We’ve been talking a lot in the Vineyard about maintaining our focus on the basics: Evangelism, Discipleship, Leadership development, and Diversity (EDLD). At times it may seem almost obsessive—we just keep bringing them up over and over again. There’s a simple reason for this, we tend to get distracted by bright shiny objects, and we need to be reminded to keep the main thing, the main thing. (But the reason for that, is that it is so darn easy to lose our focus on these things.)
Take discipleship. Many pastors, when you ask how they are discipling people, will talk about writing sermons, teaching classes, and other similar activities. But these things, while important, are not discipleship. No matter how good our theology is or how memorable our jokes and illustrations are, they do not, in and of themselves, make disciples.
Jay Pathak, lead pastor of the Mile High Vineyard in Colorado, puts it in these terms:
“Jesus was ruthless in his investment in a few people. He gave the lion’s share of his energy to a few men in the hopes that they would change the world. And no matter how big our stages or our ministries or platforms or ideas get, they have to be translated into the lives of very specific people.“
And if we look very long at the gospels, we find that is true—Jesus had huge audiences, but he very deliberately spent a lot, if not most of his time talking and eating and travelling and praying with 12 guys.
He also didn’t stop doing the other activities—like preaching, teaching and demonstrating the reality of the kingdom—in order to disciple people. Instead, the outward activities of ministry became occasions for discipleship with the twelve. They were right at his side during all of his teaching and preaching and healing in large crowds. But he also spent time before preparing them and time afterward debriefing them on what they saw and heard, and eventually sending them out to do the same.
And Jesus didn’t only spend time with these guys as their teacher—they were his closest friends (John 15:15). We, on the other hand, can struggle to have authority with our friends, or to be friends with people over whom we have authority. Jesus, of course, did both. He never pulled back from relationship, even though he knew he would be hurt, rejected, and betrayed. He deliberately poured into his core group of disciples anyway, knowing the results would be worth the cost.
And what do those results look like? A church full of people who look a lot like Jesus. Michael Gatlin, who, in addition to being a pastor and the National Coordinator for Multiply Vineyard, is also a painter, describes it like this:
“One of the ways we know that we have made disciples is that together as community we become a really beautiful portrait of Jesus. That people look at it and think, “That’s really beautiful, I’d love to be a part of it, but I’m a little afraid of what it will cost me.’”
It doesn’t matter how engaging our preaching is or how theologically sound our teaching is or how many programs of people we have; without discipleship, our churches will never be portraits of Jesus. So let’s go make some disciples, just like he did. We’ll teach them how to pray and study the scriptures and heal the sick and preach the gospel, just like Jesus did. And once we’ve made a few, let’s do it again!
So try this: select and gather a few people together to regularly work through some discipleship material. A few great ones to use are the Multiply Vineyard produced Discipleship Guides; the “How is Your Soul?” booklet by Phil Strout; or the EDLD booklets available through Vineyard Resources. Your goal is for each of them to be able to take the material and bring their own little group of people through it when you are all finished. If we all did this, what would the impact be?