The Discipleship Continuum
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
Jesus had been discipling many people besides the twelve. Here we see that the number is so great that Jesus is able to send out seventy (or seventy two depending on the manuscript) to go out into the places where he was unable to go on his own. These were people who had started their walk with Jesus with little or no faith and yet, he had led them to such a place of understanding that they were ready to be sent out in his place.
Jesus tells them to pray for laborers, which is really a prayer for evangelism. Unless more individuals follow Jesus, there will be no laborers in the harvest field. It is a part of an entire continuum in which people come to know Christ, grow in Christ, and then go out to proclaim Christ.
Instructions are given for those who have been discipled and are ready to participate in evangelism. The world will not accept them, but they will be like lambs in the midst of wolves. There will be people who will intentionally frustrate their work and make it difficult to fulfill the Lord’s calling. However, that is not to stop God’s children. They are to travel in simplicity and without provision so that entire dependence will be upon God. There is also no temptation to “sell” discipleship, for they are the voice of the good news of the kingdom, and not merchants of a product. Dependence upon Jesus is of utmost importance in the life of a disciple.
The response to the gospel message is not the responsibility of the disciple. This is the work of God and there will be those who choose to respond and those who do not. The ministry is not about convincing people to give their lives to live in the kingdom. However, it is about making disciples and pointing the way to life. Discipleship included fellowship, eating of meals together, curing the sick and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Sadly, there would be many who would not respond and would not want to become disciples, but they would face their own destruction.
We all find ourselves on the discipleship continuum, all the way from just getting to know about Christ, to following Christ, to learning about him and then being sent out by him. It is a process and therefore when Jesus prays for laborers, he is praying that there will be those who will be discipled to the point of making disciples.
If I were to diagnose the problem in the discipleship continuum today I would suggest that we have a breakdown which occurs after people have come to know Christ. We may disciple for a deeper walk but very few seem to make it to the place of having a passion for evangelism. It seems that in some circles evangelism has been viewed negatively, and possibly because it has been done by those disciples who have not yet been mature enough in their faith.
The disciples that Jesus sent out were not allowed to take any resources with them so that they would be dependent upon God. They were not to be peddling faith. When we are not mature in our faith we will be tempted to peddle the gospel — to sell her for some type of return. The return is up to God. Jesus says that we are to pray for the laborers, which means we ought to be praying and disciplining people along the continuum, to that deeper walk with Jesus Christ the place where there is an incredible passion to bring others to Christ. I may be rather idealistic, but I believe that the church would do well to focus on discipling and praying for laborers, and then watch God raise up the evangelists. If people grow in their faith they will become so passionate about the Jesus with whom they have fallen in love that they won’t be able to be quiet about sharing their faith with others.
The process is never easy and there will be wolves along the way who will try to frustrate the process. They come in from time to time and capture sheep who aren’t paying attention. This discipleship business is serious business and one must remain ever attentive and ever-growing. We have never “arrived” but must continually move on in our relationship with Christ, remaining on the continuum, moving ever closer to Christ.
Lord, I pray for laborers in your harvest fields. Amen.