Chapter 1 of “Discipleship that Fits” by Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom starts with this thought,
“When you look at Jesus and see the kind of person he is, the quality of life he lives, and the depth of character he has, do you ever wish that you could be more like him? We certainly do!” – p.16
It is important that we define our terms correctly on the front end so we are all talking about the same thing.
I remember being at Pepperdine Lectures a couple of years ago when N.T. Wright was keynoting. He did some Q&A with ministers and I had the opportunity to ask him a question. I had read his massive tome on Paul and in that book he seems to be a proponent of the essentiality of baptism. So I asked him his view on that. He gave four or five reasons why he believed baptism is essential to salvation and then went on to the next question. Then it hit me. When he says “baptism” he probably means something different than when I say baptism! I wish I could have asked a followup question to have defined to terms to make sure we were not just saying the same things, but meaning the same things with the words we used!
If I know anything about Bobby Harrington it is that he gets what I just illustrated – how we define terms is crucially important. Without this set on the front end we can easily talk past each other and miss the points made in the book.
Here is how discipleship is defined in this book and how it will be used throughout these reviews,
“Being a disciple of Jesus simply means that you are modeling your life – your thoughts, your words, your actions, your everything – after the example and teaching Jesus has given us.” p.16
“A disciple is someone who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and is committed to Jesus’ kingdom mission.” – Bobby, 16
God wants us to be like Jesus so we can help others be like Jesus which is what “discipleship” is all about – “the process through which Jesus turns us into people who trust and follow him.” – again all of this is found on p.16. In this book it is important to note that “discipleship” = “disciple making” (p.18)
Alex’s definition of a disciple is that “a disciple is an intentional learner from Jesus” which they point out is an apprentice model – p.17
Now that we have our terms defined let’s talk about the rest of chapter one.
Next they work through the Great Commission and break it down into four components: Help, trust, follow, Jesus – that the gist of making disciples is to “help people trust and follow Jesus” (p.19). This terminology is an attempt to accurately reflect the meaning of the text while also being practical – it helps puts the ideas embedded in the commission into something that is actionable for everyday Christians. We won’t have repeatable/reproducible processes if we don’t keep things simple.
I find this terminology helpful, memorable, easily teachable and repeatable. This is something I am adopting into my own thinking on discipleship and I am appreciative of Bobby and Alex for crafting this terminology. If you want a more full explanation of how they arrive on those four words from the Great Commission see pages 18-19. It isn’t a perfect match for the commission, word for word, but it does embody the principles found in the Commission. The biggest stretch, for me, is equating “going” and “helping” but again I get why they did this. Complicated approaches aren’t reproducible approaches and then you never have movement because others aren’t able or willing to pick up a cumbersome approach and use it.
Next discipleship is framed in apprentice and imitation language. This comes from Dallas Willard and a host of other people over the years.
Here is where this book is helpful in taking that conversation a few more steps down a very important road – they ask a very important question that many of us would struggle to answer and the answer to this question might just mean we aren’t living out what we believe in our hearts and minds. Here is the question – “When it comes to growing spiritually, from whom are you learning?” (p.21).
If we don’t have someone intentionally discipling us (to learn from) then we aren’t fully embracing discipleship as an apprentice or a disciple as imitation and that means we may also not be embracing an attitude or posture of humility in our walk with Jesus.
Next, they make a very important pair of points. We need to be encouraging people to enter the roles they are being trained to fill. But with empowerment comes accountability – “You cannot have a culture of empowerment without a parallel value of accountability.” (p.24). We like the first but avoid the second. We must have both and we must have them from the start.
Chapter 1 ends on a very important point – “The way Jesus does apprenticeship is through three broad elements: relationships, experiences, and information.” (p.25). Many of us have typically acted like Jesus only cared about the last. This book will help us understand all three. That alone makes the book worth reading.
That brings us to this final point – “And that brings us back to the main topic of this book: God uses people to disciple us differently in different relational contexts.” (p.30).
That is what the rest of the book is focused on. Having read through the book that is the reason I chose to review this book because I have seen this play out in so many ministry contexts – that different social settings and group sizes can…must…play pivotal roles in the disciple-making process and we must be intentional about creating and leveraging these spaces for the disciple making processes we use. I can’t wait to talk about each of these chapter by chapter! Buckle up!