(The following is part 3 of a four part series:
For the past two weeks I have been writing about the pathway of a disciple that Jesus outlined when he called Peter and Andrew in Mark 1:17. Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." He took the message that he preached far and wide about the kingdom, and he applied it particularly to these fishermen. He proclaimed the gospel by saying, "Follow me," making a clear call to relationship with God by turning from their own paths to walk with him instead. He then declared his intentions: "I will make you become...." They almost seem like passing words, but they cannot be overlooked.
In saying, "I will make you become," Jesus is demonstrating his personal commitment to the growth of his disciples. Jesus does not outsource discipleship - he personally makes it happen. He is also demonstrating that he does not transform his disciples all at once, but rather takes them through a process of becoming. We see this process all through the four gospels. At the end of his earthly ministry with them, Jesus would then tell his disciples to go and make disciples, baptizing them, and then teaching them to obey all that he had commanded (see Matt. 28:19-20). He would personally work through his body, the church, to make more disciples become what he called them to become. As the gospel went forward in the face of opposition, the apostles would strengthen the souls of the disciples, "encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
At Oak Hill, we call this the "equipping" phase of discipleship, and it is essential to the growth of any follower of Jesus. If we aren't equipped, opposition will knock us off our feet. However, the word "equipping" is meaningless without an understanding of the content and process of equipping. We must have the right perception of a disciple if we are going to equip them properly. A soldier being sent into battle needs equipped very differently than a professor being sent into a classroom. Often churches will talk about equipping as if it is merely the transfer of information about the responsibilities and tasks of a disciple or understanding the job description of a particular ministry role. While roles and responsibilities are part of equipping, they are not the whole picture.
Equipped in The confidence of CHRIST's power
Before we can pursue our roles and responsibilities as disciples, we must be equipped with the heart that undergirds that call. In baptizing a disciple, we image the powerful transformation of heart that we sometimes call "conversion" or "the baptism of the Holy Spirit." Jesus changes our hearts at a fundamental, spiritual level. We die to ourselves and come alive in Christ (see Rom. 6:1-14 and Col. 2:11-15). He changes our identity so that it is no longer us doing the living, but Christ living through us as we exercise faith in him (see Gal. 2:20 and Rom. 1:16-17).
If we do not first understand this fundamental shift in identity and this unimaginable power at work within us, we will not understand the calling of Christ on his disciples. His call on our lives will feel burdensome when it is meant to be freeing and life-sustaining. We will fall into the default mode of "being perfected by works" instead of growing by truly abiding in Christ. That is why we primarily define equipping as teaching a disciple to "abide, grow, and endure in Christ." Discipleship and equipping are not merely matters of information transfer. It is allowing the person and work of Christ to take root our hearts. It is about applying our new identity in Christ to the various callings he has given us.
At Oak Hill, we define a disciple as "someone who is growing in their dependence on and devotion to Jesus." We cannot grow in our devotion to Christ and his ways without fully depending upon him to do the work in us.
A disciple is someone who is growing in their dependence on and devotion to Jesus.
When we are walking with someone who is new to the faith, we must highlight the importance of abiding in Christ, or "remaining in constant awareness of, connection to, and dependence on the power and presence of our loving Savior" (see John 15 and our "Abide" sermon series page for more understanding and resources). We must show them who they are in Christ and how to commune with him through healthy habits of prayer, the Word, community, and witness. Disciples must be taught to grow in Christ, not apart from him, because that is the only way we can endure.
equipped in The Content OF Christ's TEACHING
Once we understand the power that motivates our growth, we must have a clear perception of what a disciple is and does. We are called to teach disciples to obey all that Christ has commanded. This is a big task as it not only covers the red letters of Christ's commands on earth, but really a submission to the scriptures as a whole, and an application of the New Testament letters in particular. In a sense, the whole Bible is "all Christ commanded" because it all points to him and flows from him. Thankfully, the apostles left us a pattern of their discipleship content in the New Testament letters.
As we read the New Testament, we see that once the writers equipped disciples with the doctrine of Christ's powerful identity and work, they applied that doctrine to everyday life. A careful reading of the New Testament letters reveals a pattern of common teaching that can be summarized as "first principles of following Jesus." The early church referred to this as the didache or "the teaching," and it was a fundamental outline of the way a disciple should live in their households, churches, and communities. It describes the roles and responsibilities of a disciple as they depend on Jesus in every sphere of life. At Oak Hill, we've written a modern didache-style summary that serves as part of our membership commitments called, "The Way of a Disciple". It is an outline of the essential call of Christ in five key spheres of life: our individual walk with God, our family, our church, our community, and the whole world. Every disciple must be equipped with a basic understanding of the way of a disciple in these five spheres so that they can understand Christ's calling on their life (see our membership video series or "The Basics" sermon series and Bible study guide for more teaching on these foundational truths).
As we are equipped in the content of Christ's teaching through the apostles, we will naturally begin to see ourselves as servants of Christ. Equip Servants is the chosen language of our mission statement because "servant" was a favored self-designation for believers throughout the New Testament. It reflected both Christ's character as the suffering servant, and it rightly positioned the believer under the authority of Jesus. It is not a derogatory term, and it should be celebrated alongside such other distinguished titles as "child of God" because there is no greater privilege than to serve a king such as Jesus. We are equipped to serve Jesus in all of his kingdom - in every sphere of life.
equipped The Context of community
Once these basics are understood, going "deeper" as a disciple is not so much about learning new truth as it is about understanding and applying the foundational truth in new and varying ways. Jesus did not just say that we should teach disciples all that he commanded, but that we should teach them to obey all that he commanded. It is not enough to learn the facts of the Bible or to have a fine-tuned doctrinal system. We are called to actually obey Christ as we walk in his power in every sphere of life.
Nothing will highlight our need to grow in our obedience to Christ more effectively than community. For example, as we engage in genuine biblical community, we might see a more mature believer effectively leading their household, and we will understand our need to grow in the sphere of family. We might encounter friction with another believer and understand our need to grow in the first principles of forbearance and forgiveness. We will hear the struggles of a younger believer doubting their faith and realize that God has brought us through similar doubts so that we could encourage their faith.
We are not called to follow Jesus alone. We are called to grow into maturity in Christ as members of the same body (see Eph. 4:15-16). This is why our primary environment for "equipping" at Oak Hill is our Gospel Communities. Certainly, equipping happens when serving in a particular ministry role, or in one-on-one conversations over coffee, but Gospel Communities are designed to help disciples identify key areas of growth and provide the gospel-centered accountability and perspective needed for that growth to occur.
We encourage every believer to identify an area that they believe God is leading them to grow, and to seek accountability, care, prayer, and follow-up with their Gospel Community. Our Discipleship Pathway Self-Assessment is there as a tool to help surface those next steps of growth and provide ideas and resources, but the Gospel Community is there to help you as the disciple follow through.
So, do you understand the confidence of Christ's power to transform you? Do you understand the content of discipleship and the call he has placed on your life? Have you put yourself in the context of a Gospel Community, opening up about the next steps the Lord is wanting you to take?