I'm in Houston at a Discipleship Conference and I've been sitting all day listening to facilitators help us learn more about how to become a disciple-making church. I have a friend back in Kentucky who would ask me right about now, "OK, so what did you learn?" And then he would add, "Don't give me any of that churchy-seminary talk. Just tell me in every-day language what you learned, and make it short." (My friend usually wants me to get right to the point.)
So here it is. Discipleship is not rocket science. It is not about programs. It is not complicated. Follow Jesus. Let Him change your heart and life. And bring others along with you.
As someone who has spent his entire life in the "church world," I know how easy it is to keep the focus on the machinery of ministry and maintaining the organizational structures of Sunday services, adult Sunday school classes, mid-week classes and programs, children's church and classes, and everything else on the surface that looks good. People are happy (for the most part), tithes are coming in, bills are being paid, missionaries are funded, and weddings are performed, along with some funerals.
If we're not careful, we can take the Spirit out of our spirituality and make our Christian experience more about the routines of religious expression than the dynamics of a life lived intentionally with Jesus. And this goes for pastors, too. I can do my "job," perform my religious duties, receive a paycheck, and all is good with the world. Or so it seems at first. But if we digress in our devotion, we are no longer fueling our spirit, and our love for Jesus grows cold. We keep going through the motions, but we find ourselves possessing a cavernous heart that was created to be filled with God's Spirit but settles for spirits of other kinds. And, thus, we keep on searching.
The remedy to this malady is authentically returning to our first love. The Apostle John records the words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus: "I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:3-5).
The Ephesian church was faithful to God's Word. They were patient and did not grow weary. They stood against false doctrine (Revelation 2:6). And yet they abandoned the "why." May we never forsake the "why" which is our love for Jesus. Jesus said, "Abide in my love" (John 15:9). This is the bedrock of discipleship. Obedience flows out of love. It doesn't create love; it manifests it. If we don't have love, we are not remaining in Jesus, and we ultimately will live lives devoid of bearing fruit.
Right about now my friend in Kentucky would say, "I thought you were going to keep it simple." So I return to where I started. Discipleship is not a program, and it is not complicated. If you want to discover why you exist, the meaning of life, and the fulfillment of daily existence, follow Jesus, let Him change your life, and then bring others along with you. This you cannot do in isolation of others. Love for Jesus leads to love for others and becomes the defining mark of a disciple. Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
Let's take those daily steps, in friendship with others, to love God, follow Jesus, and serve our world.