There is one thing about the modern discipleship movement that concerns me. In their video series Disciplemaking Blueprint the team at Verge Network state:
‘The fruit of a disciple is not just another disciple. The fruit of a disciple is a disciplemaker.’
It sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? But I believe it is slightly off the mark.
I love the people behind vergenetwork.org. They have helped shape missional leadership and thinking. And in many ways Verge is leading the way when it comes discipleship. Discipleship is something that is so essential in the Christian life but is often lacking in churches. Verge have help moved discipleship to the forefront of Christian life. The approach they have adopted emphasises relationships and mentoring. It’s refreshing and effective. Overall I cannot praise the efforts of Verge enough.
If the work of Verge Network is so positive, why do I have a problem?
The problem I have is that the quote moves the attention away from Jesus. You see, if our goal of discipleship is anything other than to create followers of Jesus then it is possible to produce disciples who don’t actually know Jesus. By having the goal of making disciplemakers we are concentrating on reproducing a process rather than the one whom the process is focussed on. It’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse.
I can relate to this. I didn’t enrol in my theological degree because I wanted to be in Christian ministry. I ultimately enrolled because I wanted to deepen my relationship with God. So I focussed on things that I could apply to my Christian life rather than ministry techniques. The result is I now have a much stronger faith than when I began. The fact that ministry opportunities have arisen is a by-product, not the goal.
I think it is the same with discipleship. The process of discipleship brings people into relationship with Jesus in such a way that it encompasses every part of their life. In other words, the focus of discipleship must be Jesus. It is the process of centring people’s lives around Jesus.
The goal of discipleship must be to produce people who follow Jesus every day no matter what. Disciples begin to look more like Jesus. Part of this is understanding that Jesus called people to be his disciples, and he called his disciples to make other disciples. This happens when people follow Jesus and look more like him. It’s unavoidable. But following Jesus is the goal. Yes, this involves making other disciples in such a way that they too will make disciples. But this is a by-product.
The phrasing that Verge have used creates a discipleship dichotomy. Some disciples are followers of Jesus, but proper disciples are followers of Jesus who help others also follow Jesus. I don’t believe that such a distinction can really be made. Disciples should always fall into the latter group. I’m not naïve, some don’t. But isn’t this because they have failed to grasp what Jesus has called them to. This may be because they simply don’t know, maybe they don’t know how, or maybe they just refuse to follow Jesus in this area of life. These problems can be challenged and overcome. But it is Jesus who is still centre.
So, I would change the statement to:
The fruit of disciples are people who relentlessly follow Jesus in every area of their life. They know he called people to follow him and make other followers, and do likewise.
It’s not as short, or as catchy but it keeps Jesus at the centre. And anything that isn’t Jesus centred will ultimately fail.