This week we are continuing our preaching series on the five historical practices found in fruitful and growing congregations called the Methodist Way. Three weeks ago we looked at the early church from Acts 2 and talked about what they did to set their world on fire for Christ and how we might follow that example today with the power of the Holy Spirit. The following week we looked at the idea of Radical Hospitality to see what Scripture says about it and how we can carry that out in this world. Next, we looked at the aspect of Passionate Worship and how and why we are to praise God. Today we are going to spend some time together talking about Intentional Discipling, what that means and some ways we can implement this in our own lives.
Find a Mentor
I am sure that all of us here have a person that we admire, that we have tried to model our spiritual life after. No I am not talking about Jesus. I am talking about someone that we have either encountered and asked for guidance or mentoring, or someone we admired from afar that influenced us. For me that person was a man named Dr. Tom Horne.
I met Dr. Horne in 2001 down in Fort Myers. At that time Debbie had just received her first appointment to Tice United Methodist and Dr. Horne was the Staff Parish chair there. He was the first person we talked to from the new church and the first one we met when we arrived. Looking at Dr. Horne you knew he was retired, by his speech you knew he was very intelligent, and by his demeanor you knew he possessed strong integrity. I immediately gravitated toward him and was determined to get to know him the best I could. Over the three years we were at Tice I got to know a great deal about Dr. Horne. By the way I did not find out he was a doctor till I had known him over a year, that is the kind of humble man he is. I learned that he taught Sunday School, loved to garden, would give you anything and everything he could as you had need, and dearly loved his Lord and Savior. But the greatest thing I learned about Dr. Horne came after I was approached to help plan a surprise birthday party for him. I was partially excited because I finally got find out how old this man was. I was convinced he was in his late 60's early 70's. I was asked to help plan his 96th birthday party! I was blown away. Well after that party I made it a point to ask him what his secret to vitality was. He summed it up in one word. Siberia.
You see Dr. Horne for the last several years had been taking missionary trips to Siberia, Russia. Six month, missionary trips. He told me of the people he saw and the experiences he had while he was there handing out Bibles. Those experiences helped him to deepen his faith and gave him the desire to learn all he could about his faith and how to effectively share that with others. Dr. Horne helped to mentor me and encourage me to continue my journey towards the ministry. He was helping to make me more than a Sunday worshiper, he was helping to make me a disciple.
So What is a Disciple?
A disciple is someone that believes in the ideals of another person and then commits to helping that person or organization spread those ideals to others. Notice that I did not say believers that just hold onto those ideals. There is another component to discipleship and that is intentionally spreading those ideals to others. Salvation is not an only step, it is a first step. We need to go further and that is by being disciples; being remade into the image of God. That in and of itself for some people is a very uncomfortable prospect.
However, God’s ultimate goal for our lives is not our comfort, but our character development. He wants us to continue to grow in him, becoming mature in the image of His Son. God wants us to develop all the character described in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), Paul’s great chapter on love (I Corinthians 13) and Peter’s list of the characteristics of an effective and productive life (2 Peter 5:1-8).
Discipleship is about letting go of self and becoming more Christ-like in our values, attitudes and actions, or as the Apostle Paul put it, “setting aside one’s former self, and being clothed with the new self.” John Wesley called this process sanctification, as we “move onto perfection.”
How Do We Become Disciples?
So how do we become and live out the call of being disciples? Our first Scripture lesson today from John 15 tells us by using the metaphor of a vine and its branches. For the branch of a vine to grow it needs its nutrients from the vine. The better the connection, the better the harvest. Those branches that obstruct that flow of nutrients will naturally produce a smaller bounty.
The same can be said for our spiritual lives, our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. The better we are connected to Christ, the better the harvest for the Kingdom. In order for us to be disciples of Jesus Christ we have to stay connected. Christ tells us in 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” To become a disciple we have to be connected.
What Should We Do As Disciples?
Now that we have an idea the being a disciple means actively spreading the ideals of Christ and the only way to become a disciple is to be connected to Christ, what do we do as disciples?
There are three things that came to my mind and please feel free to add to this list later. One thing is to be intentional about our relationship with Christ by spending dedicated, regular time with Christ in the Word. Our second Scripture lesson tells us that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." We are not in a position like the Apostles where we can physically sit at Christ's feet and listen to him talk. So the next best thing is Scripture. If we are going to be effective we need to read. I follow the pattern I post on my blog and read four chapters a day. That gets me through the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once, with a few days to spare. There are so many others out there that will guide your efforts that are just as effective. Just find one you like and one that you are comfortable with. Next after you read, pray, and then be quiet. Each area is equally important for us to be intentional about our relationship.
Next, is to be intentional in our relationship with others. For me that was shown in the form of mentoring with Dr. Horne. Dr. Horne was intentional about meeting with me, speaking with me, and sharing his knowledge with me. It was not a casual relationship, we both made a conscious effort to get to know one another and have time for us to share with each other. This can also be done in the form of small groups, Bible studies, any setting where you can get together with like minded believers and discuss how Christ is at work in your life. This cannot be a casual enterprise, we have to be purposeful.
And another is to be intentional in our spreading with the word. After all that is the point of discipleship. If we understand the Word, are being mentored by other believers, then we are allowing God to equip us to spread the Good News. Once equipped we need to be deliberate in speaking to others about Christ. I once had a wise evangelist tell me that it takes 25 people to lead a person to Christ and we should not be ashamed to be person 1, 9, 17, or 23. To be a person anywhere on that chain is privilege, we just need to be on that chain.
Being a child of God is a wonderful thing, but it comes with responsibilities and one of those responsibilities is being a disciple. It is not an easy road, but it is one we are all called to walk down. Part of cultivating a healthy fruitful community of believers is to be deliberate about leading others to Christ and that is in essence Intentional Discipleship.
Now I do not expect any of us to go out and lead five people to Christ this week. If you do God bless you. But what I would like for you to do this week, is to be intentional about spending time with God and listening and looking for the opportunity to be a link in the chain of evangelism. You may be surprised just how many opportunities you get if you show up and pay attention.
The joy, the relationship, the love that you will experience as an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ will far out weigh any discomfort, fear, or apprehension you may experience as you carry out this calling.
Just before Debbie and I moved from Fort Myers I got Dr. Horne to tell me why he did those trips, in that unforgivable climate, in the midst of very resistant government toward his efforts. Before he answered me he reached over and handed me a Bible. I took it and put it under my arm like this and he said that is why. When I handed you the Bible you put it under your arm, when I would hand one to the people of Siberia they would take both arms and clutch it to their chest and sob. That excitement, that joy is why I kept going back. I am just sad that I have never seen it here. Having a relationship with Christ is a truly wonderful thing and should not be kept to ourselves!