Discipleship: Formation or Conformation?

I’ve been thinking about discipleship recently, and what it means to form disciples. But as I’ve been looking once again at the gospels, I’m starting to wonder if we’re missing the point. Maybe we don’t need to form disciples ourselves.  Maybe it’s more about inviting people to be disciples, and then letting them be formed by Jesus.

One of the things I worry about when we talk about “forming disciples” is that we are asking for behaviors rather than mindset. When I say “discipleship” am I simply asking people to do the Bible study or the prayers or the Sunday morning service? Or is this just about making “disciples” in my own image of proper Christian behavior? At the same time, I truly believe that what we do shapes who we are and what we believe. If I prioritize spiritual disciplines, does that in fact help people become faithful disciples?

I also have to admit to a tinge of concern that the language I see around forming disciples so often centers around youth. This may be mostly because I read a lot of youth blogs, but I read a lot of blogs and I don’t see this same emphasis on discipleship related to adults. What does this say about how we view “discipleship”? And is it the same for youth and adults? Should it be?

These are genuine questions I’m asking of myself, by the way. And the truth is, I think my own motives are confused at best. Some are most assuredly good, but many of them are about my own success, my own priorities, and what’s easiest for me.

Thinking about how Jesus trained his own disciples, I’m realizing that often Jesus let them do stuff – big stuff: feed people, heal people, try to cast out demons. Jesus demonstrated all of these things, but then, in a fairly casual way, would send his disciples out to go do it themselves. How many times do I do that? How many times do I say instead, “Wait until I know you can do it correctly?”

The disciples blew it a lot, but I now wonder if it’s because Jesus gave them big things to do and they were doing it for the first time, learning as they go. What would happen if I allowed discipleship to mean youth and adults could do things – big things – and get them wrong, and it would still be all right? How would that change how I do discipleship? How would that change how I am a disciple of Christ?  

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