Though they turn away from authoritarianism, organizational structures, and creedal formulas, postmoderns remain fascinated by the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, openness to authentic spiritual leaders who encourage personal learning marks the postmodern mind-set.
If we define a Christian as a “disciple of Jesus Christ, one who is growing in an authentic relationship with God and others,” this model becomes attractive to those who may totally reject the usual “systems” of religion. Spiritual development remains a key goal for many postmoderns, and discipleship is designed to help achieve that. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”1
Discipleship is not a command but an invitation. It is not an imposition; it is a delight. It is experiencing the embracing love and acceptance of Jesus when He says, “ ‘I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father’ ” (John 15:15).2
The challenge of our world, says Jerry Bridges, is that “many Christians have what we might call a ‘cultural holiness.’ They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. . . . But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God.”3
Nor can discipleship be reduced to some programmatic rule book or self-help scheme. “It is the Father’s life, and Father’s life alone, which will live the Christian life in you,” writes Gene Edwards. “Embrace a formula or a list in order to ‘live the Christian life,’ and you are doomed to frustration.”4
As we demonstrate discipleship rather than turn it into a church program, we focus on five key concepts.
1. We connect. The connection is, of course, with God. We all need to experience God individually. The church should be not merely a place for people to connect but an association of those who have personally experienced that connection with God. Then we try to connect with those around us who proclaim, “ ‘We have found the Messiah’ ” (John 1:41).
2. We share. Being a disciple of Jesus means we want to share our experience of Him. At its heart, the gospel message makes us instinctively think of others, wishing that they, too, could share in the joy of knowing God and His transforming, healing power. We tell others, “ ‘Come and see’ ” (John 1:39).
3. We worship. We see Jesus as our all—falling at His feet not in fear but in loving admiration. We understand that “perfect love casts out fear” and that we love because “he first loved us.” As a result, together we worship and adore this crucified Lord who came to save us, letting others know that Jesus promised, “ ‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me’ ” (John 12:32).
4. We nurture. It is not enough simply to help others find Jesus. True disciples encourage one another on the way, talking things through, sharing experiences, discovering the way together. We nurture one another as Jesus nurtures us, telling us, “ ‘Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the world’ ” (Matt. 28:20, Phillips).
5. We equip. Discipleship means training, teaching, developing. We work together to help each other in this. However, the Teacher is the Spirit, and the instruction book is Scripture: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
As we share the joy of being Jesus’ disciples with our postmodern friends, we should remember this from Søren Kierkegaard: “Christ did not appoint professors, but followers. If Christianity . . . is not reduplicated in the life of the person expounding it, then he does not expound Christianity, for Christianity is a message about living and can only be expounded by being realized in men’s lives.”5
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 59.
2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture is from Today’s English Version, also known as the Good News Translation.
3 Christian.com, “Jerry Bridges Quotes,” http://christian-quotes .ochristian.com/Jerry-Bridges-Quotes/page-2.shtml
4 Tentmaker, “Discipleship Quotes,” http://www.tentmaker.org /Quotes/discipleshipquotes.htm