Mark 3:13-18: “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
Jesus, after a spurt of intensively healing the masses, a healing time so intense Mark says, “he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him … lest they crush him,” withdraws to the mountain where he calls to him those that he wanted. As in, the twelve, as in those he called to from the beach, the young men he promised to make “fishers of men.” He calls these young men to him so that they might be with him, and so that he might grant them the authority to preach and drive out demons – just as they witnessed their master doing many times before. Here Jesus is discipling his twelve disciples. He spends time with them, grants them authority, teaches them how to preach and I imagine how to cast out demons. Finally to a few, Jesus renames them – marking them as transformed – an echo, a reminder of other prophets come before these twelve disciples. (Who wouldn’t want to be called “sons of thunder.”)
It is easy to leave gospel stories like this inspired by the work of Jesus. He turns tables, and speaks directively to power. He offers love and healing to the broken. He restores peace, offers grace and draws a multitude of crowds. He even knows when he will need a boat before the need presents itself. It’s no wonder we find ourselves stunted when we begin to think about discipling others in the way of Jesus. How could we possibly be disciple makers like Jesus?
We found ourselves asking a similar question, this summer, when I gathered with a small group of pastors and strategic leaders in Holland, MI at Camp Geneva. Our objective was to discern what the future of discipleship might look like for the RCA by 2028. Our hope is that by then, every church in the denomination would find themselves engaged in an intentional discipleship pathway that consists of one thing: creating disciples who make disciples. We found ourselves, all leaders in the field, tripping over the word “disciple.” How have we come to understand the word “disciple?”
We decided that a disciple was one who reflects Jesus and does what Jesus does. Thus discipleship is the journey of becoming disciples of Jesus. We use the word journey very intentionally. Because discipleship is a lifelong process of sitting with God, sitting with one another, and intentionally teaching, refining and growing in the likeness of Christ. For us today, we don’t exactly get to sit in the physical presence of Jesus like the first twelve disciples did. But we do get to see the necessity of reproducible discipleship in the face of immense need.
Broadly, if being a disciple is one who reflects Jesus and does what Jesus does, we can look at this passage from Mark and interpret what we should be doing to make disciples. Jesus calls the disciples to him. He teaches them. And then, he sends them back out. Imagine a rhythm of calling people into our homes, talking briefly about the teachings of Jesus, but not sending these ripening disciples back out. Or imagine simply calling people into our homes and then sending them back out into the world to usher healing – in the name of some other god. Or, imagine never inviting anyone into our homes – living a life of study alone.
Discipleship hinges upon our efforts to sit with Jesus, and reflect Jesus both in who he is and what he does. If we are only making disciples who talk about Jesus together in a home, but never extend themselves out in the world, where are we reproducing ourselves? If we are only making disciples who continuously extend themselves in the world, but never dwell upon the word of God and lessons of Christ, where are we rooting ourselves? And if we never invite others into our lives, where will we see a reflection of who Christ is?
Friends, this is the good news for the people of God. In Christ we are restored and made new. In Christ, we are invited into a lifelong journey of practice. And this is very good news. Because we may not get it right the first, second, or third time; we may pass by those who are seeking, standing cold on the shoulder once, but Christ will help us get it right a second time. It is Christ who shines forth in the darkness. It is Christ whom we reflect. As we look toward the future of discipleship, may we notice the ways we are called to invite, teach and charge others in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.
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