When I was a bachelor I didn’t cook. Now that I’m married I still don’t. I eat much better though because my wife cooks.
In college I don’t think I even owned a plate. I know I had a plastic cup. I might have had some silverware but it probably belonged to my roommates. It didn’t matter. I didn’t need it.
Left to my own devices I only ate fast food or microwaveable food. No dishes. No prep. No cleanup. No fuss, no muss.
It was easy. Clean. Convenient. Fast.
It was also unhealthy. Very unhealthy.
The appeal for easy, clean, convenient, and fast doesn’t just affect bachelors. The same unhealthy approach is often applied to discipleship.
The world is really good at offering us shortcuts. Our flesh desires it. Coming up with new methods and means for achieving the same results in less time and with less effort is a profitable business.
But the church isn’t a business. At least, it’s not supposed to be.
The church isn’t supposed to be like infomercials that promise gadgets that will help you cook a frozen turkey in half the time with all the taste. The church isn’t supposed to compete with the fitness industry that promises systems which will give you abs in just a few minutes while being able to eat whatever you want.
So why do we try to churn out disciples in just 8 weeks? Is that all it takes?
The truth is that most (if not all) of those promises are empty. Something is missing.
We shouldn’t settle for microwave disciples.
They may be fast. They may be convenient. The process may be clean and easy. But they won’t be healthy. Not really.
We must break free from the American way which always seeks to streamline the processes and churn out products as efficiently, quickly, and cheaply as possible.
If we’ll look at how Jesus made disciples we’ll quickly recognize that it wasn’t quick. It was costly. There weren’t clean lines separating the lives of the disciples and their discipler.
Disciples aren’t made overnight. They aren’t made through four weekend seminars. Disciples aren’t produced by 8-week courses. That’s not how Jesus did it. It’s not how he told us to do it either.
Jesus spent three years with his disciples. They spent day and night together. They shared meals, struggles, and victories.
Jesus taught them as their teacher. Jesus modeled his teaching through his own life before their eyes. Jesus made them go out on their own to teach others and live according to the gospel.
Instruction, demonstration, mobilization. Jesus didn’t just do this once or for one cycle. He repeatedly taught, demonstrated, and released them to go and do likewise over the course of years.
Discipleship following this pattern can’t be limited to a classroom. That’s only part of it. It can’t be restrained to a living or dining room, either. That’s a different part. It can’t be done over the internet. Not exclusively.
Discipleship is intensely personal. Look how Jesus’ life intertwined with his disciples. Does that look like what we see today in our discipleship programs?
We must acknowledge that Jesus is perfect and we are not. How do we think we can make disciples better than Jesus with less commitment?
Fortunately, we don’t have to be perfect for God to use us. Jesus has given us an example in his own earthly ministry. He also revealed the foundation for ongoing discipleship through the church. Jesus gave gifts to his church to lead the process of discipleship until he returns. These gifts are described in Ephesians 4:11-16. Sadly, our modern church models have drifted from the foundation Jesus gave and have forgotten the function of one of his gifts.
A microwave turkey dinner with all the fixin’s is contained to one compartmentalized disposable tray. A real thanksgiving meal requires dirtying all sorts of dishes, utensils, and surfaces. To get the real thing we must use all of the tools.
Someone may try to sell us on the idea that we can get the same results without the mess and effort. But I’m not buying it.
Genuine discipleship is costly. It’s often messy. It can get very complicated. There is no shortcut. It takes time. There will be successes. There will be stumbling. There will be growth from both.
We don’t want to deceive ourselves into thinking we’ve made disciples because we’ve read a bunch of books or attended a bunch of classes. The task of leadership is to teach the whole counsel of God. We can’t substitute the whole counsel for the latest bestseller and still think we are making disciples.
That’s the microwave approach.
The purpose of discipleship is the formation of Christ’s likeness in individuals. There is no shortcut. It will take time. It requires grace because our systems won’t be enough.
And, it will be worth it.