What are the opportunities and challenges for discipleship today? Here Joe Root addresses seven areas of discipleship relevant to the 21st century.
The horse trembled with strength and power and energy. I sat over on the sideline fence. It was a round pen. I saw that horse snort and just trembling and waiting to explode.
There was a young man there. A young man who understands the nature of horses, a young man who loves horses, a young man who has experience in guiding horses. He clucked to the horse and he led the horse. He worked with that horse around and around and around.
I had just stopped in, in the spur of the moment, a few weeks ago, a godly young man in our community that I know. I wanted to stop and see him and visit for a little bit and he was leading a horse into the ring. So I just sat on the sideline for about the next hour and I watched.
That day discipleship had been on my mind. God had some lessons about discipleship for me as I watched that young man working with that incredibly powerful horse.
Taylor told me, really brother Joe, really horse training involves learning to control and direct their energy. It is teaching them the blessing of the opportunity to go fast and to gallop suddenly, but then to be able to slow down abruptly when necessary. It is learning to respond properly when they encounter obstacles, loud noises, sudden movements, rattle snakes, things out of the ordinary, other animals, water crossings and learning to develop in that horse a sense of trust.
So I watched as Taylor led that horse all around the ring and then before long he saddled the horse and he climbed on the horse worked with the horse to back up. He taught the horse to go backwards and forwards.
He said, its owners brought this horse to me because it was no longer controllable. The last time I worked it was before the weekend on Friday. This was Monday. He said, I didn’t get along well at all but today the horse was learning and it was working well.
God was teaching me some lessons in discipleship and trust. Because there is in this generation, my brothers, tremendous energy and potential and power and opportunity but God is calling us to offer a little guidance and a little direction.
Now Taylor could not have possibly held back that horse if the horse wasn’t willing. That horse had so much more strength and power than he did, he is a strong young man but no match for a mighty horse. But that horse wanted to please. That horse just needed some guidance.
I believe that God is calling us in this generation also to discipleship. Tonight, that is what we want to talk about for just a few moments while we are here together, that is Discipleship in the 21st Century.
Discipleship in the 21st Century. After Jesus lived among humanity, he left his wonderful example and his powerful teachings about the kingdom. You know that is why we are here. You know He went to the cross and offered his own blood and gave life as a ransom payment for my sin and for your sin and for the sin of the whole world. After three days, he rose in glorious triumph and he was seen of his disciples for 40 days. Then shortly before his ascension he went out and gave these words to his followers. These words that I want to hold up before you.
Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the age.
Discipleship in the 21st century. I want to briefly consider seven areas quickly.
- What is discipleship?
- Why is discipleship necessary?
- What is unique about discipleship in the 21st Century?
- A call to personal discipleship
- A call to discipleship in our homes
- A call to discipleship in our churches
- A call to go get it
1. What is discipleship? I want to suggest to you this definition. You can ponder it. I welcome your input and response. I suggest it is the intentional investment of time, teaching, disciplines, demonstration and care of a person or people into the life of another, to direct them into a definite pattern of understanding and living.
A disciple is a learner. A disciple is a follower. It is one who adheres to the teachings of another. People can be a disciple of many different people or things or of movements. There are all kinds of disciples after this or that in the American society around us.
But Christian discipleship begins with a true conversion and conviction that the gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to produce a transformed life. May God be praised.
Let’s consider the second area:
2. Why is discipleship necessary? I will suggest a few things for your consideration. First of all, I would I would say because Jesus specifically said to do it. He said, Go and make disciples of all the nations. Jesus told us to do that, to do this. That alone makes it necessary.
But further, Jesus modeled discipleship for us. We have recorded in the New Testament, in the gospels not only the teaching but also the life example of our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus modeled discipleship for us and we are to be like him.
Furthermore, we have examples of discipleship in this book, the Bible, the Word of God from the beginning to the end.
My mind goes to men like Moses who had disciples around him. Moses had a Joshua who was his servant, the one who accompanied him. The one who went up on the mountain with him. The one who saw his heart beat. The one who heard his prayers. The one who witnessed as Moses communed with God.
I think about men like Jehosaphat that the Bible when he was used by God to help accomplish a revival in the nation of Judah. Jehosaphat sent out men to bring the people back to the Lord. Not only that, I love this. The Bible says Jehosaphat himself, even after he had some failures, even after he had some rebukes, Jehosaphat himself went out and gathered the people back to the Lord. That is discipleship. That is why it is necessary we have the example in the word of God and the teaching of our Lord Jesus.
Furthermore, as we move on into the New Testament, we see that the apostles also both instructed and modeled this example of discipleship. One example that is so fascinating to me that particularly comes to my mind is the new church at Anitoch.
