In 1992, Gatorade ran an ad campaign that showed Michael Jordan doing his thing: making crazy shots, behind the back dribbling, and – of course – dunking from the free-throw line with his tongue out. Then it showed kids imitating him. 5 year old boys “going to the hole” with their tongue out, older boys trying (and failing) the “behind the back” thing. Teenagers making run after run at the hoop, mastering the classic Air Jordan form. The tagline was “I wanna be like Mike,” and it’s a perfect example of modern disciple-making.
What is a disciple?
The most simple definition is that a disciple is a student, but this doesn’t really get across the whole idea. Jesus’ disciples called him teacher (rabbi), but they also called him master. They were learning more than just Jesus’ teaching, they were learning to “be like Jesus.”
In our Home Groups, we’re going through the Apostle’s Creed. The opening phrase of the Creed is “I believe in God the Father…” In Western culture, “I believe” can mean many things, but it means something specific to Christians, to disciples of Jesus:
When people are asked what they believe in, they give not merely different answers, but different sorts of answers. Someone might say, “I believe in UFOs”—that means, “I think UFOs are real.” “I believe in democracy”—that means, “I think democratic principles are just and beneficial.” But what does it mean when Christian congregations stand and say, “I believe in God”? Far more than when the object of belief is UFOs or democracy. I can believe in UFOs without ever looking for one and in democracy without ever voting. In cases like these, belief is a matter of the intellect only. But the Creed’s opening words, “I believe in God,” render a Greek phrase coined by the writers of the New Testament, meaning literally: “I am believing into God.” That is to say, over and above believing certain truths about God, I am living in a relation of commitment to God in trust and union. When I say “I believe in God,” I am professing my conviction that God has invited me to this commitment and declaring that I have accepted his invitation.
Packer, J.I. (2009-04-10). Affirming the Apostles’ Creed (Kindle Locations 179-186). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
A disciple of Christ is someone who quite literally lives like Jesus lived, does what He did, and teaches others what He taught. As Packer says, it’s much more than just acknowledging the truth of the facts about Jesus; it’s becoming – in the world’s eyes – Christ for them to see.[pullquote]”The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
– Brennan Manning[/pullquote]
How do we get there?
Becoming a disciple is a life-long process. You never fully arrive, because about the time we get one aspect under control, another one goes off the rails. For example, we can finally get the time and discipline to read our Bibles and pray – but maybe we stop giving financially or stop serving others. As evangelicals, we often act as if discipleship simply meant “bible study,” when it requires so much more to truly become like Christ.
It starts in community.
Instead of making a to-do list and locking ourselves in a closet until we have it all down, start with community. Join a home group, and share your life with them. This is a safe place to “practice” being like Jesus. At Pin Oaks, our home groups are intended to be a form of extended family. By sharing our lives (as messy as they might be), serving together, doing fun stuff together, studying God’s Word together and praying together, we cultivate a family identity that looks a lot like Christ. Maybe not perfectly, but close enough where the world outside can genuinely make out Jesus – or at least the “family resemblance” – when they see us. Nobody gets there overnight. But we have to work at it. The world around us desperately needs to see Jesus, to see the hope that is found only in Him – and most of the time, as Christians, you and I will be the closest thing to Him that they see.