Divergent Discipleship Journeys

I’m riding next to an employee of a large multi-national company right now. Many of my new acquaintances are made this way. We had a delightful discussion about our growing up years in Midwest states and shared how both our families tended to do driving vacations around our great country during our childhood. Both of us have fond memories of those trips and both agreed that there are some places we went as children that we’ve not been back to since. It’s a lot to think about for two grown men, approximately the same age, currently living in different time zones, doing different jobs but sharing many experiences. It occurs to me that all of us in church planting could say the same.

There can hardly be disagreement on the goal of what all of us are about in church planting. Jesus made it plain that “make disciples” is our mandate, and that somehow “baptizing them and teaching them to follow all I have taught” explains the process. Perfectly clear to Jesus, abundantly unclear across tribal, philosophical, and cultural lines. We live in different time zones and earn our “discipleship living” in a variety of ways on this point.

For some of us, creating small groups of disciples that share the goal of learning to follow Jesus and actually doing it is our chosen modus operandi. For others, casting the widest possible net and accepting the fact that some fish will be anxious to join us on the journey, while others will wiggle away is the method of the day. Others have a vision for something in-between, recognizing that social interactions in mid-size groups are different than the intimate relational experience of “small” and also not the same as “large” group dynamics.

Beyond our divergent environments of disciple making, we’re also all over the board on style. Some who love Jesus and are committed to following his teachings have a very distinct and defined profile of a disciple. How much daily time should be spent in which spiritual disciplines, how conversations must go with pre-believers, what constitutes acceptable lifestyle choices, and so on. Others in the disciple-making realm are extremely non-directive and “what it means to you” is a very high value. Still others have an eclectic approach somewhere in-between.

And my proposition is that there may well be a variety of views that are all acceptable to Jesus when it comes to our approach to discipleship. Apparently his “teaching them everything I have commanded” is intentionally vague enough that He can see different approaches as helpful, even when we cannot.

And that’s the rub for me. Perhaps out of my own insecurity, I have the sense that I must be right about my chosen values for discipleship—necessarily relegating the approach of my brothers and sisters who disagree to the “wrong” category. Evidently Jesus was good with the value of both sides of the brain being involved in discipleship, even with multiple cultural understandings of the Kingdom. There are some absolutes to be sure—some content that is not up for debate or modification. But there are a whole lot of methods even in the culture of first century times that were used to draw people into the journey of following Jesus. Think of large group gatherings where thousands were inspired and convinced; of mid-size groups jammed into houses when powerful experiences of prayer and teaching were employed; of small groupings where confrontation, affirmation, and determination were definitely part of the ethos. They’re all there and more.

Which is why I’m not surprised at our lack of unanimity or clarity about how exactly is the best way to make disciples. And apparently, Jesus is not bothered by our diversity of approach either. It makes me want to be sure of the absolutes and gracious about the flexibility. And it makes me glad to hear my neighbor on this flight describing his childhood visit to the Grand Canyon. I shared about the Alamo. And we’ve both been to the Wisconsin Dells. Nice.