Discipleship Houses AND A GUIDE FOR STARTING ONE
Authored by Jason Reilly. 2021
For completion of the Masters of Practical Theology degree at Heartland School of Ministry.
Most Christian churches today say they place and carry out a high emphasis on discipleship. This is a great focus as discipleship was at the core of what Jesus commanded in Matthew 28 to "go and make disciples of all nations".
Jesus stated that the goal of this discipleship was to teach followers of Jesus to obey EVERYTHING he commanded.
Teach disciples to obey everything that Jesus commanded? That's a TALL order! It implies that no one will reach the place on this side of heaven where you are, and have been, completely discipled; i.e. you know and are obeying everything Jesus commanded.
This raises the question: how are we doing at this?
But first, we need to really understand what a disciple really is. In the Greek, the word for disciple in the New Testament is mathétés, which means learner or pupil. Simply put, a disciple of Jesus is someone who acquires the information of Jesus' life and teachings (as well as Old Testament and New Testament teachings) and changes his behavior such that it aligns with those. This is what Christians talk about when they refer to "growing in Christ". It's knowledge that leads to actual life transformation. This tracks very well with Jesus' command in Matthew 28:18-20 mentioned above that making disciples means to be "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." It's knowledge acquisition that leads to whole life obedience.
1) Learning the whole of the teachings of Jesus and Scripture
2) Whole life obedience as a result
Is there any good way to gain an understanding of how the church in America is doing at this? It's a little difficult to get measurable data on this but some simple metrics are telling. One of the best metrics to use to gain an understanding of how Christians in America are doing at discipleship is Bible engagement. It's hard to measure and put a number to how Christians are actively obeying God's Word, so a step down from that is to look at statistics on regular Bible engagement. Lifeway research provides public information on topics such as these:
From this data, one could say that we have an epidemic of Bible Illiteracy.
From the 30% that do read their Bible everyday in some way, you can be sure that it's a smaller number that actually study it enough to know what it says in specific about important topics. This shows how poorly Christians in America know the Word of God. It's harder to have concrete statistics to show how well Christians are actually doing at obeying God's Word. But, as you can imagine, if on average Christians hardly know it, they most likely aren't obeying it.
How high does the bar need to be here?
Another key factor to examine is how Jesus discipled. He had a lot of people follow him and learn from him. However, he had 12 main learners who were following him as their Rabbi. Jesus authoritatively invited these men to "come, and follow me." You can see what this really meant for them as they:
Left their livelihood behind
Left family behind
Endured hardship and persecution. They were called to "take up their cross and follow him".
That's a pretty high bar! Also, there is another key element to note. The disciples of Jesus were all Jewish. Meaning, at that time, having grown up in Jewish homes, they went to school mainly to learn the Torah; the Old Testament. Most likely, most of them would've even had most of the Old Testament memorized at some point in their life.
Then the disciples spent roughly 3 years with the best discipler of all time, Jesus!
The 12 disciples spent roughly 3 years with Jesus. That would be around 26,000 hours. Now, if you factor in around 9-10 hours every night for sleeping, it's down to 16,000 hours awake with Jesus. They probably didn't spend every waking hour with Jesus, but it's quite reasonable that they would've spent at least around 8 hours a day with Jesus. That gets us down to 10,000 hours.
Think about it this way. The disciples spent around 10,000 hours with Jesus himself doing:
Ministry with Jesus
Walking and traveling to places with Jesus
Eating together with Jesus
Hearing Jesus teach
Watching Jesus interact with the religious elite and sinners
Spending time together with Jesus at normal life events such as weddings
They spent 10,000 hours being discipled by Jesus after some of them already knew the Old Testament like the back of their hand. Someone once said that the best things you can learn are often times "caught", not "taught". Surely the disciples had both as they sat under the teaching of Jesus and witnessed his life.
If this was the bar for discipleship that was set by Jesus, the church as a whole is falling short.
That is something agreed upon by most pastors and Church leadership. What do we do about it?