Anytime we put how in front of what, we end up in trouble.
For example, imagine teaching someone how to bake a cake before they even understand what a cake is. They might be able to memorize a series of steps – add eggs, milk, flour, etc… But without a clear picture of what they’re trying to create, they’ll have no desire to make it. Even if they do start baking, they’ll be slavishly devoted to the one recipe you’ve given them. They’ll never be able to adapt to create a different kind of cake. Or worse, they’ll try to adapt in a way they think will improve the outcome (ditch the flour, double the sugar) but ends up ruining the whole thing.
Many of us approach discipleship the same way. We spend a tremendous amount of time debating the “how” without ever being clear on the “what.” We’re all trying to follow a recipe we inherited or downloaded from a blog but we’re not entirely sure what we’re trying to bake. Nothing life changing is going to emerge from that confusion.
At Restoration City, we’re walking through 2 Timothy this spring and allowing that letter to shape our understanding of discipleship. As we move forward, I want to offer a simple definition to keep us anchored on the “what” of discipleship:
Discipleship is the process of heart change that leads to life change.
The more you read about discipleship, the more you realize there is no single widely shared definition among authors, pastors and theologians. We all recognize that the mission of the church is making disciples (Mt. 28:18-20). There’s even widespread understanding of the word disciple in the original context. The word meant “learner.” But when we move to questions of what a disciple is today and what discipleship is, things get a little murkier. My goal with this definition is to give us common language as a church and some clarity on the “what” of discipleship.
In reflecting on John 8:31 and what a disciple is today, John Piper offers the following:
For Jesus “true disciple” is the same as “true Christian” or “true believer.” Jesus is not saying that “true disciple” is a second stage in the Christian life. First believer, and then later you attain the level of disciple.
– John Piper
Simply put, a disciple is a Christ follower who is actively learning to follow Jesus.
If that’s the case, we need a correspondingly broad understanding of discipleship. That’s why I think the definition I offered above, the process of heart change that leads to life change, is so helpful. It encompasses the entire process of us becoming more like Jesus (that’s the life change). But it also clarifies that life change always comes about through heart change. Therefore, anything that catalyzes gospel shaped heart change is a form of discipleship – whether it’s a mission trip, a close friendship, a Community Group or mentoring an at risk child.
Understanding discipleship this way breathes a tremendous amount of freedom into the conversation. It makes us open to a wide range of “hows” and frees us from the need to settle on any one “how” as the right way to disciple someone. The reality is there are many ways to disciple someone or to be discipled.
On the other hand, it also helps us see that getting together for coffee once a week with someone can’t really be considered discipleship if there’s no heart change that’s leading to life change. We’ll talk a lot more about how the gospel leads to heart change and what that life change looks like. But, for today, I just want to get us all thinking about the same definition:
Discipleship: Heart Change => Life Change