Discipleship encompasses the whole of a person. A disciple offers himself as a medium to receive the likeness of his rabbi. Every aspect of the teacher affects every aspect of the disciple. To call disciples media for the image of the master does not mean that they are entirely passive. Each of disciple must consent in every way to the master’s conforming work.
Since every disciple is different, they will often find themselves focusing on specific aspects while neglecting others. This tendency can be troubling since a focus on one aspect of the master to the detriment of others produces distorted disciples, churches and movements. Take for instance the IBLP. I don’t think anyone would question the sincerity of those in that organization to foster God honoring family life. Yet, their hyper focus on godly families has turned their adherents toward isolation and their formulaic take on spiritual formation has led toward hollow conformity. On the other hand, mission minded disciples of previous eras and of our own, have often been guilty of investing themselves in the lost world to the neglect of discipling their own children, hence the “preacher’s kid” stigma. We just tend to gravitate to the part of Christ which drew us to him without taking the trouble to attend to him as a whole person.
The Growth Cycle can help us identify where we should place greater emphasis in our pursuit of Christlikeness. Personally, I can readily succumb to the illusion that I’m becoming more like Christ when I’m busy in ministry and outreach. Only once my lack of spiritual depth or my compartmentalization begins to produce dysfunction do I take seriously the “take root” and “bear fruit” aspects of the spiritual life. But if I know ahead of time that a healthy discipleship process must include all three aspects, I can make steady progress with fewer spiritual setbacks.
In order to remediate a recent neglect in the “take root” aspect of my walk, I’ve teamed up with a couple of other guys to go through forty days of centering prayer. The reading this morning was from Matthew 28:16-20:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.” (NIV)
Normally, I would place emphasis on the latter part of this passage but having just spent 20 minutes attending to the presence of God, the words, “they worshiped him” drew my focus. The disciples didn’t need to be told to worship the risen Christ. That was their spontaneous response, but not for all. Matthew also records, “but some doubted.” It occurred to me that among all disciples and disciple makers there will be those who worship and those who doubt. Perhaps, the words of Christ which follow were addressed primarily to the doubting disciples. The doubters needed to hear that Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. They need to be told to make disciples. The worshipers understand the implications of Christ’s resurrection and they cannot contain their joy.
Yes, we need to make disciples, but may our drive to do so come from regular encounters with the risen Christ which draw us first to worship and then out into a dark world. This is why the Growth Group questionnaire includes: “Did you spend _____minutes each day in prayer?” We cannot minister what we do not have. Conversely, we will not receive fresh infilling of God’s grace until we share what he has already given us.
If you are struggling to make steady progress in your spiritual life, it may be due to an imbalanced approach to godliness. I encourage you to find someone else who would like to grow and invite them to join you in a Growth Group or some other holistic process. In this way, we won’t just become better bible students, spouses, parents, employees, or ministers; we’ll become more like Jesus and find all those things as part of the whole.