Summary: Jesus’ followers enjoyed a deep connection rooted in their commitment to follow Jesus. They shared their lives but did not try to “disciple” each other. The Teacher dealt with each person uniquely, allowing freedom.
Most people today are lonely. Over the course of their life, the average person changes jobs twelve times and will move eleven times. We live in gated communities with fenced yards. Even in apartment complexes people tend to run from their cars to their doors like scared rabbits returning to their burrows. Families are not as large or stable as they were. We smile at each other as we pass by but we do not know each other.
We assume things were better in Jesus’ day, but if anything, things were worse. Wars disrupted everyones’ lives and destroyed entire cultures. As many as 30-40% of people were slaves whose lives could be disrupted at the whim of their masters. Divorce was common. Just as today, people felt alone in a world of chaos.
One of the greatest attractions of Christianity was a place to belong. This was so deep that they called each other “brother” and “sister.” What gave them this bond? They had something in common. They were followers of Jesus. This was a shared experience but it was not scripted.
My friend Jim described his experience in church as like being put through a Play-Doh extruder. Remember those? You put the Play-Doh in one end, turn the crank, and out come stars or circles or whatever you set the dial to. One thing that most certainly will not come out the other end is you. There is no setting for “you.”
The first followers of Jesus were not bound by a common way to behave or believe but by a living Lord who personally guided each person. Just look at how different John was from Peter or Barnabas was from Paul.
In the New Testament no one was ever “discipled.” “Disciple” is not used as a verb. As a noun, “disciple” is one of the most common designations for followers of Jesus. A disciple is a student, a learner, an apprentice. A disciple studies with a Master to learn a skill. But no one is ever “discipled.” A disciple is what you are, not a method you follow. To say that the early believers were “discipled” is like saying they were “Christianed.” Christian is something you are, not what you do.
The problem with using “disciple” as a verb is that it puts the focus on a mechanical process. Many times people have complained to me that nobody “discipled them.” This, they explain, is why they are such terrible followers of Jesus. This is why their Christian life is pathetic.
I tell them if they have never been discipled they should thank God. What we mean by “discipled” is a program you go through. I have been through several of these, some better and some worse; but more often than not they crank out clones with pharisaic tendencies. You are put in a straitjacket and told that God is pleased with the result.
God is not pleased with the result. Christ is a living Teacher. You don’t need a method; you have a Teacher. Jesus does not put you through a Play-Doh extruder. He deals with you as an individual and molds you into the unique person you were meant to be.
The focus must not be on “being discipled” but on being disciples. Here are four facts about disciples.
Fact #1. Disciples follow their Master
Disciples are committed to learn. Their job is to listen and follow their teacher. The teacher’s job is to teach. Christ will teach if you let him. Unfortunately, many people come to Christ with a personal agenda and their own ideas about how the lessons should go. This never works. It would be as if a student showed up on the first day of school and passed out the syllabus to the teacher. Your job is to trust Jesus. He will teach if you will listen. It’s not your school. It’s his.
You will want a Bible so you can read the teachings of Jesus for yourself and study the lives of his first followers. But a warning here: don’t follow the followers, even those in the New Testament. The apostle Peter can be and example of courage on one page and cowardice on the next. The apostle John can be “the disciple Jesus loved” on one page and the guy jockeying for power, asking Jesus to make him second in command on the next.
No one can take Jesus’ place or erase your responsibility to do this for yourself. Of course this is harder. If anything goes wrong, you have no one to blame. Also, It feels safer to keep Christ at arm’s length. We are like the children of Israel who asked Moses to go up on Mount Sinai to meet with God so they wouldn’t have to risk a direct encounter. Discipleship doesn’t work that way. I requires direct encounter. Each of us must humbly submit to Christ and listen to him directly. He will teach if we will listen. Before he died Jesus promised to send the Spirit.
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; (John 16:13)
Our problem is that we are not taught to stand on our own two feet. We are taught to lean on a church, a method, or some human leader. We come together not to share our life but to get a life. We seek someone to “disciple us.” We must grow up and follow the Master ourselves. I can’t do this for you and you can’t do it for me. But we can encourage each other in our individual pursuit.
The daily Anchor Points are not a discipleship method. They are not intended to produce Christian clones. The daily reflections are offered as a way to focus on Jesus’ teachings. What Christ does with them will vary drastically from person to person. This is as it should be. The only one who can make a disciple of Jesus is Jesus.
Fact #2. Disciples focus on themselves.
Nothing creeps me out quite as much as when someone starts talking about accountability. I have had too much bad experience with it, both as the one “holding someone accountable” and the one “being held accountable.” When I have asked someone to “hold me accountable” I always found ways to sneak around behind their backs. It created awkwardness in our friendship. When others have used me to “hold them accountable” I always let them down. In spite of my best efforts to crack the whip, they were just as pathetic as me. They always found a way to weasel out.
The fact is that I cannot be your teacher and you cannot be mine. There is only one Teacher who can make a difference in our lives. We must learn to listen to him. Anything other than this is the blind leading the blind.
Focusing on fixing other people is also be a great way to take the heat off of yourself. I have noticed that nothing bothers me about other people more then flaws I share with them. I once listen to a speaker who began every sentence with “So…” “How unprofessional!” I thought. Then I listen to a tape of myself. Guess what I started every sentence with?
I am an expert at living your life and you are an expert at living mine. It’s easy. I see what you need to do. I can untangle your knots. Would you like me to be your life coach? (I recommend that you pass.)
Disciples of Jesus focus their gaze on the Master and on themselves. You are not the discipleship police. Alcoholics Anonymous does this well. When the members start trying to fix each other they are called on it. They recognize this ploy as one of the oldest tricks in the book. You cannot grow until you learn to focus on yourself. Other people are a way to avoid this. Besides, you can’t help other people as much as you think.
