The Art of Followship
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Matthew 28:16–28:20
The Art of Followship
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
Well we are continuing in our series this week, our series is called “in search of church”. Last week we crossed a lot of history of worship, starting with the tabernacle in the wilderness, up through the 1st and 2nd temples, and then onto worship after Jesus, where everything changes.
We looked at how both Paul and Peter took the theme of the temple and essentially said, “now you are the temple, built on the cornerstone, which is Jesus Christ”
In other words, God’s presence does not reside in a building (i.e. a tabernacle, or a temple, even including an empty church building) but God’s presence exists in the people of God, which is the church.
Because the church is a body not a building.
This week we are going to look the identity of those who collectively make up the church.
Typically, when we refer to individuals who go to church we tend to call them “Christians”, which interestingly enough was first a derogatory term used in Antioch by critics of Christianity.
“Those people won’t stop talking about Christ…those Christians”…so that’s where that word comes from…little Christs is another way of defining it, which I actually like…but it’s not really a biblical term.
The Biblical term for those who follow Jesus is a disciple. And so we are going to look at Disciples and discipleship this morning. And I’m really only going to try to do two things this morning.
I’m going to try to define what a disciple is, and I’m going to talk about how we make disciples.
So with that said, let’s dive into our text this morning:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
A disciple is a follower of Jesus: whatever direction we go, we attempt to walk in the path of obedience to Jesus. All authority given to the church, to a pastor, all of it starts with these words from verse. 18: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me: authority for what: to make disciples of all nations.
So what exactly is a disciple?
On one level the answer is simple: a disciple is a follower of Jesus.
Now in our culture, the word “follower” is often quite negative: a follower is the opposite of a leader right?
And we are all called to be leaders, at least according to our culture.
Leadership is an entire genre for books, for conferences, etc…
If you can still find a brick and mortar bookstore, like the Barnes and Nobles in Cranberry, you will find a leadership section
I’ve never seen a follower section in a bookstore have you?
Now “followers” as a term has gained some popularity in recent years because of social media.
Facebook and Twitter enable people both famous and almost famous to try to build their own brand by gaining “Followers”. But again, the whole point is that you need to be a leader so that other people can follow you.
So isn’t it interesting that the primary word for people who have decided that Jesus is in fact the messiah, is “follower.”
Now in the context of Jesus’ day, a disciple was a follower not just in a general sense, but also in a particular way.
A disciple tended to be either a pupil, someone that would sit at the feet of a master or be an apprentice in some sort of trade.
And I think there is something to this, that even for the first disciples, they never graduated into something else.
They always remained disciples, that is followers of Jesus.
And one of the many reasons for this is that a disciple is always in a position of humility right?
They are never the master with all the answers, but always the ones who sit at the feet of Jesus.
So being a disciple is to be a follower, but not just in a casual way. An apprentice or a pupil has essentially given up a whole variety of opportunities to follow the one master.
We can follow a lot of things, sports teams, musicians, politicians, etc…but to be a disciple of someone is to turn your life over to them and ask that their wisdom might help direct your life.
So that’s discipleship…it’s following Jesus every day, becoming more and more like Him.
But how do we become disciples? And in order to answer that question, I want to lean on some of the things I learned this weekend by a guy named Alan Hirsch.
Alan spoke at our Presbytery meeting Friday and Saturday, and it was really helpful for me, sort of solidifying some of these questions of how do we make disciples.
How do we make disciples?
So if we want to understand how to make disciples, it might be helpful to look at how Jesus made disciples, right? So let’s do that, let’s look at a passage from Matthew’s gospel chapter 4:
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
So there’s an invitation, an invitation to follow Jesus and a promise: I will make you fishers of men…you think fish are good…people are even better.
Now here’s something significant that Alan Hirsch pointed out at about the first disciples.
Were they “born again” when they first started following Jesus? No...right…in fact, even after some time following Jesus, Peter, the one that the church is going to be built upon, when Jesus says, who am I? He says you’re the messiah!
Ding ding ding…you are correct…but then Jesus says, and as the messiah, the son of man must suffer and die…and Peter does what, he rebukes Jesus...”Jesus you don’t know what your talking about?”
In other words...it’s kind of odd isn’t it? You are the messiah…you are correct Peter…and you know what that means???
The Messiah is not the one who is victorious in battle but his victory comes from emptying himself, dying on a cross, defeating death, and rising three days later…
What does Peter Say…you don’t know what your talking about Jesus!
So why do I bring this all up? Because the disciples didn’t always get it. In fact, not only did they not get it, but they had not experienced the Holy Spirit, they were not “born again”, but they were on a journey with Jesus.
Now why is that important? In order to answer that allow let me back up for just a moment and you’ll see where I am going.
After we had our weekend assessment with Paul Borden, I asked the combined leadership of our church, what is your number 1 concern.
And the most common answer was this: “I am scared to do evangelism…I am scared to hand out tracts and tell people they are going to hell if they do not turn to Jesus”
And a part of the problem is, without even knowing it, we have assumed that the way we people change is by changing their beliefs.
Right, if I think you are doing something wrong, then I tell you, “your perspective is off, you need to think differently.” And we all know how effective that is right?
“Hey, you are completely wrong, change your mind?”
