A Treatise on Discipleship By Trish Jones

“Vestiges of Vestal” (Do I have to have big hair?)”

This comment is going to date me, big-time – to the point where some of you might not even know to whom I am referring. But – I always wanted to look like Vestal Goodman.

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Internationally known as the Queen of Gospel Music, Vestal was a bigger-than-life, this-is-who-I-am-take-me-or-leave-me Southern belle. At Southern Gospel concerts, she easily commanded center stage with her gravelly voice, her ever-present hanky, and her flamboyant and flowing pant suits.

I loved those pant suits. I loved her style. I wasn’t a huge fan of her music, but I used to wish I could be more like her, or at least who she appeared to be. Unashamed of her size or her larger-than-life personality, Vestal Goodman was a “presence.”

So, for awhile, I tried to be a Vestal mini-me; right down to the Texas-sized big hair, five inches high and lacquered stiff enough to hold its shape in a downpour. I searched high and low for big-legged, flowered pants suits with long tunics in vivid colors. Found a few, too. I didn’t go quite so far as the hanky, but I did start quite a collection of chunky costume jewelry – something I’m known for to this day.

I watched what she did, what she wore, and how she acted, and did my level best to copy her mannerisms and her style. I was naturally a shy, lonely, and fearful introvert – but if I could convince myself to take on the public persona of Vestal Goodman, I could pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I learned to act like her, at least some of the time.

What I couldn’t have told you then – and still couldn’t until I Googled the singer’s biography – were the details of her life. Where she was born (Alabama) – how many children she had (two) – when she died (2003) – and that she battled an addiction (to prescription pain-killers after a fight with cancer). In other words, I didn’t know many real facts about, or was a true student of Vestal Goodman – I just tried to copy what I saw.

I was an admirer; a copycat; and a hypocrite. What I wasn’t – was a disciple.

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Discipleship. That’s a buzz word in today’s church, and in our women’s ministries – but what does it really mean? Perhaps more importantly, what does the process of discipleship look like? How do we do it? Do we just find someone in our circle of friends and church family who looks like they may “have it all together” and try to mimic what they do?

Well, let’s see. They seem to be fairly regular in church attendance and they’re part of a Life Group. My life gets a little crazy at times, but I can probably do better at being more faithful in my church attendance. Check that box.

I know they study the Bible, I’ve heard them talk about their quiet time. I’ve not been very successful at that, but I’ll try harder. Go find a good devotional book for women, get up 15 minutes earlier, and spend time with God. Check that box.

They seem to be always smiling and know so many people! I don’t really know anyone here, and I’m too nervous to try and reach out to strangers. Well, some of us are just introverts and that’s okay. I’ll pass on that one.

I know she does some volunteer work with some ministry to the homeless, and I’ve heard her share the Gospel with a waitress when we were at the same restaurant. I’m not comfortable doing any of that, but maybe I can give a little more money to missions. Check.

Of course, I’m still struggling with my unsaved husband, and I’m terrified that my teen-aged daughter is having sex with her boyfriend, and I’m tired and depressed and frightened most of the time, but I don’t dare share that with anyone, they all seem like they can handle anything. I’ll just do what she does and try harder and maybe then God will give me what I need to get through this life.

Check. Out.

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So. “Discipleship.” What is it? Is it just observing someone and trying to copy what you see? That, by itself, would be a daunting task. Is that enough?

Go deeper. In Christianity, who is a disciple? Are there two (or more) levels in Christianity; the first being a simple convert who stops there, and the second being a stage two Christian who learns more; and perhaps the third being a disciple-maker? (By the way, the Biblical answer is “no!”)

In passages like Acts 11:26 and Acts 14:21, the Bible is clear: disciples are Christians. No stages, no levels. Anyone who is a Christian, who embraces Jesus as Lord and Savior, is a disciple.

In what is known as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19,20 Jesus gave his followers clear commands: “Go therefore and make disciples.” How? “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

John Piper comments: That is a very long process. That is like a lifetime of process. So get them converted. Baptize them. And then spend a lifetime teaching them to obey all that Jesus said. That is what the verb “disciple” in the New Testament would include. People need to become Christians and people need to be taught how to think and feel and act as a Christian.”

So the question rises again: “how?”

The Apostle Paul had a visitor while he was under house arrest in Rome. Epaphras, the teaching elder of the church at Colossae, was seeking Paul’s advice on how to steer his church clear of false teachings that were threatening to undermine their faith in the sufficiency of Jesus. Paul answered the pastor’s questions by writing a letter to the general body of believers and leaders of this church the apostle had neither founded nor visited.

He wanted to make it abundantly clear that Jesus was enough – in all circumstances, for all seasons of life, and in the face of all assaults, questions, and ridicule.

This is part of Paul’s answer – to them and to us:

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 1:27-2:3 ESV)

There’s so much in this passage, but the complete exegesis isn’t what I’m after right now. Paul has given us an outline of discipleship – what it is and how to do it – whether on a one-to-one mentoring basis, or in a group setting. The apostle concisely lays out the who, what, when, where, why and how of discipleship.

Who (are we disciples of): Jesus Christ. In us. The hope (certainty) of glory. The Treasure of all wisdom and knowledge.

What (are we to do):

1. We proclaim Jesus; we declare, announce, preach him publicly – who he is, why he has come.

2. As we preach Jesus, we also warn; we admonish, we caution everyone – he is the only Truth. Don’t be led astray by other teachings, false Messiahs, or difficult circumstances.

3. As we proclaim Jesus, we teach him; we impart instruction, instill doctrine, with all wisdom – in other words, how to apply what we teach about Jesus. What difference does knowing him make in our lives?

When (do we disciple): The verb tenses in the Greek in this passage make it abundantly clear; the process of proclaiming, warning and teaching is an ongoing, ever-present action. When do we disciple? All the time, at every opportunity.

Where (do we disciple): Everywhere we may be (for example, in a Roman prison) and to everyone we can reach by any means – even those who have not seen us face-to-face. Wherever God has given us a sphere of influence; there we make disciples.

Why (do we disciple): To present (bring near into fellowship) every believer mature and fully complete in Christ; so that their hearts may be encouraged (in the midst of a dark and confusing world), bound together in love; richly assured in understanding and knowing Jesus Christ – in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

How (do we disciple): We labor to the point of weariness; we work hard; we struggle; in fact, we agonize in the entire process of discipleship – but – with his dynamic energy which so powerfully works within us!

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Let’s go back to the Vestal mini-me. Or to those women you catch sight of at church every so often, who smile nervously at you as they hurry past after service, or stand against a wall in the crowded lobby before church service, looking vaguely uncomfortable. Take it from one who has been there, done that: they are longing for, looking for, connection and community. While they may not use the word or even know what it means – they are searching for a disciple-maker. A friend, a sister, to come alongside them and teach them about Jesus; teach them (in Piper’s words) “how to think and feel and act as a Christian.”

And that difficult, challenging, sometimes agonizing process is God’s calling on every believer’s life – no exceptions. That’s discipleship. And that’s our purpose as women of God and daughters of the King.

“For this (we) toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within (us).” (Colossians 1:29).

As in everything else in our walk with our Lord, he supplies all things needed to fulfill his plans and purposes in and through our lives – for the glory of his Name and the expansion of His Kingdom.

Let’s get to it.

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