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April 16, 2010


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I like this concept very much, and wonder, given our emphasis on education, why we don't do better at it. I have seen other denominations turn their Sunday school sessions, or Sunday afternoon sessions, into more formal seminar, class like settings where church members can take courses in Old or New Testament, or theology, or even Biblical languages. I'm not sure if this is part of what you are talking about.
In referring to "discipling" you touch on a broader concept than we think of when we say "teaching." The former suggests a kind of ongoing relationship where mentoring and leading by example takes place. This happens infrequently in our churches, and I would like to know what you think can practically be done to improve it.

First of all, I think we should collectively acknowledge the need for more "teaching" to happen in the church. Then, it must be decided what types of teaching will work best in each context. There are lots of things that can be done--one is simply to quit adapting "preaching" as the format for every church event--devotionals, seminars, prayer meetings, etc, and begin to use current "teaching methods" (see Wikipedia) based on educational theory and brain research.

Learner-based teaching methods are a step closer to discipling than is preaching because they are more of a dialogue than a monologue.

Discipling, teaching, and preaching were all done by Jesus. But, I believe they were done in that order of frequency, or perhaps even of importance. After Jesus preached to a multitude, he usually taught his disciples some additional or deeper material. And, their very interest in that teaching was due largely to their relationship with him.

Even if we add good and intentional learner-based teaching in our churches, I believe it will be the "coming alongside" relationships that will interest people in learning more. One qualitative research study done with college freshmen on a Christian campus showed that those students who had an active Bible study and prayer life could point to at least one specific adult in their lives who had themselves been passionate about Bible study and prayer.

It seems to me that discipling refers to the "life together" quality that we ought to experience in the body of Christ. It just occurred to me that the concept of discipleship as a model for religious education is could be problematic in that it can make the student a disciple of the teacher, when in reality the student and the teacher are meant to be disciples of Christ. At least, I assume that what Christ meant by the great commission is that we are to make people his disciples, not ours.

Yet it also seems that the discipleship experience is coextensive with the life of the Christian, which includes teaching and being taught by other Christians. So my question would be How do we teach other Christians in the context of discipleship without making them our own disciples as opposed to Christ's?

If we make the distinction that we are to make disciples for Christ and not for us then do we not separate ourselves from Christ? If we are in Christ and He in us then aren't those who learn from us the disciples of Christ though us? Who is it that does the work of discipleship? If it is us then we are mistaken because even Christ said it is not He who did the work but the Father. So it should be with us that it is not we who disciple but the Father in us. So to make disciples we are to be of the Father and indeed pick up our cross and follow Him.

David, on the question of Christ in us I think scripture is clear, Christ is in the Heavenly Sanctuary and the Holy Spirit is in us. The Holy Spirit is Christ's presence to us, but that does not make us Christ. So, no, I do not think making disciples of ourselves is the same as making disciples of Christ.

The broader theological question you raise is what the role of the church is in bringing Christ to the disciple. The protestant position has been that Christians have direct access to Jesus by the Holy Spirit. The Catholics, since Vatican II, have allowed for this personal dimension as well, but have historically believed that Christ is mediated through the church. And by church they mean the church with an unbroken line of disciple making going back to the 12 and ultimately Jesus. Adventists would say that apostolic succession come to us through the Scriptures and have tended to reduce discipleship to Bible study and prayer. The Catholics would respond that the only ones qualified to interpret scripture are those with the unbroken succession and have tended to reduce discipleship to clergy directed spiritual programs.

My question is, How do we keep our personal relationship with Jesus while at the same time having a corporate relationship with the Body. How do we maintain our discipleship with Christ will being discipled by (and discipling) others?

My response would be that we do it with great vulnerability and humility. If we teach "about" Christ, but don't relate that teaching in any way to the process of spiritual growth in our own lives (He has taken my fears, removed my bitterness), then we are not "teaching for discipleship."

If we teach from our own lives without reference to the Spirit's having done great work in them, then we are making disciples to ourselves. (I keep the Sabbath, don't eat meat, so can you.) The idea, as it states in Deuteronomy, is to have something vital happening in our own lives, and then sharing with others what God has done in/for us. Paul stated it in 1 Cor. 1:11--follow me, AS I follow Christ.

As to your question, David, about how we keep our personal relationship with Jesus while at the same time having a corporate relationship with the body--I believe that is a vital question for every follower of Jesus.

Think about the very purpose of the spiritual gifts. Ephesians 4:11 points out that the gifts of apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and pastors, and teachers is for the equipping (teaching) of the saints . . . to the building up of the body of Christ. That is religious education and discipling--and I don't believe these gifts are given only to full-time paid ministers. The goal of this "equipping" is that "we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ (Eph 4:13). Part of what we will be doing in our disciping (and being discipled) is "speaking the truth in love" so that we "grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ (v. 15)."

These verses imply to me an element of walking alongside each other, sharing vulnerably from our own spiritual walk, holding one another accountable in love, and ourselves being open and submissive when love-truth is told to us.

Spiritual growth has a corporate element, for at least one reason to help us avoid spiritual pride and pride of opinion. That kind of pride is what leads to intentional, or inadvertent making disciples to ourselves instead of to Christ.

David, your question, "How do we keep our personal relationship with Jesus while at the same time having a corporate relationship with the Body. How do we maintain our discipleship with Christ will being discipled by (and discipling) others?", is answered by the word we are studying . . . discipleship. If the Spirit of Christ is in us we are both being discipled by Christ and discipling others. The Spirit works through us to reveal God. Christ was God revealing Himself to us. He sends to us His Spirit that we may reveal Him to the world and in so doing they too receive the Spirit of Christ. Discipleship is the fulfillment of Christ's words when He said, “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” The relationship of discipleship is the Church and is the Gospel.

solid comments. but my questtion is "can teaching be done in the pulpit, if yes, can teaching serve as a substitute for preaching... so will it be correct to say... just teach?"

Dwayne: I thought you'd never ask :-)

Actually, I do believe that more teaching should be done from the pulpit, but not all of it should be. Teaching should be "learner-based" and on-going. But, it would take another whole blog to discuss the difference between rhetoric and proclamation, as opposed to teaching, mentoring, discipling. The real on-going work of the church should be teaching, mentoring, discipling--and working together to go out and proclaim the truth to those who haven't heard it.

Another hot topic would be--WHO is supposed to be doing the preaching and/or teaching in the church? That would open up the whole clergy/laity split, and . . . another whole can of worms :-)

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