Why We Don’t Disciple Like Jesus Did
by Mike Breen
If we want to know how Jesus discipled people and how the early church (including Paul) certainly seemed to disciple people, this is what we need to know: Discipleship requires imitation. This is the nitty gritty of what it means to be a learner.
Jesus asked his disciples to imitate His life. That was His process. It was how He passed on the DNA.
Our lives don’t have to be perfect, or close to perfect, for us to begin multiplying the life we have in Jesus into others. But people desperately need a flesh-and-blood example to look at, watch, ask questions, receive teaching and apprentice themselves to. If they are struggling to read Scripture, it’s not enough to toss someone a book on reading the Bible or point them to a podcast.
We don’t simply tell people to pray; we teach them to pray as we pray. We don’t just instruct people to forgive; we show them what it looks like to forgive when we’ve been stabbed in the back. In the end, we need to be at a place of enough stability and maturity in our own spiritual lives that we are confident it would be a good thing if people did imitate us. This is the way of discipleship.
So what stands in our way of following Jesus’ example?
If you’re anything like me, you probably have two, slightly negative knee-jerk reactions to the idea of imitation. And they probably have to do with confidence and power.
With confidence, it comes down to you and me. It comes down to the fact that we may know we’re created to disciple people and that it isn’t just about me “being fed.” We know if we are invested in, eventually we need to invest our lives into others. Scripture doesn’t give much leeway on that one. And if we are going to offer our lives to a small group of people to imitate, we actually have to believe that our life is worth imitating.
Now we’re going to take a sudden turn here because seriously discussing discipleship and imitation requires us to look into the future and ask what Jesus is asking of us. If we are His disciples, it means we will eventually be discipling people. That idea raises up some things in us.
At gut-level honesty, most of us don’t have the confidence to offer our lives as something to imitate, do we? Why?
Because we don’t think it would be a good thing. Our lives are often chaotic, hard, challenging and slightly depressing enough. Why in the world would we want to pass that on?
Maybe our marriages aren’t in the best place.
Maybe we’re single and haven’t exactly lived the “purest” of lives.
Maybe we’re not particularly good parents, and that’s not a relationship we want anyone to see.
Perhaps our work life/home life balance is really out of whack.
We might be loaded with debt.
Perhaps we feel isolated, alone or have very little sense of peace.
We wonder—though we have a hard time admitting it—if God is actually moving in our lives and communities. We read the book of Acts and think it must be for other people or other times.
This could very possibly be your reality. Herein lies one of our biggest problems: We can’t possibly conceive of discipling people because we don’t have lives we’d want others to have.
We are so consumed with being successful (the drug of choice for Americans) or simply surviving the chaos, or having more stuff, or being popular, that we aren’t much different from people who don’t know Jesus.
The fact is that for most of us, imitating our lives might not be a good thing. The reality is that we don’t even know how to live ourselves, much less feel comfortable with someone imitating us.
Because most of us have never truly been discipled. Maybe you’ve grown up in church. Maybe you’ve even gone to seminary. Maybe you lead a church, small group or Bible study. Maybe you’ve read every Christian book there is to read from the last 50 years. Great! You may have an outstanding informational foundation.
But you still might need to be discipled in the way the Bible understands discipleship.
I have met more leaders than I can count who, combined, lead hundreds of thousands of people—and have never been discipled.
What if it didn’t have to be that way?
I wonder if there are people in your life whom God has been preparing in advance, who are open to you, who would want to invest all that God has given them, into your life?
I guarantee there is a person you know who, when you look at them, consider them and pray about them, you think, You know what? If in 20 years my life looked like theirs, that would be a really good thing.
If we exist in a relational system where the principle “every disciple disciples” is lived out, then we are all being held accountable by someone.
This article is excerpted and adapted from the free eBook The Great Disappearance by 3DM leader Mike Breen. In the eBook, Breen explores why the word “disciple” disappears from Scripture after Acts 21—and why the answer to that question is vital to how we make disciples today. To download the full eBook, click here.