Much of SEND’s focus is on making disciples as we plant churches around the world. In this post (the second of two by Lynn Karidis; read the first here) we consider being a disciple in the 21st century. Lynn designed and facilitates “Soul Care in the 21st Century,” a spiritual formation retreat that helps believers rest, learn, and reconnect with Jesus.
By Lynn Karidis — After rising from the dead, Jesus appeared to his disciples several times before ascending into heaven and, on one occasion, gave the 11 disciples a series of commands we now know as the Great Commission. In the commission, Jesus tells them to “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:18-20 NIV)
The obvious implication in these commands is that, during their three years living and doing ministry together, Jesus has taught his disciples what they need to know to carry out the commission. And, in John 14:26, Jesus even promises to remind the disciples of everything he said to them.
But what about us? We haven’t had the privilege of living with Jesus in the flesh. If a disciple is one who hears and responds positively to the call to salvation in Jesus Christ and chooses to keep company with Jesus in order to 1) learn what he teaches, 2) obey his commands, 3) and make other disciples for Jesus, in what ways has God made it possible for 21st century disciples to accomplish the commanded tasks? Let’s consider some key ingredients (most found in Acts 2:42) that God has provided to help a disciple do what Jesus has commanded.
The Holy Spirit
The first key ingredient is the indwelling and enablement of the Holy Spirit. Before they were to begin fulfilling Jesus’ commands, the disciples were told to wait for the Holy Spirit to fill and empower them (John 14: 16-17; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5). The presence and power of the Holy Spirit cannot be overemphasized. All of the things required of a disciple who wishes to follow and become like Jesus — growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, participating in the process of sanctification, exercising the spiritual gifts, engaging in ministry, making disciples, bearing fruit, etc. — are possible only through the work of the Holy Spirit within the disciple.
The Word of God
The second key ingredient is the apostles’ teaching. How kind it is of God to provide us with a written record of Jesus’ teaching through the recollection of these eyewitnesses to his ministry. Though we do not walk in the flesh with Jesus or his disciples, we can journey with them in the pages of the Bible. All the special revelation that God wants us to know about his character, works, and plan can be found in the Scriptures. A disciple neglects the reading of the Word to his or her peril. Faith comes by hearing the Word. Our minds are washed and transformed by spending time in it. It is not possible to obey a command that we do not know. And it is not a good idea to try to teach what we have not first learned.
Today, many people on the Earth enjoy an embarrassment of riches in the options for Bible intake. We can read the Bible ourselves from a multitude of translations, or use our electronic devices to have the Bible read to us. We can study it ourselves using the thousands of commentaries, lexicons, and other tools available in print or online. And we can sit under the teaching of others (either in person or through our electronic devices) who have studied the Word and are gifted to explain its meaning to us. We can also memorize the Word and then carry it around in our minds and heart in order to meditate on it day and night as the Psalmist does.
A good practice for a disciple is to read the Bible daily and to study a passage in depth once a week. The Bible is a treasure trove of information about God and his plan that can help transform us from the inside out.
The third essential ingredient is prayer. Luke 5:16 tells us that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. He also taught his disciples to pray (at their request), and by so doing taught them how to properly address God and how to ask for their daily needs. In the prayer pattern Jesus provided, he also emphasized the importance of forgiveness. Prayer is the place where we pour out our hearts to God and where we listen for his gentle whisper.
How often should one pray? The Psalmist in Psalm 55:17 prayed in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. The Psalmist in Psalm 119:164 prayed seven times a day. Jesus prayed in the morning, afternoon, evening, and all night long (Matt. 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 6:12; 22:39-41). The Apostle Paul can barely get through one of his letters without breaking out somewhere in prayer. In Romans 12:12 (NIV), he tells us to be “faithful in prayer” and in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NIV) to “pray continually.” There is also a rich variety in Scripture of postures, places, forms, and types of prayer that we can draw from as we take time to communicate with God.
The Fellowship of Believers
The fourth ingredient provided by God to enable the believer to mature as a disciple is the fellowship of other believers. Through fellowship, we find other disciples with gifts that can be used to build us up to maturity (Eph. 4:11-13). The fellowship is also the place where we can grow by using our gifts for the benefit of others. It is a place of training, correction, encouragement, and worship (Acts 13:1-2; 1 Cor. 12:7; 2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 10:25). We are encouraged to regularly meet with other disciples and to do so more often as the time of Jesus’ return approaches.
The Lord’s Supper
Finally, Acts 2:42 notes that the 1st century disciples devoted themselves to the Lord’s Supper. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper helps us to remember why Jesus came to earth and to celebrate all he has accomplished on our behalf. It also encourages us to look forward to his return. In the simple act of Communion, we consider the whole mystery of Christ and remember anew why we have chosen to follow him.
Being a disciple is both a great privilege and a great challenge. May your journey of being a disciple fill you with such encouragement and joy that you cannot help but continue to fulfill the Great Commission and make other disciples for Jesus.
Be disciples. Make disciples. Let’s do both, together.
- How to be a disciple in the 21st century (part 1): The basic steps to discipleship were passed down by Jesus and by those who literally followed him from city to city.
- SEND offers resources and stories that illustrate how you can grow in your own discipleship and disciple others, both where you are and around the world. Read more here.
- Our internship programs include both practical outreach and personal growth through discipling relationships. Find one that suits your interests.
- SEND offers more than 200 opportunities to make disciples around the world. Explore them here.
- Sign up for On Mission, SEND’s monthly guide for people who want to become missionaries. Subscribe here, and as a welcome gift, you will receive a free download of a world map that highlights today’s unreached people groups. Together, we can bring them Good News. We can’t wait to join you on the journey!