The 21st Century Cost of Discipleship

This evening, I spent some time on the phone with one of my favorite people in the world.  She is one of the most noble women I have ever known and I had the honor of being discipled by her a few years ago.  She invited me into one of her discipleship groups that she’s led every year since she herself was discipled by Anne Ortlund.  As Anne’s discipleship influence changed the course of my friend’s ministry to women, it did so to mine as well. 

Discipleship can happen in many different ways, but the basic heart of it is influencing the life of another Christian so they can grow mature in their faith and trust in Jesus.  This particular model of discipleship (we’ll call it the Ortlund model), requires a commitment.   When inviting people to join you in discipleship, Anne suggests that you look for F.A.T. Christians: faithful, available and teachable:

  • Faithful – Think about Levi, or Matthew, as he was called.  When Jesus saw him He said “Follow Me,” and Matthew jumped up and “left everything and followed him” (Lk. 5:28).  This doesn’t mean that from here on he owned nothing.  It means he had a new Master and was faithful to let Him take complete charge of his life.
  • Available –  Jesus didn’t choose Nicodemus for His group, though Nicodemus had great religious influence.  He didn’t choose Joseph of Arimathea, who had lots of money to finance their travels.  They both loved Jesus, but they were probably too enmeshed in their own businesses.  They weren’t loose enough to really commit.  
  • Teachable – “Disciple” means “learner,” and this person must be willing to be one – not come across as if he already knows everything.

Once you have your “Ortlund Model” group formed, the commitment is weekly (we meet for one and a half hours), from September to June.  Nine months.  Any more than that, Anne suggests, is detrimental to the group and the leader because people typically can’t sustain a longer commitment. 

The thing I’ve noticed is that in our increasingly busy society, where the world of work, school, sports, media, social media, etc. demands our time and attention, it appears to also be increasingly difficult to form and sustain commitments like this. 

My question is this… is it possible to do discipleship this way in the 21st Century? 

I completely recognize that this is not the only way to do discipleship.  There are times and seasons for every person when discipleship can happen and is lived out in many wonderful and creative ways.  However, regardless of how you do it,  read through the New Testament and see that discipleship does indeed have a cost.  Any mature believer will tell you that following Jesus is costly.  Sometimes you give up your time, but sometimes it may cost you friendships, the respect of family members, your job and yes… it could cost you your very life. 

Jesus once spoke to a wealthy young man who was interested in eternal life.  He looked him lovingly in the eye and said, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  Are we all required to sell everything we have?  No.  But the lesson implies that we need to be willing to give up everything we have, everything we hold as precious to us to pick up our cross and follow Him.  This particular man, looked down then walked away.  Jesus didn’t run after him. To follow someone requires a choice. The follower must be willing, motivated and eager. 

Every follower of Jesus is a disciple… but if you are going to go from making Jesus your Savior to Jesus as Lord, you can’t do it alone.  No one can and no one was meant to.  That’s why God established His Church.  To build and strengthen disciples who would love Him and go out and love the world to Christ. 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  ~ Matthew 13:45-46

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