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Followers of Jesus or of Me? Thoughts on Disciplemaking

“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”  Jesus

“Christ is not valued at all, unless He is valued above all.” Augustine

“Be followers of me as I follow Christ.” Paul

“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus

Those of us who take seriously the Great Commission recognize how Christ’s charge compels us not to make converts on a superficial level but Christ-followers in all of life.

But we who make disciples must remember our own fallen state. Though pure in motive, without great care we may in the name of disciplemaking focus too much on making those we disciple like us rather than like Jesus. True, Paul said to those he discipled to follow him as he followed Christ, and there is a sense in which one of the best ways to show a disciple how to follow Christ is by demonstrating such a life. But we must be aware of our own biases as we lead others.

As we make disciples we need to be careful to be balanced, to be holistic in our training.  All of us have personalities and passions that mark us. God has made us unique, but our goal in disciplemaking is less to note our uniqueness and more to make much of Christ. If we do not take care we will inadvertently push those we follow to pursue our personal passions more than Jesus.  I would submit that three areas must be at the heart of our disciplemaking, mentoring, and for that matter, all our teaching and preaching, as well as our witness in the world:

-Orthodoxy, or right belief—we must affirm and guard fundamental teaching of Scripture.

-Orthopathy, or right affections—we must have a deep love for God and for others.

-Orthopraxy, or right actions—we must demonstrate our faith effectively in how we live.

In other words, we should be discipling others (and ourselves) to give glory to God through our head, our heart, and our hands.  This is hinted at in Luke 2:52 where we read our Lord grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.  We see this in the earliest description of life in the church in Acts 2:42-47:

Orthodoxy: they gave themselves to the apostles doctrine.

Orthopathy: they were praising God and having favor with the people.

Orthopraxy: they sold their possessions and distributed to those in need.

Here is how we must take care not to make followers of us rather than followers of Christ. We all have a tendency to favor one of these more than the others.

You probably know some believers who love to study doctrine or some subset of theology, from apologetics to a specific theological trend (eschatology, etc).  Sometimes these folks given to such interests display a less than gracious capacity to relate to others or to put to practice their faith in the real world. And, sometimes they would rather argue their theological convictions than take time to hear yours.

Others have a great heart for people and really love God, but the idea of a doctrinal study gives them chills. They have affection but do not value truth.

Then again, some just want to know how to “do” the Christian life. These are the activists, jumping from one cause to another, sometimes running over people who do not share their affection for said cause, and often not able to articulate why they have such an activist bent biblically.  You may be given to one of these than others, but take care: if you focus on one in your disciplemaking to the neglect of the others, you are not making followers of Jesus.

You are making followers of you.

Consider this formula:

Orthodoxy + Orthopraxy – Orthopathy = legalism.  The Pharisees were keen on preserving the truth and on doing their religious duties. But they did not love people. They still don’t.

Orthopraxy + Orthopathy – Orthodoxy = liberalism. You have heard the expression a “bleeding heart liberal.” Liberals love to talk about their love for people and their causes, but loathe to talk about doctrine and changeless truth.

Orthodoxy + Orthopathy – Orthopraxy = monasticism. Monasteries seek to preserve a pure faith They love those inside their safe walls. But they do nothing to change the world around them. I know many churches who function this way, gathering together regularly, loving their fellowship, standing on the promises while they sit on the premises of their church facility, but who do so little in their communities that if they vanished from their communities no one would notice.

We must be aware how we as individuals and how our churches focus on one of these to the exclusion of the others. In fact, entire Christian traditions tend to do this:

-Presbyterian and other Reformed traditions, Bible Churches and the like generally focus on orthodoxy, giving great emphasis to the doctrines of grace.

-Pentecostal and Charismatic churches focus on orthopathy, being known much more for their passionate worship and emotional emphases. Study the history of Pentecostalism and you will read very few books on doctrine early in the movement.

-My tradition, the Baptists, focus on orthopraxy. After all, we have a program for pretty much everything in the Christian life. Want to be a witness? Take a FAITH evangelism course. Want to grow spiritually? Do Experiencing God. Name an area of growth and I guarantee you we have a how-to manual for it.

We need balance. Not a milk-toast, generic version of each, but a bold, unashamed passion for truth, for God and people, and a burden to live out our doctrine and our affection in an effective manner. I want to dig deeply into the riches of God’s Word, have a heart for my Savior and the people for whom He died that is apparent to all, and be able to live the faith in this culture in such a way that believers and unbelievers alike see that there is no better way to live. Or to think. Or to love.

Understanding this not only helps our disciplemaking with those who have come to follow Christ, it can help our evangelism as well. Some people we meet need to be shown theologically the truth of the gospel. Wait, everyone needs that!  But some also need to see and sense the great love of God for them in addition to the propositions of the gospel. Further, some need to see how our faith actually works in the real world, how following Christ affects our daily lives and decisions. The effective gospel-bearer will learn to explain the gospel in such a way that one sees its truth, senses its heart, and realizes its practicality in a broken world.

Be busy making disciples. Just be busy making disciples of Jesus, with all of our hearts, our minds, and our activity. Such disciples may make people take notice. It did in the early church. And it will today.

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Alvin L. Reid (born 1959) serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two children: Joshua, a senior at The College at Southeastern, and Hannah, a senior at Wake Forest Rolesville High School. Recently he became more focused at ministry in his local church by being named Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin holds the M.Div and the Ph.D with a major in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary, and the B.A. from Samford University. He has spoken at a variety of conferences in almost every state and continent, and in over 2000 churches, colleges, conferences and events across the United States.