The Message of Discipleship: Looking at the Teaching of Paul & Peter
A paper submitted to Dr. Clark
In partial fulfillment of the Requirements for
the course DSMN 500
Liberty Theological seminary
Saturday, November 6th, 2010
...Jesus is inviting those who would eventually become His disciples to simply follow Him. It was very practical, decidedly nontheological…He already had begun His ministry of showing people hints of the new kingdom by healing, by casting out demons, by challenging the religious orders of the day to rethink and reprioritize, and by turning the social order upside down through His contacts with the poor, sick, demon possessed, and otherwise marginalized sections of the society. Then, having exemplified these different ways of living, He invites others to simply follow Him. – Richard Dahlstrom, O2: Breathing New Life Into Faith 2008
In his book Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples, Dr. Michael Mitchell examines the methodology behind forming a solid cirriculum and path of study to form Christian character in believers. He writes that “the sources of a message are found in tradition, observation, participation, and inspiration.” He goes on to explain the the manner in which a message is formed, similar to the molecule H2O, takes on multiple forms depending on what is necessary. The message can be experienced in one of these basic forms: “1) the lesson’s subject matter, 2) the class environment, 3) the student’s life (experiences), and 4) the example of the teacher (model).” By examining the sources that a disciple-maker uses to prepare their lesson, and then by making an effort to choose the most adequate format to present the lesson in, the teacher creates the most conducive situation in which a person can hear the message of Christ and respond appropriately. While surveying twenty-four different churches and their successful discipleship programs, George Barna discovered that, “while each church we studied had its own way of communicating what ‘successful discipleship’ means, the nature of their descriptions were similar.”
It is difficult in my mind to separate experience out from any of the sources mentioned by Mitchell. Tradition, observation, participation, and inspiration all rely on personal experience in order for the information gained to become a genuine message. “Experience is the only way we can interpret and relate to what we have read. We read a book on tragedy when we have walked through the valley of the shadow ourselves. Experience that has been understood and reflected upon informs and enlightens our study.” This of course, feeds into Mitchell’s third message form: life experience. While this is certainly not the only format to present truth, it is paramount to grasp the impact of experience on not only our own lives, but on the lives of those we teach. Mitchell outlines this in chapter 9 of his book, but it is significant enough to bear repeating.
Undoubtedly, the best example of teaching from the four sources, and utilizing the four forms as well, is the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ teaching does not lay out safe generalizations by which we can engineer a happy life. Instead, it is designed to startle us out of our prejudices and direct us into a new way of thinking and acting. It’s designed to open us up to experience the reign of God right where we are, initiating an unpredictable process of personal growth in vivid fellowship with him.
Think of the Beatittudes. Jesus was not only a living example of what this meant (and He equally lived out the rest of the Sermon on Mount as well), but He related the information in such a way that it could be grasped. Much of the confusion of those who heard His message, including his own disciples, lies in the factor that they did not comprehend: the Cross. As Paul puts this in I Corinthians 1:22-23, “For indeed Jews ask for...