Now the church at Antioch, as far as I am able to tell in the NT was the first primarily gentile church and it was quite a church in the bustling metropolis of Antioch, up north of Jerusalem, perhaps 300 miles. As that church began to grow, these were gentile people, there was something a little different about this church. The Bible says, that tidings of these things came to the ears of the apostles at Jerusalem. What did they do?
I love the response of the apostles. It says that when they heard that they decided to send Barnabas up to Antioch. They didn’t raise alarms. They didn’t send a bunch of decrees. They sent a “son of consolation”. They Barnabas up to Antioch and Barnabas took a young man by the name of Paul along with him. The Bible tells us that a whole year, a whole year they met with those new believers. That beloved is an example of discipleship.
Well, why is discipleship necessary? Jesus said to do it. Jesus modeled it. We have examples of it form the OT all the way through he NT.
Further, now get this brothers and sister, discipleship is necessary because our creation in the image and likeness of God includes the reality that we are relational people. We are relational people. That means among other things that we are influenced or guided by the lives of others. That is a reality of our image. Since we are influenced and guided by the lives of others, we have to pause and recognize that since sin has entered into the world, most of the influences around us as well as the influence of our own flesh, as well as the influence of an enemy, the evil one, Satan, himself who is proactively against the work of God, because of these things we need definite deliberate discipleship in the word and in the will of God. Because we are not neutral territory. We are not in a neutral spot. We are behind the lines in enemy territory.
Beloved, we need discipleship. I need it. You need it. We all need it. We need discipleship, that is why it is necessary.
Finally, discipleship is necessary because we will pattern after something. We will pattern after something. Discipleship sets forward and promotes a pattern of godliness.
Discipleship in the 21st century. We thought about what is it. We thought about why is it necessary. I want to consider a third area and that is this: What is unique about discipleship in the 21st century? It would be interesting to know how you would answer that question. What is unique about discipleship in our day? You know, Jesus asked the question in the first century in his day to a group of men. I can hear the cry of Jesus as he somewhat in pathos and yet in understanding of humanity, that he had a part of in creating in the image and likeness of God. In fact the word tells us that all things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made.
But Jesus made a cry to the men of his day and he said, whereunto shall I liken the men of this generation? And to what are they like? As a young man I was concerned about this. I wondered about the realities of our generation. How much more so today? Whereunto shall we liken the men of this generation? What about our generation, brothers and sisters? What is unique about discipleship now?
Well, in 2 Timothy 3 the apostle Paul said these words, some of you have memorized the last part of this chapter. I will just share with you a little example of discipleship.
When I was a young man, I was a teenager before I give you this quote. I don’t know why he did it. But I came in the house one evening and my father was sitting in the chair. My father is a man of God and he gave me this challenge. He said, son, before you go to bed tonight, I want you to memorize 2 Timothy chapter 3. Now it is not a long chapter. Somehow he sensed the right moment. Many times it wouldn’t have worked. Many times I might not have responded. Some how in that moment, I sensed the work of God, I sensed the call of the Spirit and I took that challenge. I rose as a young man and I went in my bedroom and I poured in my Bible till late that night and before I went to bed, I went out to dad’s chair and I said, dad, I think I have got it. 2 Timothy chapter 3 and was able to share that with him. What a blessing. I want you to think about a few words of it now. That was discipleship on his part. I will be forever grateful for my father’s discipleship.
The apostle Paul said in that chapter. 2 Timothy 3:1: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.”
That word “perilous” can be translated “raging”. Isn’t that an apt description of America today? Or even our world today? The 21st century, raging times shall come. Times of turmoil and business, What is unique about discipleship in the 21st century? It goes on to say:
“2 for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. “
And so on. Isn’t that a description of America today in the 21st century? What is unique about discipleship in the 21st century? Well there is a group of people and I visited with some of you brothers about this. I did a study of this a number of years ago myself. There is a group of people in America today known as the millennials. A number of you are here are millennials if you are from 16-36 would you please raise your hand. Take a look. This is the group that society would call the millennial generation today. God bless you.
But the millenials face a very unique challenge. They follow generation Y and generation X and so forth. There are social analyst who study the generations and certain things that are typical of each generation. I just want to say without taking time to go into that, that I think that we have a culture that is very proactive in discipleship. If we are going to in some way cultivate the love and the life of Jesus Christ, it will take deliberate discipleship on our part. Otherwise the culture is going to do it for us.