What happens…people get defensive, they get angry…generally speaking it doesn’t work…
So if we think people are wrong to believe that God doesn’t exist or that being “spiritual but not religious” isn’t enough, we think, okay, I’ve got to tell them…I’ve got to somehow convince them that they are wrong. I’ve got to come up with great arguments for why Christianity is correct, and why they are incorrect.
And for most of us, that’s overwhelming isn’t it? That’s even overwhelming to me and I’m a pastor.
But guess what? There is good news! There is a different way, and that way comes from Jesus himself.
Because what we’ve already discovered is that when Jesus first called the disciples, they didn’t have it all together. They were not mature Christian leaders. In fact, they were often quite dense.
So what is different about Jesus’ approach to discipleship and our approach?
Jesus doesn’t try to change people’s hearts first by going to their beliefs. He knew the disciples didn’t understand that he was the messiah and he knew they didn’t understand the kingdom of God. He knew it!
So what did he do about it? First he invited them to belong. He invited them to come on a journey with him, to follow him, and over time, they would begin to understand more and more of who He was and what that would ultimately mean for their lives.
And as they were spending time with Him, their behavior, bit by bit, was becoming more and more in line with Jesus’. It’s just natural right? We are social beings. We become like the people we surround ourselves with.
And ultimately, at some point after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when they met him and ate with him, they finally became what we might call mature Christian disciples.
So what does this mean for us? It means that as we are discipling others, we do not have to begin by telling them people that they are sinners and they need to repent. Now, that is all true, and at some point, it does need to happen…but it’s not the starting point. The starting point is simply a connection, an invitation to relationship.
Jesus knew that the disciples were interested in the messiah. It was a point of connection, and while they were not where he wanted to them to be in terms of beliefs and behaviors, he understood that if he lived life with them, that eventually they would come around to believing what that messiah looked like.
And it’s the same with us. We don’t have to start with trying to change people’s beliefs. Start instead with belonging. Start with a connection. Start opening up your life to people and begin inviting them to church events. Invite them to Rock the Grove.
I’ve invited some folks in my neighborhood. And then invite them to church. Invite them into relationships with other Christians. And hopefully they will see that there is something different about you that they want to experience it too.
And what will happen is that when people begin to experience belonging, their behavior and ultimately their beliefs, will change. But don’t assume that they have to completely change before they walk into the doors of the church. But ultimately they will change.
And I know this because, I’ve experienced it in my own life.
Some of you know, I grew up Catholic, I went to Mass almost every Sunday. But for me it felt like mostly a set of rules and I didn’t connect a lot with it. I believed in God but I also was kind of a lonely kid and so I was easily influenced, and I easily gone down a dark path. And like most kids, I also fundamentally did not understand what Jesus was all about.
But God was gracious to me, and he took me out of a situation where I had no Christian community and he plopped me in of all places, in Southern California, in Los Angeles County…and in my first day’s class, I heard about a youth group at get this, a Presbyterian church and so I went.
And very quickly this youth group, this faith community began to shape me. They didn’t ask for a statement of beliefs when I came, even though it was clear I was raised Catholic. They just invited me into the life of the church.
And what did I find in that community, right from the very beginning: I found belonging. I found a type of belonging that I had never experienced before, and I was truly in love with it.
I was in love with the way in which teenagers, awkward, immature teenagers, and the leaders of that church, accepted me for who I was.
It was beautiful, and it started with belonging. And over time, you know, some of the rough edges of my personality began to rub off, and I was learning more and more of who Jesus was and who I was called to be as one of his followers.
And then, over time, my beliefs changed. I found, interestingly enough, that the Reformed, Presbyterian approach to the Christian faith just felt like home. But why was that the case? Because first I experienced belonging.
Brothers and sisters, do you know how lonely people are in our country today? Partially because of technology and a variety of other reasons, people are starving for meaningful relationships. They are starving for belonging, and unfortunately, they have absolutely no idea where to find it.
Some will, of their own accord, come through these doors because they recognize that they are in need of something more from life. But most will not.
And that is why our call, to make disciples, must mean we are willing to go out and form relationships, and begin to invite people who do not know Jesus, into our fellowship, knowing that they will not have all the right beliefs and the right behaviors, but we trust that Jesus will get a hold of them, just as he once got a hold of you.
So as we close our time together, we are reminded that the church is made up of disciples. Of people who are called to become more and more and more like Jesus Christ. And we do that by giving our lives over to him.
We are followers of Jesus, not like we follow a band or a sports team, but in a holistic sense. and the thing is, as Matthew 28 tells us, we are not meant to simply be disciples, but to make disciples.
And making disciples is perhaps not nearly as hard as we often make it out to be. It doesn’t have to include standing on street corners condemning people to hell if they don’t repent.
Rather it is being willing to open your life to someone else, to offer them the chance to belong before they behave or believe. And sometimes that gets messy. But that’s okay. Jesus never seemed to mind things getting messy.
He was willing to be around messy people, prosittutes, tax collectors. So who might you be called to invite into a discipling relationship? Who may Jesus be calling you to become a fisher of?
It’s not as difficult as you might think? It may simply be buying a couple tickets to a concert and then grabbing coffee aftwerward to discuss what they thought about it.
It might just be inviting a family to our Harvest Festival on November 4th, and beginning a relationship from there.
That is the call. Are you willing to answer?
May the words of Isaiah 6 become our words as well:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
Will you pray with me?