Over the course of the last two years when I’ve deigned to write, I’ve written a fair amount about discipleship. In one of those posts, one of the commenters TimD, wrote of his experience of discipleship as that of command and control. For him, discipleship is a scary word.
Discipleship meant encouraging the newbies to buy into the program. To believe all the right doctrines and theologies and to become convinced that we were the right ones and the Baptists, Pentacostals, Catholics, etc were all wrong (to a greater or lesser extent). And any practical expression of discipleship in that context was focused on one of two things: 1) converting others to think the same we did, and 2) complying with the shallow morality checklist (church attendance, no sex or smoking, while ignoring greater issues of justice because there wasn’t a verse for that). The Bible study, teaching historicity, etc. all served these pathetic ends.
Discipline ≠ Discipleship
As I skip from node to node on the interwebs, I see lots of concern from church leaders on how to effectively practice church discipline. It reminds me of reading and reviewing the book, Why We Love the Church, where DeYoung and Kluck pontificate on the importance of discipline, i.e. Obeying Leaders!
Rather than a thoughtful and engaging book on Christ and His Church, this book’s title could just as easily have been “Why We Love Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them.” Kluck and DeYoung (who write separate chapters in the book) both quote this verse and approvingly quote other writers who say things like, “Without church membership there’s no place for the important role of church discipline (page 162).” My note scrawled in the margin screams “versus discipleship?”
Discipline and discipleship may have the same root but are worked out in a person’s life in very different ways. Below is the common (dictionary) understanding of the word, discipline:
• the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience
• the controlled behavior resulting from such training: he was able to maintain discipline among his men.
When you add the not necessarily accurate translation of Hebrews 13:17 — submit/obey leaders —to discipline being understood as the above, it becomes easy to see how church discipline defaults to command and control. (UPDATE: See Lance and Lin’s contributions on this in the comments.)
When discipleship and discipline are conflated you get what TimD describes at the opening of the post.
Jesus, in the Great Commission, tells us to go and make disciples. It is simply not debatable that the model for doing this is Jesus himself.
And what do we see in the Gospels; Jesus living and focusing most of his energy over a three-year period on his band of followers. It wasn’t him building a large platform from where He could gather the multitudes to discipline them — with new rules and regulations — but rather it was Jesus pouring his life into a small group of people. People who would go on to turn the world upside down after Christ’s ascension.
He actively demonstrated the kingdom come, while walking hundreds of miles with his followers at his side, eating together, laughing together, in Luke 10 sending his disciples off in twos to return to him with their wonder-filled stories. He, to paraphrase the instructions of many of my writing coaches, showed them rather than told them.
In fact, he discipled them, didn’t he.
Were there times when he was incredibly frustrated with them and rebuked them?
But, because the Jesus model of discipleship is fully relational, even when he rebuked his disciples they never doubted he loved them. His discipling was the furthest thing from command and control. (If your confused on this read Matthew 20:28 again… or even for the first time.)
So, I ask you, in the way Jesus made disciples, how do we conflate what far too many church leaders excitedly call church discipline with discipleship?