old Testament is used for both God and Eve.


        • Good thoughts Chas!

          I firmly believe that the patriarchical system, the ‘God’s plan for the family’ approach, and complementarianism are misguided, harmful, and dangerous. I probably have made passing references to it in some posts, but I plan to address it more fully in the future.


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