Maturing as a Disciple

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Grow in Discipleship to Grow as a Disciple

Jesus wandered about the country for three years accompanied by a hand-picked group of disciples. While some of us memorized the names of the original twelve, we know that there were others who also were followers. But Jesus gave himself, his time, his involvement, to just a small band, and ultimately just to three close-in followers: Peter, James and John.

There were many leading rabbis of His day who likewise had their bands of followers, students, disciples. Unlike our modern way of training pastors where one heads off to an institution of higher learning, a disciple accompanied a teacher as he went about his regular duties and learned from first hand experiences.

Rabbi Hillel was one of the leading rabbinical authorities during the Second Temple Period. Hillel studied under Shemaiah and Avtalyon He along with Rabbi Shammai constituted the last pair of the zugot sages.

In Hebrew, the word “zugot” indicates a plural of two identical objects. (In English: “pairs”.) The name was given to the two leading teachers of the Law during each successive generation during the period.

According to tradition, two of them always stood at the head of the Sanhedrin; one as president (“nasi”) and the other as vice- president or father of the court (“Av beit din”; see Sanhedrin). The term “Zugot” refers to 5 pairs of legal scholars who ruled the Supreme Court Beit Din HaGadol from 142 BCE when the 2nd Judean State was established as an independent state to the end of Hillel the Elder’s rule ca. 40 BCE.

Rabbi Hillel was a master at teaching the “spirit of the Torah” and Shammai the “letter of the Torah”. He was known for his love for people and his patience. He taught, “Be like disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing it, loving human beings and bringing them close to the Torah.” There was a saying in his day, “Let a man always be humble and patient like Hillel, and not passionate like Shammai.”

Today the word “Disciple” seems to have lost the power and import of the early church era. Jesus called others to “Take up their cross, deny themselves and follow Him.” How is that carried out in our busy lives? How are we denying ourselves in this hectic, consumeristic era we know as the 21st century? How are we following HIM? Stretching our calendars between sports, work, entertainment, leisure time and offering God an hour here or there - if that much? Are we engaging our community with the message of salvation? Are we even present in the community or hiding behind closed doors or church, home or club?

God’s gift of salvation is indeed free, but it is not cheap. It is costly to follow Him as a mature disciple. Alan Hirsch has written an excellent book, The Forgotten Ways, in which he invite those who dare to read to reconsider the mode and methods of becoming mature disciples of Christ: “Unfortunately the church has often replaced life-on-life discipleship with institutional learning based on the principle that if people get the right information, they will change their behavior. This is trying to think our way into a new way of acting. Jesus’ approach to discipleship is that we need to change people’s behavior and their thinking will follow. In other words, we need to act our way into a new way of thinking.” (p. 67)

A Disciple is Always Maturing

Hirsch presents six practices to bring about change towards maturity in Christ:

  • Meaningful engagement - intentionally being available to reach those in the community by going to them, not waiting for them coming to you (the field of dreams mentality of church building - if you build it, they will come.)

  • Proclamation - intentionally telling the story of Jesus and his impact in our lives in a loving, direct manner so that others encounter the wonder and awe of God’s intervention in human history through the Incarnation.

  • Holy Living - the words we speak must match the life we lead, and though we are indeed sinners who live in God’s forgiveness, faith without deeds is dead. So let’s live boldly and love deeply those who are lost.

  • Practice hospitality - create an environment where people in the local community experience the character of God, feel a sense of belonging before believing, and can explore their spirituality with freedom. (p. 105)

  • Contextualizing Community - as groups coalesce, new modes of expression will surface that can be placed in historical context so that proper Biblical doctrine is maintained but new means of expressing faith remain relevant to the community from which it springs.

  • Send others out - a critical mark of Christian maturity is the sending out of groups to “seed” new groups in new locations. This is a core practice of mature disciples.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. –- Matthew 5: 1-12

We pray for more disciples in Christ!