Many people are being discipled. The millennial generation is being discipled by American culture. You can attempt to order a part or a supply or a book on Amazon and that is a useful tool. The headquarters is a couple hours from where I live, over in Seattle. But that company, you can go onto that site and all kinds of suggestions will pop up at you. Here is a free movie clip that maybe you would like to watch right now to see if you would like to download that. Here is what is popular. Here are bestseller books. Wouldn’t you like to see the clothing item that has been the most popular? That has sold the most? Discipleship! The culture is discipling very proactively around us.
Social networks are setting trends around us. I am not here wringing my hands. I want you to know that. I just think we need to pause and take a look at reality. The discipleship of our culture. I remember several years ago, I couldn’t think of a current example, but most of you know who Sarah Palin was, when she ran for president. She wore a certain type of glasses that were kind of noted. I just remember reading that as she began to appear in the media that sales of that type of glasses just went off the charts. She was just one public political figure, let alone the celebrities and the sports figures and the Hollywood figures, they are discipling very proactively. That is one of the things that I believe is that is unique about discipleship in the 21st century.
I want to read a couple of verses out of the book of Daniel 12:
“3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. 4 But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”
Now I think these are two factors Daniel prophesied that would be evident in the time of the end. I think that is what is unique about the millennial generation, about discipleship in the 21st century is that many shall run to and fro first of all. We live in a society of globalization. We live in a society of travel. We can communicate. We can travel. It is a beautiful, it is a tremendous opportunity for discipleship, for spreading the gospel.
I am excited to live in this generation. Brother, sister and friend, you are not here in 2016 by accident. It is a wonderful time to be alive and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is also a time to be real, to accept the reality that we live in a very proactive discipling culture. If we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ we are going to have to be intentional about it. Many shall run to and fro.
The second point in that scripture is “knowledge shall be increased”. Technology, industry, instant communications, social networking, instant shopping.
A few weeks ago my wife my wife went out side. We live in the country in the state of Washington and she heard a buzzing sound and she looked around and couldn’t figure out what that buzzing noise was. About 10 feet over our roof was a little drone flying. It turned out it was just a neighbor flying a drone around. I had to chuckle at the contrast. We live right across the road from our church and it is a simple plain white building and there was a man parked in the parking lot, launching his drone and taking high tech pictures around the valley.
You think about that, discipleship in the 21st century and those things can be used profitably. I realize that, but it does make the time a unique challenge. I just want to say this. This generation longs for input and accountability and affirmation and engagement. I believe that with all my heart. This is a wonderful generation. I see so much potential. You that raised your hands, there is so much potential in your generation. God bless you. I am so excited for you. I am just a little bit older than you. God bless you. What potential!
Let’s consider a call to personal discipleship. That is your investment in the life of another. It is seizing opportunities in the life of another. This calls for humility. It calls for availability. So often, I just want to encourage you brothers and sisters whether you are a millennial or younger or older, you all have a place in discipleship, personal discipleship. So often, I think we miss the little indicators. Have you ever had someone kind of casually mention, I been struggling a little bit. Yes, I am doing fine. How are you? That was an indicator.
I think too often we are busy or caught up in our lives. We don’t want to take time and we don’t like to get complicated. We want to be a little bit protective. Sometimes we are hearing the tip of the iceberg and it’s the call for personal discipleship.
Personal discipleship, be ready, maybe a text, a call, just a little hint and sometimes it is a direct request. I have had that too. a call on the phone. Would you meet with me? Would you disciple me? I am struggling. God bless them. This is powerful, prayer, accountability, encouragement, calling people back to the truth. Sometimes we let the devil whisper lies in our eyes. This generation of millennials, the devil is promoting lies in your ears. But you don’t have to listen. God bless you as you are disciplers and are discipled.
Yes, I think there is a great longing for that and it reminds me of a little boy. A few weeks ago, just a little boy, (I am think of the longing for discipleship.) This little boy, his father told him one evening. His father had been very busy, and his father told him, tomorrow morning, son, we are going to get up and go fishing. You know what that little boy did that touched my heart? That little boy went and got on his bib overalls and got on his flannel shirt and went to bed. He wanted to be ready. He wanted to be READY!!!! When daddy called in the morning that it is time to go fishing.
Beloved, so often I think there are people craving and crying out for personal discipleship for an investment in each others lives. God bless you. But brothers, you that are in your thirties and forties, I just want to remind you, even those who are in the twenties, it is your turn.
I had a group of young brothers in my home just a few nights ago. The ladies were at a ladies meeting. Some of these young men, I asked them about this subject. What would you say if I just said this title—Disciplehip in the 21st century. I got a variety of responses. We had a good discussion. When the discussion was all over, I said, Brothers just remember this, and these were young men of God. I thank God for them. I said, it is your turn.
