May 22, 2024

Are our discipleship models producing followers of Christ?

I have been watching stories in the media of spiritual abuse by Christian leaders and it got me questioning our discipleship models and what it means to honour one’s leaders. Jesus’ model of discipleship was simple: follow me, learn from me, go and do what you have seen me do. I often wonder if people translate his ascension to mean that this model should be about the leader and not Christ.

A ministry leader who draws people to him/herself has totally missed the mark. The call for believers has always been to follow Jesus, while fishing for men, and not to follow men blindly.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (NIV). Paul is in no way saying he is as perfect as Christ; what he in fact means is that since he imitates Christ in every way, then he can be followed. According to The NLT Life Application Study Bible, “Paul was not being arrogant – he did not think of himself as sinless. At this time, however, the Corinthian believers did not know much about the life and ministry of Christ. Paul could not tell them to imitate Jesus because the Gospels had not yet been written, so they did not know what Jesus was like. The best way to point these new Christians to Christ was to point them to a Christian whom they trusted.” A Christian that can be trusted!

The expectation here is that a ministry leader is constantly growing in Christlikeness so that anyone who follows him/her sees Christ. If Paul’s conversion and subsequent way of life is anything to go by, he was this kind of leader.

The decision to follow Christ is personal and is never imposed on us, as is the decision to be discipled by someone; we ought to decide for ourselves whom we allow to speak into our lives and to guide us in our journey of faith.

How are we supposed to make these decisions then?

We must examine the lives of those we choose to associate with and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in making decisions. In addition, the Word of God will point us to ministries, leaders and programs that are Christ-centric.

Matthew 7 tells a lot about knowing people. I quote verses 15-20, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them, (NLT).”

We are expected to ask ourselves if the leader’s character is consistent with Biblical standards, if his/her teaching is Biblically sound and if he/she is on a path of growing to be Christlike. We remain disciples for as long as we live so every day is an opportunity to grow to be more like Jesus Christ. Every decision, detail and direction that has to do with the Church must be grounded on scripture.

According to Wikipedia, disciple is a term used in the New Testament (which was written in Koine Greek) to mean, ‘one who engages in learning through instruction from another’. A disciple is more than a student as he/she completely and intentionally emulates the life of his/her instructor or teacher. This could only mean that a disciple of Jesus mirrors Him to other people.

This brings me to my salvation testimony. Before getting into full-time ministry, I worked for a PR agency. One of my colleagues, Shiro, intrigued me. She always seemed put together — neat, clean, graceful and seldom anxious (even when everything called for us to be). I wanted what she had and joined her for midweek prayer at her church, where I gave my life to Christ. It is her life that drew me to Christ and that is the mark of a true disciple.

The onus is on us to read the Word and be intentional about spending time in God’s presence daily. Only then will we be able to tell the wolves from the sheep and to know what branches and trees are actively bearing good fruit. Given that the wolves may be persuasive and even aggressive, we have the advantage of the Holy Spirit (for born again, spirit-filled believers). The Bible in John 14 tells us that He is an advocate, teacher, the one who reminds us of Christ’s teaching, a constant companion and helper.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is about making choices that glorify Him in every situation. It means that we ‘deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Christ,’ (Matthew 16:24). Taking up one’s cross means dying to oneself. It is a call to humble oneself and to ‘die’ for Christ. It’s a call to give up everything for Christ — like the disciples did when He called them. It is a call to follow Christ against all odds. It is a call to commit to the expansion of the Kingdom of God.

It behooves every believer to be a disciple and in turn make disciples. After all, the last thing that Jesus told His disciples before He ascended to heaven was just that: “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).

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