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light_my_path_____by_vaggelisf-d330ne5If you are a disciple-maker, you should want people to think like you.

I realize that statement may come across as counter-cultural in our day. In our society, we praise non-conformity and consider expressing one's own unique essence to be the purpose of life.

To say you want people to think like you is to cramp their style and squelch their originality. It is "indoctrination" in the negative sense of the word, a way of rubber-stamping your identity onto someone else instead of letting their uniqueness shine through.

But here, I'm afraid the non-conformist impulse in our culture clouds our vision so that we are unable to see a very important aspect of disciple-making.

Followers of Jesus are to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, demonstrate the mind of Christ, and discern, with biblical wisdom and guided by the Spirit, what it means to live faithfully in the 21st century. It follows, then, that our responsibility to those we disciple includes an element of getting them to reason a certain way.

3 Strands of Disciple-Making

1. Informing - What We Believe

Part of disciple-making is helping people understand what they believe. It includes the inculcation of information, the teaching of biblical facts and Christian doctrines.

2. Instructing - What We Do

Another part of disciple-making is helping people adopt the practices that make up the Christian life. We walk alongside others, modeling for them what it looks like to live the way of Christ.

3. Imitating - How We Reason

But there's a third part of disciple-making that is necessary, something a full-orbed vision of "imitation" gives us. This strand refers to helping people reason like Christians who have been formed by "what we believe" and "what we do.” The imitation of reasoning is especially needed on issues where clear instructions are not present in Scripture.

The Missing Strand 

If you only focus on the first two elements (informing and instructing), then you wind up with people who are not fully equipped to respond to the conundrums they encounter in life.

What does your disciple do when he or she confronts an issue that isn't resolved by the checklist of doctrines to believe, or the common practices of the Christian life?

Here is where your disciple needs biblical wisdom. The information of Bible doctrine and the instructions of Christian practice aren't enough. Discernment is required. The believer must apply the wisdom of Scripture to a new situation and discern the way forward.

When the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians to imitate him, he was not telling them to join him on his missionary journeys. The context for his command comes within a section of the letter in which he was applying biblical wisdom to a new situation. Apparently, one of Paul's goals was to help his disciples reason the way he did.

When Paul called others to imitate his Christian walk, he was saying more than simply "Take the same steps I do." Paul wanted the people to follow the same reasoning process that led him to such actions. In this context, "Follow me as I follow Christ" means more than "do what I do." It also means "think like I think, so you can reason with me to the same outcome of wise and faithful living."

The Need for Biblical Reasoning 

So, back to the statement I kicked off this article with: Disciple-makers should want their disciples to think the way they do. It's not enough to hope that they will believe the same things, or behave the same way; we want to see them reason forward as Christians.

Inculcating Christian doctrine and imitating Christian behavior only takes you so far. If that is all you strive for in discipleship, you may wind up with mindless mimicry instead of thoughtful imitation.

Discipleship includes helping people learn the "mind of Christ" (Phil 2:5). The mind of Christ helps us to respond to new circumstances with the humility and wisdom of the Savior who indwells us by His Spirit.

Imitation in the Christian life includes the cultivation of wisdom from within a biblical framework, wisdom that leads to the right decisions when the circumstances are difficult. Passing on the capability of wise reflection is an important aspect of discipleship. Ignoring this responsibility is disastrous for the future of the church.

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9 thoughts on “The Missing Strand in Much of Our Discipleship”

  1. Curt Day says:

    Certainly imitation is important. But an important part of that imitation is having the right people to imitate. So while we are told to imitate Jesus, though not in all of His ways, and Paul wanted people to imitate him in certain aspects, I am content to have people imitate Jesus and Paul and perhaps a few others. I don’t want people to imitate me. I am not Paul.

    See, I am not interested in having disciples under me. Rather, I am content with joining others in following Jesus, and this includes the high school kids whom the wife and I teach at church. As I told one of the parents of those kids, I want the kids to think through what we teach and talk about it with others, like their parents, so that there is a check on anything we say..

    We have so many authority relationships in the Church that I think we sometimes have a problem with turning off the hierarchy and authoritarian switch. That turning off the switch problem exists within our own churches, but it especially exists out in a pluralistic, democratic society.

  2. Jeff says:

    Do you have specific books or ways that you help your disciples think?

    1. Benedict says:

      I was thinking the same thing after reading the article.. I agree it’s important, but he doesn’t tell us how..

      1. Trevin Wax says:

        I’ve got more work coming on some “how-to’s.”

  3. Gheorghe says:

    Actually number #2 is much more neglected, for the simple reason that in today’s society we have this idea that meeting once a week (or a month?) with our disciple will do the job….while in reality even Jesus may not have been able to do that amazing feat! :)

  4. TC says:

    What about teaching people to ‘taste and see’? I meet so many people who have not had a transformational meeting or experience of God’s love. They have head knowledge, but no heart to trust and obey. I think Jared Wilson’s ‘Gospel Wakefulness’ explains this the best.

  5. Michelle says:

    I was hoping that the missing strand would be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Alas. We Reformed people still have a lot to learn from Christians who crave the presence, power, and fruits of the Spirit…not just a passing reference to His guidance. R.T. Kendal’s “Holy Fire” and J.D. Grear’s “Jesus Continued” are awesome resources, and have been used by the Spirit to create that thirst in me (and those I disciple) for a Spirit-empowered heart change that a previous commenter mentioned.

  6. Ernie says:

    Excellent- 2 tim2;2 teach disciple so that they teach disciple others, If they are not imitating discipling isn’t finished

  7. James says:

    If you are a Disciple maker you want everyone to think like Christ ! To often people are making disciples of themselves and not Christ. This Always leads to a weaker Church – to a weaker Christian.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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