The Primary Practice of Jesus
Over the years I have settled on answering the question, “what do disciples do?” like this: Disciples seek, recognize, and respond to what Jesus is already doing around them and show others how to do the same.
Why have I landed on this kind of answer?
It reflects the primary practice we see Jesus putting into play every day in the Gospels. This practice precedes all his other practices and brings timing, sequence, and purpose to them. What was this practice?
As we watch Jesus in the Gospels, at first, it looks like he is doing 1,000 different things. And if we tried to imitate all those practices, it would be overwhelming! But is Jesus really doing 1,000 different things or one main thing?
In John 5, Jesus helps us to catch on to his one main practice: “The Son can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does …” (John 5:19 NLT). “For I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30 NIV). He puts it even more succinctly in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom” (NIV).
So what is the main practice of our Rabbi Jesus? He first seeks and recognizes the work of his Father around him and then responds to it … and, of course, shows others how to do the same. When Jesus responded to what his Father was doing, it looked like Jesus loving. It looked like Jesus teaching. It looked like Jesus healing. And Jesus was putting those practices into play. But Jesus was first seeking and recognizing what his Father was doing so he could respond.
That is our main practice as well: “Disciples seek, recognize, and respond to what Jesus is already doing around them and show others how to do the same.”
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How do we “seek, recognize, and respond to what Jesus is already doing?” We look for where a little grace can be applied. We can start with that. Wherever grace is needed, our redeeming Rabbi will already be on the move and is inviting us to join him. Count on it.
Doctors of Theology or Followers of Jesus?
Believe it or not, it turns out that discipling can be pretty simple. Not convinced? Let me ask you, “Are we forming Doctors of Theology or Followers of Jesus?”
If we are forming Doctors of Theology, there is a lot of information to master. There is always another book to read and another position paper to consider. In order to become a Doctor of Theology, you will be sitting in a classroom for a very long time. And few have what it takes to succeed. However, Jesus does not commission us to make Doctors of Theology. He commissions us to make disciples, that is, followers of Jesus. Discipling people to be followers of Jesus is more about mastering a few simple practices than it is about mastering libraries of information.
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By placing the priority on mastering simple practices, we are not undermining the importance of theology, but re-valuing putting theology into practice. Theology is what we believe, confess, and ultimately live-out. It is not theology or practice. It is theology for practice. However, too often our discipling processes seem to value mastering theological information over putting theology into practice. Our unintentional (or intentional) message to those being discipled is, “Stay on the bench. You don’t know enough to follow Jesus yet.” The irony of this is that we thereby fall short of truly understanding our theology because God never meant knowing theology to be an end in itself but a means to an end, namely, putting it into practice. (See Jesus’ point in Matthew 7:24-27.)
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Five Simple Practices
Over time, I have learned I can effectively disciple people by showing them how to put five simple practices into play in their daily lives. These practices position people to seek, recognize, and respond to what Jesus is already doing in the lives of people around them. What are the five practices?
- Seeking the Kingdom: What is God showing me? Who is he inviting me to notice?
- Hearing from Jesus: What is Jesus teaching me as I follow him around in the Gospels?
- Talking with People: What kind of redemptive conversations am I having with people?
- Doing Good: What good can I do in the places I live, work, or go to school?
- Ministering through Prayer: How can I help people by praying with them?
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These certainly are simple practices, but they position us to seek, recognize, and respond to Jesus every day … which is what a disciple does.
Is all the information in our Bibles and catechisms and theological libraries important? Of course! However, when it comes to discipling, the goal is not to be a scholar but a follower. The goal is not that people master all the information but that they are shown how to put the redemptive love of the Father into play in the lives of the people around them … just like Jesus did.
Read part three, “How Did Rabbi Jesus Disciple People?”
This article is Part 3 of a 3-part series on “What is Discipling.”