The Dangerous Side of Discipleship

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Anytime we set up hierarchies we set up the possibility of abuse. Church is no different. Discipleship is no different.

Discipleship often involves a more mature believer discipling a new or less mature believer. It doesn’t have to be that way but typically it is. With that comes the ever present temptation of abuse.

The way this is counteracted is done in three ways.

First, by making sure Jesus is the one being followed, not the one doing the discipling. Paul himself wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1 to follow him as he followed Jesus. This keeps pride of position in check.

Not everyone is following Jesus. Even the most mature aren’t following Jesus every step. Not everyone who has been a Christian longer needs to be discipling people. If you have a tendency to control people don’t disciple people unless you can get that under control first. You may never be in a good place to be a discipled if this is your tendency.

Second, in order to counteract abuse potential the discipling relationship must be mutual. There has to be a give and a take. It can’t be one person demanding or expecting confession and accountability from the other person and it not be reciprocal. Both are in the position of students in the school of Christ.

Third, abuse must be called out and discipled. It cannot be allowed to enter the character of the culture or movement. If it is allowed it will fester and spoil the whole process.

When we frame discipleship with Jesus in the lead and the rest of us all helping each other follow him we can resist the temptation of inequitable and abusive discipling relationships. When relationships are reciprocal and expectations mutual we can also offset the abuse potential. When we call out and discipline abuse we can create healthy environments for growth.

I believe our biggest hesitation to enter these relationships is this potential for abuse. I can assure you we can approach discipleship proactively and with the right values and priorities in place on the front end to keep controlling and domineering people out and abuse out.

5 Responses

  1. I still confess that I find the definition of discipleship as “following Jesus” to be rather vague. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean selling all we have and giving to the poor? That’s what Jesus commanded his disciples to do. Does it mean starting a healing ministry? Does it mean memorizing the Sermon on the Mount and reciting it on street corners? I don’t mean to be flip, but I find preachers in general to be long on generalities and short on specifics. Jesus lived a radical life. To what extent are we expected to live radical lives?

    1. Matt, the book of Ephesians helps to paint the big picture of discipleship for the church in Ephesus. John’s question about answering the “why” and the “end in mind” of discipleship is really good. We should all strive to answer that question.

      In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul shares one of the reason’s why we need to have discipling relationships (it is as you say, to point us back to Christ).

      11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

      14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

    2. Ephesians is a wonderful letter. Paul uses 42 imperatives. 1 is in the first three chapters. 42 are in the last three chapters. Paul uses the indicative in the first three chapter – Here is what God did for you through Christ. Then he turns at 4:1 with a therefore to tell us how then we are to live in light of all God has done for us! It is a beautiful order and an order God used in the OT as well like in the 10 commandments in Exodus 20. Before God gives those commandments Ex 20:1 reminds them God is the one who brought them out of Egypt. So…have no other God’s before me, etc.

      God always makes the first move. We respond. This is part of “following” Jesus.

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