Jesus was the master discipler. Such a statement is so self-evident it is almost silly to make it. Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder that our source of direction concerning discipleship is none other than the master himself. Take for instance, Mark’s detailing of his interaction with the disciples. In chapter 8 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples in a lesson and demonstrates full-orbed discipleship at it’s finest.
The scene begins in verse 27 as Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Caesarea Philippi. This exchange takes place along the road on the way to accomplish Jesus’ mission. This little fact cannot be overlooked. In fact, it is pretty safe to say that all of Jesus’ discipleship ministry can be characterized this way. His instruction of his followers happened along the roads from town to town, in the midst of healings, preaching, casting out demons and all that came up along the way. Discipleship is being on mission and taking others with you.
Take others with you.
Too often, we reduce discipleship to a classroom exercise, or a coffee shop conversation. While these things can certainly fall under the umbrella of “teaching them all that Christ has commanded,” the picture of Jesus’ discipleship ministry is one filled with just-in-time training that is done along the way to the next encounter. By doing ministry in front of his disciples, real topics came up naturally in the warp and woof of life, and lessons played out in plain sight. Furthermore, taking others along on mission with you produces opportunities for you to model and for them to practice. How often do we think of evangelism in these terms? Instead, we often divorce discipleship (a time when we learn) from missions (a time when we do).
Instead, incorporate tag-along teaching into your discipleship. In order to teach people about pastoral ministry, why not take them to the hospital with you for a visit? Instead of merely teaching about mercy ministry, model care for refugees and invite people to participate with you. And when teaching people about the importance of evangelism, actually take them to share the gospel, model it for them, and let them give it a go.
“Who do people say that I am?”
Now that we have established the manner in which this discipleship moment occurs, we can turn to content. Along the road, Jesus starts up a conversation and asks a simple question, “Who do people say that I am?” It is an important question. It is a question that has concrete answers, and it deals with knowledge. It is, at its root, a cognitive exercise. Jesus begins this teaching moment by engaging the disciples’ knowledge of how the world views Jesus. It is a fact-based endeavor, and the disciples are quick to respond with answers.
Cognitive, descriptive information exchange is a key piece of discipleship. In this instance, Jesus is having the disciples process a cultural/ worldview question. It is also a question about a truth claim, and Jesus is going to use it to build a comparison. Testing knowledge is an important piece of discipleship. Discipleship is more than cognitive exercises, but it is also nothing less than that. However, Jesus does not stop with a descriptive study of culture on the topic of his identity.
“Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus makes it personal. His lesson pushes past the cognitive into the realm of affective teaching. He is not content engaging their brains; Jesus wants their hearts. By doing so, Jesus accomplishes two tremendously important things. First, he forces the question to impact the lives of his disciples. Too often, would-be disciples make little room in their lives for lessons that are learned and left in the cognitive realm. This is not enough. More is required of the disciple. The word must make its way into the heart. It must be felt, wrestled with, incorporated. Secondly, Jesus is able to draw a significant contrast between the views of the world, and the truth claim that will come out of Peter’s mouth.
Of course, this passage is famous because Peter, who usually sticks his foot in his mouth, answers correctly. He declares that Jesus is more than a teacher, more than a scholar, more than leader, that he is the Messiah. That word had more significance to a first century Jew than any of us today could imagine, and it was a big claim. It was a belief statement, and it was the right one. By zeroing in on the affective nature of this lesson, Jesus discovers the heart of his disciples. He discovers not only what they think they should believe, but what they actually believe. This opens the way for him to begin teaching them the things that would unfold concerning his mission. He began to teach of his suffering, his rejection, his death, and his certain resurrection. Of course, Peter sticks his foot right back in his mouth when Jesus’ first lesson on these things proves more than they can grasp at the time. But, Peter’s blunder sets the stage for another level of discipleship.
“Take up your cross.”
Jesus gathers his disciples along with the rest of the crowd and calls for more than cognitive understanding. He even calls for more than affective feelings. He calls for active obedience. This moment is a beautiful example of full-orbed discipleship. Jesus, in front of his disciples, delivers a teaching moment that proclaims the gospel to onlookers and reminds his followers of the importance of obedience. Being a follower, or disciple, requires more than knowing and feeling, it requires walking in the path of the one you follow. And in the case of Jesus’ disciples, that path leads up the road of crucifixion. After instructing his disciples in the events that were to come, he provides a fresh call to follow that path. His words should land heavy with us today, just as they did then.