When I was a kid, I loved playing basketball. Up until seventh grade, when I didn't make the middle school basketball team, I thought for sure I was going to play in the NBA.
There were many nights that I rehearsed and perfected my game-winning, buzzer-beating, turn-around jump shot in the driveway of my childhood home. As a young kid I dreamed of playing with the greats, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. If I ever had had a chance to even be on the same court with them, I would have died.
I think one of the things that we fail to realize about discipleship is that we get a chance to "play with" the all-time greatest player, Jesus Himself. Too often, we reduce discipleship to learning about Jesus and simply studying His life, and all the while Jesus is continually inviting us to partner with Him in the kingdom work that is unfolding all around us all the time.
My favorite story that captures this is Mark 6, the feeding of the 5,000. Click here to read the story.
Here are four observations about the nature of discipleship from this story.
1. Discipleship is about being with Jesus.
The story begins with the disciples returning from a mission trip Jesus sent them on earlier in the chapter (v6-12). When they return, Jesus' immediate response is, "Come with me..." He simply wants to spend time with them. He wants to hear about the journey, what they did, what they saw, and the people they met along the way. He wants to nurture the relationship with them.
2. Discipleship is about being a follower, not a fan.
However, on their way to a solitary place, their spiritual retreat is hijacked by a large crowd. And while Jesus is happy to minister to the crowds, as you read through the gospels, Jesus spends less and less time with the crowds and more and more time with his disciples as His ministry develops. His priority is to train apprentices, not amass popularity.
The thing about fans is that they love the hype. They love the energy and excitement, the sensational stories, and the miracles. But when things get tough, fans don't stick around. Read John 6:59-65. It's the same story, but near the end, certain disciples leave because Jesus' teaching gets too hard.
3. Discipleship is a rhythm of invitation and challenge.
As we've already said, one of Jesus' top priorities with His disciples is a relationship. At the beginning of this story, Jesus is inviting His disciples to go on a spiritual retreat. Jesus extends invitations regularly.
- He invites Andrew and John to spend the day with Him and "come and see" where He's staying (John 1:37-39).
- He invites those with heavy burdens to come and receive rest (Matt. 11:28).
- He invites the disciples to leave their fishing career behind to follow Him so that He can make them fishers of men (Luke 5:10).
As the folks at 3DM say, Jesus is regularly inviting people into a relationship with him. But he's also challenging people to take up kingdom responsibility.
In this story, when the day is almost over, and the disciples are ready to send the crowd away to get something to eat, Jesus says to them, "You give them something to eat" (v37).
Imagine being on the receiving end of that challenge! There would have been well over 5,000 people there. The disciples calculate that it would have cost more than a half of a year's salary to feed that many people. And Jesus lets them feel the weight of the moment. He challenges them to engage in the ministry and not simply be observers.
"How many loaves do you have? Go and see."
Jesus brings the disciples into the moment as partners in what is going to happen next.
4. In discipleship, Jesus makes the impossible possible.
It may feel like there is no way that you can do the things Jesus is calling you to do. As a pastor, I hear people say all the time,
"I haven't been to seminary."
"I don't have a Bible degree."
"I'm not qualified to do the things God is calling me to do."
The good news is that you don't have to do it all. In this story, Jesus does the miracle but He puts it in the disciples' hands. He has them pass out the food, but He enables the feeding.
When Jesus sets a ministry opportunity in front of you, He promises to provide you with the resources and ability to do it. He's on your team. He's got your back. He wants to see you succeed and will help you every step of the way.
Discipleship is way more than studying the life of Jesus. It's joining His team and getting into the game. Just be ready. He'll definitely pass you the ball but will coach you every step of the way.
So, get off the bench, and ask Jesus what position He wants you to play.