A disciple, simply

Okay. Can we talk for a bit? I’m out of practice with writing, so it will take me awhile to find my flow again. But I’m working on a sermon for Sunday and I’m sifting through my heart and brain (and all the tons of debris that live there), gathering fragments for a simple, useful, helpful, clear, not churchy, memorable, practical, both point AND process oriented, untricky, replicable definition of “disciple”.

We’ve talked about the idea of a disciple here for the last three years. There are several books on my Kindle and my shelves and my desk about disciples and discipleship and disciple-making. It is not for lack of material that I am wrestling this week. But perhaps the struggle that I have and that these many authors and organizations and ordinary people have is that there are so many words for a very simple thing.

I mean, for the first three years, a disciple of Jesus was someone who followed Jesus around, listened to what he said, argued with it, misunderstood it, and asked him for clarification about it. There was no political expectation, no perfection expectation. There was a huge learning expectation, a huge engagement expectation. There was uncertainty, skepticism, fear. There was failure.

As I thought about these first disciples this morning, I realized that they were always asking Jesus questions about what he meant. He was often pointing out what they didn’t understand and then explaining. I realized that I hardly ever hear people ask him what he means. I hear people asking for things, like healings and miracles, but the disciples didn’t so much. They were wanting to understand what he meant.

I wander what he’d say if we did that more?

I mean, maybe I should ask Jesus what he meant by “disciple.”

11 thoughts on “A disciple, simply

  1. Rick Dugan

    We’ve been having this very conversation over on FB. Here’s one of the comments:

    ‘It’s helpful to let Jesus define his idea of discipleship. Good starting points are Luke 9:23, Luke 14:26, John 13:35, and John 8:31.’

    Preaching January 1, eh? That’s a tough Sunday. 😉

    Like

    1. Jon Swanson

      Rick, I was looking at that conversation a little. And yes, that’s an interesting morning to preach.

      Have you read “King Jesus Gospel” by McKnight? It’s raising interesting thoughts about why we think being a disciple is hard or confusing or something.

      Like

    2. Rick Dugan

      Haven’t read McKnight’s book yet, but it’s in the queue. Maybe I should bump it forward. I liked your comment that disciples regularly asked what Jesus meant. So much of what he said made no sense. He went beyond what normal rabbis did or taught, which is why understanding first century rabbinical discipleship can only take us so far in understanding Christian discipleship.

      I struggle with many definitions of discipleship because they seem to do little more than present Jesus as the *best* rabbi, with the *best* message and method, and the *most* patience for us bumbling followers. The call to follow Jesus is not a call to follow the best rabbi into the best way of life. It’s the call of God Himself. This is why I think the call to follow Christ (so predominant in the gospels) is incomplete without the reality of being *in* Christ (the language of the epistles).

      But that’s one of those things we have to go back to Jesus with and ask him what it means.

      Like

  2. Joanna Paterson

    I mean, a disciple of Jesus was someone who followed Jesus around, listened to what he said, argued with it, misunderstood it, and asked him for clarification about it.

    There are some beautifully simple verbs in that sentence. Ask is only one of them 😉

    Like

  3. Frank Reed

    Asking Him is the best place to start. My wife and I struggle with both discipling others and being discipled ourselves.

    You can’t be a disciple without a willingness to learn. You can’t disciple without humility because as a human we will make mistakes whereas Jesus didn’t.

    Of course none of this can truly happen unless both parties recognize their sin nature. In fact nothing happens in Christianity without that element.

    Like

    1. Jon Swanson

      Frank, exactly right: a disciple is, by definition, a learner. And a learner is, among other things, one who is willing to acknowledge ignorance, And that is a very hard thing. And yet an incredibly freeing thing.

      Like

  4. Rich Dixon

    ” a disciple of Jesus was someone who followed Jesus around, listened to what he said, argued with it, misunderstood it, and asked him for clarification about it. There was no political expectation, no perfection expectation. There was a huge learning expectation, a huge engagement expectation. There was uncertainty, skepticism, fear. There was failure.”

    Has that changed?

    Like

    1. Jon Swanson

      Rich, it hasn’t changed. But often, we have changed it. We have loaded other expectations, and then we talk about ‘trying to be a disciple” or “wanting to be a disciple” or “working on being a disciple.” But it’s way simpler and more transparent and more fundamentally human than we think. And harder.

      Like

  5. Jason Ivers

    A disciple is someone who believes that whomever they are a disciple of is a master of their chosen discipline (notice the similarity of the words?), and is attempting to learn from and emulate them. Jesus was (and is) a master in the discipline of following God and doing His will. His disciples acknowledged that, and attempted to learn from and emulate Jesus in that area (which in this case affects basically every other area, as well). They essentially acknowledged that he was a master to the point that if there was a conflict between them, Jesus was always right.

    People still do this today in various fields, from art to business, but those disciplines don’t generally spill into every single aspect of your life like God does (though it can feel like they do sometimes).

    How is that?

    Like

  6. Andrew Bernhardt

    A disciple is someone who lives to become like his master. As Jesus devoted His whole being to loving His Father and doing His will, a disciple of Jesus must also strive to devote one’s whole being: heart, mind, soul and strength. Jesus focused much of His teaching on the inner man. This goes beyond just following in external practice or intellectual assent.

    Like

Comments are closed