In the Great Commission of Matthew 28, Jesus commands his disciples to “go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say “teac
h them to memorize…” or “teach them to recite the correct answers…” No, we are called to teach in such a way that leads to obedience.
Unfortunately, we sometimes confuse discipleship with information gathering. We think that if we have all the right answers or memorize the right scriptures, we will become better disciples. But that is only half the equation. Knowing God’s Word is important, for sure. As a pastor, I will be the first to encourage you to study your Bible and memorize Scripture. Rooting yourself in God’s Word is invaluable. We fall short, though, if our knowledge of God is only intellectual and never practical. Knowing the rules is one thing. Obeying them is something else entirely.
How, then, do we disciple people towards obedience? How does a church encourage and equip its members to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)? And, perhaps even more relevant for you, how do parents pass on an active faith to their children?
Jesus’ model of discipleship is far different than the picture we often get in our churches. In church, information is usually transmitted through sermons and Bible Study classes. The common denominator here is seminar style instruction. One person talks, while the rest of the group passively receives the information. This model has it’s benefits, but a quick reading of the Gospels shows that Jesus took a different approach. There were times he taught this way. The Sermon on the Mount is a prime example. But those large group teaching moments were not his primary mode of discipleship. Instead, Jesus walked alongside a small group of people. These disciples heard his teaching and so much more. They had conversations along the road. The witnessed miracles. They saw Jesus interacting with religious leaders, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Jesus encouraged them and rebuked them when needed. They shared meals. In other words, they lived life together.
When we reduce discipleship to the classroom, we reduce it to information transfer. Jesus did more than that. He lived out his commitment to the Father in full view of those around him. In that way, the disciples not only say the content but also the character of discipleship. They saw what faith in action looked like, and were able to emulate it to the best of their abilities.
Jesus also equipped the disciples for mission. At multiple points in his ministry, Jesus sent groups of disciples out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. They witnessed Jesus minister to others, and they were then given the opportunity to do the same. The disciples could only sit on the sideline for so long. The time had come to put what they learned into practice. Teaching leads to obedience.
In the same way, church members must be willing to come alongside each other. This is why small groups can be so impactful. In this setting, people willingly study the Word together and seek to live it out in the context of relationships. Churches should encourage and equip people to engage each other in this way. This is how real transformational discipleship happens.
In the same way, parents need to demonstrate what active faith looks like in the home. Kids notice when their parents just “go through the motions.” They are more perceptive then we often give them credit for. Therefore, parents need to live out their faith in the home, with all the joys and struggles that come with it. When kids witness this, they learn what it means to authentically live for Christ. They learn more through observation than they ever will in a classroom.