Discipleship: Learning to Follow

Photo by Andras Malmos on Unsplash

God is also inviting us on a wild adventure that will transform us if we follow him.

I grew up in the church. I knew all about God, attended the right events, and could answer all the bible questions correctly. At sixteen, I realized that there was something different between my Christian friends and me. When I asked, a friend hypothesized that I needed to “give my life to Christ.” I copied her in saying a prayer. But nothing happened.

My life was the same. I still faked religion. I gave an hour on Sunday to attend a Bible Study. But the rest of my life looked exactly the same.

At the end of high school, I attended senior parties with a group of friends. After one party, I woke up freezing, lying on the floor of a friend’s house. I was still drunk from the night before, reliving my embarrassing actions. When I saw my mom, she asked, “When you go to college, you can be anybody you want.” She helped me find out information about the Episcopalian College Ministry and InterVarsity – a college ministry -- during my college’s orientation.

During an InterVarsity event, someone talked about discipleship. His description of a disciple was what I wanted. So I created a list of todos and began the work of “being a disciple.”

I tried to transform myself. I attended InterVarsity events a couple of times a month, joined a freshmen small group, and did a fantastic job faking it to my friends – all to create this perfect persona. I believed I could transform myself through attending events. Being in the Christian community made me want to follow God, but my manufactured list of todos was not changing me.

I thought my job was to become a disciple. I believed I just needed to accomplish the right mix of Christian task,s and then I would magically become what the definition I had of a disciple.

Our culture has turned discipleship into a to-do list. Attend these events, go to this church, meet with an “older” Christian over coffee, read these books, and don’t forget a daily quiet time. The folly of that form of discipleship is that it is about us. And while books, conferences, and bible studies can provide invaluable information about following Jesus, in themselves, they do not transform people into disciples.

Discipleship is simple. It is following Jesus into the world.

Follow Me

Follow me, Jesus said. Simon and Andrew saw a rabbi walking along the shore. Leaving everything behind, they got out of the boat and followed this strange new teacher.

Follow me, Jesus said to James and John. The two men were mending nets, having just finished fishing. But they got up and joined the crowd following this new teacher.

A couple of days later, a man was sitting in his tax collector’s booth. He saw the crowd forming around this strange teacher, he heard the teaching, but he knew his place. He knew that a religious man would never include a tax collector.

Then the teacher looked at him and said, “Follow Me.” Levi looked around, trying to find whom the teacher had directed the question. But he was sitting by himself. He got up, closed up shop, and followed Jesus.

Jesus invited each of his disciples the same way, “Follow me.” A simple invitation, inviting men and women to walk with him as he taught, healed and blessed people. Those that followed him were varied. Men, women, successful, outcasts, judges, and even a zealot were all invited to be disciples. The only common denominator of these men was that they were not a typical disciple.

In the first century, disciples sought out rabbis. A rabbi was looking for disciples that were willing to submit to their understanding of scripture. They wanted their followers to radically follow them and spend time with them, learning how to emulate.

But Jesus didn’t wait for the disciples to find him; he sought the disciples out. The disciples wrestled to understand Jesus' teaching, sometimes disagreeing with Jesus or arguing with him. His disciples were far from ideal. But as they followed Jesus, Jesus transformed them.

Learning to Follow

Discipleship is hard to understand because our culture places too much emphasis on our resume. Throughout our culture, we see the cultivation of our ideals of perfection. College applicants try to attend the right clubs and win the right awards, all to attend the correct colleges. Even our social media accounts are combed through to create an ideal life that we show to the public.

That level of perfection has translated into our faith. We sit in pews until we feel like we are ready to follow God. But what if Jesus doesn’t want us to wait? What if Jesus wants us to follow after him, even though we will stumble? What if he wants us to allow him to form us.

We are called to be Jesus’ disciples. “In the New Testament we are all disciples of Jesus. Discipling isn’t the kind of thing that one person or one program or one curriculum can do, because it has to do with learning how to do life. We are actually in the process of learning how to do life, of being shaped all the time.” When Jesus says, follow me, he is inviting us to live life with him so that he can shape us.

He wants us to follow him into our own lives. Levi followed Jesus into his own house and watched Jesus eat with sinners and tax collectors. The disciples followed Jesus and watched him, emulated him, and learned from him. They asked questions, argued with, Jesus and even disappointed Jesus.

Jesus is inviting us into the same life. He wants us to follow him to our homes, into our lives and our relationships.

As I began to follow Jesus, learning how to share my faith, serving the poor, and loving all of God’s children, Jesus began to mold me. I sat with my campus minister one day, and she asked if I would pray for two friends to know Jesus?

Not long after, one of those women showed up in my dorm, asking me about Jesus. I fumbled through a script I had tried to memorize. But she asked, “But what does he mean to you?”

I stopped going through the script, and I began to share with her who Jesus was to me. I invited her to our sorority bible study. After a year and a half, she accepted Christ. As I watched God mold her heart, he molded me.

In my sophomore year, I joined friends in bringing meals to families in South Atlanta. Following Jesus into serving, taught me to see his children differently. Through relationships in college, I began to learn about racial reconciliation. God showed me where I needed to repent. Repentance led to freedom.

God has continually given me opportunities to follow him into new adventures that have changed me. Those adventures took me back into my classes, my water polo team, my sorority, and my friends. God used mission trips, service opportunities, bible studies, prayer, and random conversations to mold me.

And while I’ve been actively following Jesus for sixteen years, I daily hear God say follow me. And each adventure continues to shape me.

Jesus invites us into a crazy adventure. The question is, will you follow him? Will you leave behind your old life, your preconceived notions, and who you used to be to be his disciple? Will you wrestle through scripture to see where he is calling you? Will you fail so that in repentance, he can transform you? Will you follow him to your home, your family, your life? And even if you do it imperfectly, will you try? Will you stumble after Jesus so that God can mold you?


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