I have been in 12-step meetings when someone shared a problem I was sure I could fix. As instructed, I kept my mouth shut. This was hard. But as we sat in silence, there was a sense of God’s presence. The other person already knew everything I would have said. They didn’t need to hear from me. They needed to hear from God. When we stopped trying to fix each other and listened, they did.
On a couple of occasions you see the same dynamic in Jesus’s Life. For example, after Jesus’ famous “Do you love me?” conversation with Peter, Peter looked over at John and asked about him. We need to hear Christ’s response:
“If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:22)
You don’t need me to “hold you accountable.” You need me to love you. To listen to you. To point you to the Master so the Master can do his work.
My goal is to see Anchorpoint become a place where disciples focus on themselves. We respect each other. We pray for each other. We encourage each other. But we do not try to fix each other. We are aware that the job is taken by a much better Teacher.
Fact #3. Disciples are free.
If we were to travel back in time to the first centuries of the church, we would be aghast at how diverse it was. Christians were all over the map! Consider the following as an example:
- Until the fourth century, the first followers of Jesus did not have an agreed-upon Bible.
- The idea of the Trinity did not develop until the third century. (Tertullian)
- The idea that Jesus was fully human and fully divine was not clearly stated until the fourth century and was debated long after that.
- There was no set theory of when or how Christ would return
Many of the doctrines we consider absolutely essential for orthodoxy did not develop until centuries after Christ’s death. If the first Christians visited our modern churches they would be puzzled by our detailed statements of faith and our insistence that they toe the line on every point. We probably would not let them join us.
Why did the church explode with such force in the midst of such diversity? Because the focus was not on an orthodox set of beliefs but on a living Lord. There are two ways to define something: by its perimeter or by it center. Orthodoxy focuses on the perimeter, constantly reinforcing the line and insisting that everyone stay on the right side of it. Jesus’ disciples focused on the center: Jesus. The Master drew everyone to a place of unity, but in very different ways with each person. This allowed freedom for each person to be who he or she was. It wasn’t so important where you were. What mattered was where you were headed.
Unfortunately, in most modern Christianity you are given a template to which you must conform. This is ironic since we follow a Teacher who was known for being a rule breaker. He broke the Sabbath, ate the wrong things, hung out with the wrong people, and was constantly annoying the religious establishment.
Jesus was no rebel without a cause. He simply did not believe that the system of Judaism of his day produced the results God desired. He was not afraid to say so. In fact, one of his most consistent criticisms was of people who were hung up on rules and procedures and let this to get in the way of a relationship with the living God.
“Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? Matthew 15:3
He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. (Mark 7:9)
There is only one thing needed to bind us together as followers of Jesus: Following Jesus. If we do this, we are on the same page, even though we may be very different.
- We may be Calvinists, Arminians, or not know what either of those words mean.
- We may belong to different denominations; or no denomination at all.
- We may vote differently
- We may disagree about climate change and gender issues
- We may dress differently to go to church and prefer very different styles of worship.
The main thing is that you are free to be you. We can have unity without uniformity. We can relax. We don’t need to draw lines and keep each other within them. We can trust our living Lord to bring each of us closer to himself and thereby closer to each other.
Following Jesus looks like… Freedom!
Fact #4. Disciples love each other and share their lives.
The freedom to be individuals does not mean that we live in isolation. As I said at the beginning, one of the most attractive features of Christianity is the offer of a place to belong. Disciples share their lives. We love each other because that is the Master’s way. We have a lot to learn from each other. We acknowledge the same Master and have wideness in our hearts for each other. As we share our journeys, we can learn from each other and encourage each other. We cross a line, however, when we begin to prescribe our experience as the Master plan.
I enjoy listening to other people’s stories, what they have learned, mistakes they have made, beliefs they have come to. This changes when the word “should” creeps into the conversation.
- I listen to John MacArthur. You should too.
- I go to First Baptist. You should too.
- I became a Calvinist. You should too.
- I vote Republican. You should too.
When we begin to treat each other this way, the Teacher’s Voice fades, leaving only the unpleasantness of human debate.
On a personal note, sharing my life has been one of the most difficult parts of following Jesus lately. Over the past few years, I have gone through a very unsettling time, a sort of dark night of the soul. I felt like a wounded animal. I didn’t want to talk to people because there were very few people I trusted to listen without trying to play God and hammer me back into shape—their shape. I came out of this with the determination to be a safe person for others to talk to and to create a safe place where people will listen in silence and trust Jesus to bring us to the place he wants us to be.
This fall I am adding some new ways for us to do this to Anchorpoint. I am transitioning to the website to be much more social where people can connect and share their stories. I’m adding an upload button where people can share their own experiences following Jesus’ teachings. I don’t want Anchorpoint to be “The Maury Show.”
Also, this fall, I will be leading Anchorpoint’s first small group. Twelve of us will be working through the anchor points one at a time, each seeking to follow Christ on a seven week journey. I have been practicing the anchor points for nearly 2 years now. A few months ago, I realized that a missing component has been a group of likeminded friends. If you are interested in a group like this, please email me. Another opportunity will come around in February.
Disciples are a diverse community of Jesus followers who love each other, and encourage each other, and trust God enough not to try to fix each other. We do not “disciple” each other. Our deep connection and sense of belonging is not created by the brittle bond of human creeds or required behaviors. Our glue is the strong and flexible bond of our living Lord. We expect that the teacher will work with each of us in very different ways. Our role is to follow the Teacher. The most useful thing you can say to me or I can say to you is, “Follow the Master!”
Next week, we begin.