Creating a discipleship culture, and why it is so important for mission in Europe today

Discipleship would have us know and learn with our minds, hearts and souls.

21 APRIL 2020 · 17:27 CET

Photo: Helena Lopes (Unsplash, CC0).,
Photo: Helena Lopes (Unsplash, CC0).

Creating a discipleship culture is key for mission in Europe today. Creating a discipleship culture is to create a biblical culture that shines a bright light against ungodly aspects of society.

I would argue that discipleship is not fully achieved through separate discipleship ministries in the church, or classes / activities, but rather by creating a culture of discipleship across the whole church family.

There are many opinions, thoughts and voices speaking about discipleship with valid points to make. Mine is just one voice of many.


What is a disciple?

In discussing the idea of a discipleship culture within church life, we need to be clear about what we mean by a ‘disciple’ of Jesus Christ?

First of all, a disciple of Christ is a follower. Jesus said, ‘Follow me!’ When we receive Christ as Saviour and Lord, we follow.

Secondly a disciple of Christ is a learner. Breen suggests, ‘The Greek word for disciples: mathetes. When directly translated it means learner…becoming lifelong learners of Jesus’. We learn truth and apply it to our lifestyle and beliefs.

Thirdly a disciple of Christ is a servant, following the example of Christ who ‘came not to be served but to serve’ We adopt a posture of humility and servant-heartedness in all we do for Christ, for His glory, His cause and His people. This is a lifelong journey of transformation from ‘one degree of glory to another’.

There are a number of areas we can focus our attention on in order to create a biblical culture of discipleship.


An intentional and long-term process

There is perhaps one over-riding difference between society and a discipleship culture namely that society is becoming increasingly instant, clamouring for instant success and instant knowledge.

By contrast discipleship is an intentional and longer-term process. Following, learning and serving require intentional, sustained, ongoing and progressive work to make us ‘mature in Christ’.

Not only would society push for the instant, it can also lead us into confusing discipleship with simply acquiring information – to know only with our minds. Discipleship would have us know and learn with our minds, hearts and souls.

There is the incorrect assumption that increased information acquisition equates to maturity within people, which if it were true would render the discipleship process largely obsolete.

True Christian discipleship is not instant. It is a long-term process. We cannot hurry the development of a disciple or indeed a discipleship culture.


Developing a devotion to Christ

Developing the idea that discipleship is a long-term process, it is also about developing a long-term devotion. It is about creating an environment to develop a hunger and passion for Christ.

Jeff Vanderstelt describes discipleship as: ‘the ongoing process of submitting all of life to Jesus and seeing him saturate your entire life and world with his presence and power…’ Devotion is not an instantaneous thing. Devotion is giving yourself to something for the long-term.

I enjoy live music; especially jazz. I have often marveled at the skill of a gifted musician, fingers gliding seemingly effortlessly across keys or fret board. How did they become so free on their instrument? How can they produce exquisite sounds and rhythms almost without thinking?

The answer; They are devoted to that which they love. Luciano Pavarotti said, 'People think I'm disciplined. It is not discipline. It is devotion. There is a great difference’.


It’s all about legacy

Discipleship is equally long-term when it comes to its outcomes. Discipleship works for the good of others and generations to come.

‘…even the greatest cannot live to see the fulfilment of their dreams. For each of us there is a Jordan we will not cross. Once we know this, one thing becomes important above all others. Leave guidance to those who follow you for it is they who will continue the work.’

This speaks of legacy of understanding that discipleship extends far beyond our own reach and lifetime. I have often used the phrase ‘becoming a two eyed leader’, where one eye is on our own development and calling and the other is trained on the development of others.

We can set an example by our words and our lives, but this is so others can see and so we will inspire others, for them to do the same. Paul was able to say, ‘whatever you have…heard from me or seen in me, put it into practice’.

They admired him and wanted a role model to help them navigate what following Jesus looks like. This involves everything from household chores to handling finance and relationships to preaching and counselling.

Flourishing in life-long following, learning and serving is inspiring to others. We are to be both the sheep and the shepherd; the disciple and the discipler.

In order to see disciples mature - to see them grow in knowledge, character and skills - we expend ourselves so they become all that God has called them to be.

Perhaps they will be better than us, maybe getting the glory for hard work we largely did, or perhaps like the laborers in the parable who at the eleventh hour got the same wages! Having a perspective like that of John the Baptist is helpful.

As Jesus ministry emerged and grew before John’s eyes, John was able to gladly say ‘he must increase, but I must decrease’. Over-focusing on ourselves and our ministry is not healthy.

There needs to be balance where we create a context of shade and safety for believers to feel believed in, loved, nurtured, cherished and valued.


Family not organisation

Finally, a discipleship culture is long-term and intentional about its relationships. Western society in particular, would tell us it is all about the individual, whereas Jesus teaches and demonstrates family. God’s family.

God’s call to Abraham was to be a ‘Father’ of many nations. Proverbs 1:8 says, ‘Hear my son, your father’s instruction’. Likewise, Paul refers to Timothy as ‘my beloved and faithful child in the Lord’.

Western culture, where self-determination, self-authority and self-sufficiency have thrived, puts pressure on the community of the local church. ‘If we are to be disciples of Jesus who are being re-formed and restored to become more like Him, we need to have people in our lives, up close and personal’.

This is the biblical reality. We were made for community and as Christians the community / family of God is fundamental to our spiritual health, development and well-being. Healthy parenting helps children grow and flourish in taking on the responsibility of life for themselves and is not controlling or domineering rather giving in nature.

So, in spiritual family dynamics, the less mature, each need the input, wisdom, and guidance of those more experienced, and those more mature should give themselves to this.


Creating a discipleship culture

The commission in Matthew 28 is to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them…teaching them to observe all I have commanded you’. We are called to make disciples not converts.

This is so key to our understanding of mission. There is a process described here which cannot be done quickly nor in isolation. It cannot ultimately be achieved by ‘doing discipleship’ through programmes and activities, though such things can be useful tools.

Our culture may seek out ‘quick wins’ and high-profile ‘success’ stories. By contrast a discipleship culture will involve us in an ongoing process in everyday life with those around us.

It will require patience through the ups and downs, through the challenges and the breakthroughs; a discipleship culture will create an environment that fosters devotion to God and which prizes relationship and family, displaying a community of believers to the world around it.

Creating a discipleship culture will ultimately mean a commitment to discipleship as a long-term and intentional investment within the local church and wider family of God, where we can ensure that we are being invested in ourselves, but that we are also investing in others.

Mike Betts leads Relational Mission, a network of churches which is part of the global Newfrontiers family and Is the author of From the Inside Out, Relational Mission: A Way of Life.

This article first appeared in the March 2020 edition of Vista magazine.

Published in: Evangelical Focus - Vista Journal - Creating a discipleship culture, and why it is so important for mission in Europe today