They were talking about how they appreciate it and they love it and they welcome it. But I said, it is your turn. It is now your time. Isn’t that what our scripture says? The things that thou hast heard of me, the apostle wrote to Timothy, among many witnesses the same commit THOU to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. This thing keeps going and passes on. If you have appreciated discipleship in your life, I encourage you. It is time. It is your time. It is your time to reach out.
Let’s think a little about the call to discipleship in our homes. I just want to say this is an incredible opportunity. It is a powerful opportunity for amazing influence, our homes. An open door, a cup of coffee, a glass of ice tea, perhaps a meal, maybe a Bible study, maybe a place to stay. Your home, beloved, how do you look at your home? Is it a place for my space? Or is it a mission station for Jesus Christ? Is it a place of discipleship?
And I know we all need times where we have quiet. I encourage us to arrange our homes where we have a spot that we can get away. But I also encourage us to open the doors. Do you know that a stable, godly, loving home is an extremely rare thing in our world today? There are people crying out for that? If you have a godly home, do you know that your home shouts without you ever saying a word? Just as you come in and someone shares a meal, observes your life, and they hear your conversation, and they watch your respect, and they watch how you deal with the children, you are DISCIPLING in a powerful way. Discipleship in our homes.
The sixth point that I want to make, is a call to discipleship in our churches. The ekklesia, that word means the assembly. It literally means the called out and the called together. The called together, the assembled ones, this is God’s plan, so clear in the word of God, so clear in the example in the Acts of the apostles that local stable, healthy churches where there is love and joy and discipleship. This is God’s idea. God puts the solitary in families and he does it on purpose. Discipleship in our churches. Our churches, stable, healthy, functional churches at least as they develop include bishops and deacons, God says. These men are not to be lords but to be helpers. They are to be encouragers. They are to be examples, the Bible says.
Brothers, I just want to say to us in our churches here, I really believe that we need to face, if you are struggling, if you are a pastor tonight or if you are an older brother in a church, and maybe you struggle with facing future fears of compromise or of washout or of dilution. I believe we need to face those fears, not with more rules, more and more and more rules and trying to desperately keep up with the new trends so I can categorize something else to deal with this, rather with deliberate discipleship, with reaching out in love in relationship and teaching with our brothers and sisters, daring discipleship.
Yes, our local churches should be greenhouses of growth for disciples. But with all of that, I want you to remember, the example of our Lord Jesus, he fulfilled the prophecy literally that was written of him. We need to remember this example in discipleship as well.
Yes we want to inspire. We want to call this generation to high ground. We want to motivate. We want to prompt them to godly living but remember the Bible says of Jesus that a bruised reed would he not break. And smoking flax would he not quench. He didn’t stamp it out if there was just a little spark. We want to follow that example in discipleship in our churches.
The last point I want to give is a call to discipleship, a call to go get it. My observation is those that seek shall find, to those that knock, it shall be opened. My wife and I learn the familiar sound of the gravel crunching in the driveway. We can sometimes tell who it was by the way they drove or by the sound of the vehicle or the sound of the bicycle, or the knock on the door.
I just want to encourage you, my young brother, sister, man, woman, older brother, who ever you are go get it. Go after discipleship. James says, you have not because you ask not. I have had people say, I don’t have anyone to talk to. I don’t have anyone to speak to about how to go in life. I know God intended that there would be godly homes with good parents and I had that blessing but not everyone does. We need to be there for those who do not. So go get it.
Other brothers and sisters can help you in learning to practice spiritual disciplines, Bible reading, prayer, fasting, memorization and meditation, how to fight sin and temptation, seeking discernment and in life choices and decisions and all those things. It is serious.
Remember Jesus said, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. In fact he says, whosoever of you will not forsake all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. It is serious. It is make war, making hard choices to have it.
Young man and young woman, whoever you are, maybe you don’t know many people here or elsewhere, but if you are seeking to follow Jesus, I encourage you to surround your self with godly men and women. It is worth making hard choices. It may mean a job change. It may mean a geographical change. It may mean a personal liberty sacrifice. It is worth staying around for the hard saying of Christ.
Our Lord Jesus one time looked at a group of disciples, a whole group of them, and he taught some pretty hard things and quite a few of them walked away. Jesus turned to the few and he said, Will you also go away?
I wonder if there is someone here just about to go away. Just about to walk away, will you also go away? Hundreds have walked away. Thousands have walked away in the past few years from godly solid discipleship. I will leave their lives in the hands of God. Let’s go after them, by the way, when we have the opportunity. But will you go away? Makes some hard choices. Make some resolves – I want to be a disciple of Jesus. I want to men and women of God to surround my life. May God bless you. Let’s seek discipleship in the 21st century.