The Making Of A Discipled Leader – Ezekiel A. Odeyemi
Confusion arises when you equate higher positions with leadership—especially when it comes to the things of God. While positions can present opportunities for leadership, position does not guarantee that you are a leader. But as long as position is honored above discipleship—being a follower—church leaders will honor the ambitious over the obedient. C. Gene Wilkes.
The world is experiencing a defining moment as we search for good and great leaders. There is scarcely any topic that attracts so much attention in our time than the topic of leadership, whether in the church or in the secular institutions. One reason for this is the acute lack of qualified, committed, and compassionate leaders to lead organizations out of the socio-economic morass of our time. Of equal importance is the intense search of someone at the front who sets goals and model the way and the desire to set moral tone for the workplace. Jesus approach in setting-up the most viable organization in the world today is instructive and holds a lot of lesson for modern organizations and the Church in particular. While He had the opportunity to build a global organization with the crowd that surged after Him in the outreaches, He decided to pour Himself into the few who would, in turn, build the global organization. The foundation of Christianity was laid on discipleship. Following the account in John’s Gospel, Andrew and Philip, two of John’s disciples, heard him introduce Jesus as the Lamb of God. The next day he did the same when he saw Jesus approaching. The disciples followed Jesus and slept in His place that night. Andrew brought Simon his brother, while Philip looked for Nathaniel.
But a later account in Luke’s Gospel (5:1-11) shows that the Disciples were not following Jesus permanently the first time they got to know Him. Jesus entered Simon Peter’s boat and performed an astounding miracle for him after using the boat to preach. The latter was touched and decided to leave his fishing business to follow Jesus all the way. Not until Mark 3 did Jesus actually call the twelve to be with Him, and the purpose was spelled out: That they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach, heal the sick and cast out demons (Mark 3:13-19). It was clear from this process that Jesus was not in a hurry to choose His Disciples. He did not commit them until He saw their commitment. This is a direct message to the Church today that those who have not learned to follow Jesus in discipleship must not be handed the mantle of leadership. Until a person begins to follow the Lord, he does not possess the ability and he cannot display the appropriate attitudes to lead others to Him. Paul could not make this clearer when he says “1Ti 3:6 He must be mature in the faith, so that he will not swell up with pride and be condemned, as the Devil was. (GNB)”
What is a Disciple?
The Greek word mathete, means learner, student, pupil. More appropriately, a disciple is an apprentice. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says ‘the word is found in the Bible only in the Gospels and Acts…and always means the pupil of someone…In all cases it implies that the person not only accepts the views of the teacher, but that he is also in practice an adherent.’ The root (manthano) of this word is concerned with more than just being a learner. It also means ‘to understand’. Two main things to bear in mind about Jesus’ form of discipleship: He called His Disciples friends (John 15:15), and He promised His abiding presence with them till the end of this age (Matt 28:20). The implication is that they were not to branch off from Him to establish their own training schools, but make Disciples for Him. As branches in the true vine, they are to be permanently attached, in order to produce fruits (John 15:1-8).
The Call of a Disciple
The call to future leaders was issued by Jesus in Matt. 11:28-30. We will examine this passage from two translations: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (NKJV) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG) This call is for all who desires to follow Him, and it underscores the fact that leadership is not an award but a calling. There are, at least, eight components of this call: One, it is a call to Jesus, not activities, programs, or fame. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way, “When we are called to Jesus, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person”. The modern Gospel calls people to receive healings, prosperity, deliverance from oppressive influence, and a host of other things. Though Jesus is the healer, deliverer, provider, and whatever else we seek Him for, this is not central to the call of a Disciple. Two, it is a call by Jesus, not ‘a great man of God’, or a great church, or a group of people. A lack of understanding of this fact has led many adherents of Christianity to mistake their loyalty to a denomination as commitment to Jesus. The story was told of a drunk who met Billy Graham at the train station and informed him that he gave his life at one of the crusades conducted by Billy Graham. The evangelist told him that he must have given his life to Billy and not to Jesus. According to Robert Leighton, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” Three, Jesus calls us from labor and anxiety. There is the labor imposed by sin and anxiety that torments the soul because of judgment of sin. There is the labor imposed by injustice and oppression, and anxiety that we are powerless against the oppressor. There is labor that comes from religiosity, and anxiety that nothing we do seems to work. The combination of labor and anxiety leads to desperation, and a desperate person is like a drowning fellow. Jesus saw our desperation and threw in a lifeline to ‘whosoever.’ Four, as the Messiah, Jesus offered rest to the desperate and the drowning. The people of His days were under the servitude of Rome and the religious burden of Judaism as practiced by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. When He visited Nazareth and He read from Isaiah the prophet, it was an announcement of the kingdom of rest that He is offering the weary. He informed the people, “This day the scripture is fulfilled in your ears” (Lu 4:21). Five, He called His own to a life of discipline. When He took off the yoke of sin, He knew the only way to be free and enjoy the benefit of the freedom He offered, is to bring us under His care: He offered us His yoke, but He quickly added, “This is different from what you used to know. It’s easy and light.” “Taking the yoke” is a symbolic expression. It means, “Submit to me and become my disciple”, for the yoke is symbolic of the condition of servitude (Jer 27:11,12; Isa 9:4; Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1; 1 Tim 6:1). In the days when oxen were used for plowing, the yoke helped the farmer direct the ox for the purpose of plowing. Putting our neck under His yoke is our way of telling Him that we will obey whatever instructions He gives. “In the spiritual life only one thing produces genuine joy and that is obedience.” (Richard Foster). Six, then He calls us to learning. What are we to learn from Him? Humility (Phil 2:9-10), obedience (He 5:8), focus (Lu 9:51; John 4:34), power (divine enablement) before service (Lu 4:1-15), bearing suffering with grace (Matt 26:42); and submission before exaltation (He 12:2). Seven and lastly, He calls us to absolute rest. I cannot stop wandering that Jesus speaks about rest twice. But I discovered that He used two different words. While the first means repose or to refresh, the second rest means intermission. Thayer defined it as cessation of any motion, business or labor, recreation. This is cessation from agitation that comes as a result of ambition. To experience this ‘rest’ is to live in absolute peace where nothing disturbs our peace of mind any more.
The cost of discipleship
In 1992, our organization posted me to Accra, Ghana to supervise the work in the West African sub-region. Several occasions I had to travel by road from one part of the sub continent to another. On a particular occasion, I drove from Accra to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, with three other missionaries. Since we had never travelled that route before then, there were all kinds of problems along the way. The route took us through a dense forest reputed for wild beasts and carnivores. Besides, the rebels were just breaking out using the forest as their hideouts. You can imagine the danger we found ourselves, and how incredible it sounds when we appeared from the same forest unscathed, and with a foreign plate number. The government forces quizzed us for hours and it took them time to believe we were missionaries. Did I nurse secret fears in those days? Sure. But something sustained me. I knew I was on a divine assignment as a disciple. This was my sustenance in the face of fear. What sustained me in those days sustained the Disciples of old: “Go into all the world.” The disciple’s commission is potent with fearful moments and times when difficult decisions have to be made; in all these the disciple must pick the right choice and press on without flinching. In his book, Discipleship: Living for Christ in the Daily Grind, J. Heinrich Arnold said “Discipleship is not a question of our own doing: it is a matter of making room for God so that he can live in us.” Nothing could be more appropriate. We do not know how much of Him we have until we are confronted as leaders with situations beyond our normal capacity.
The Need for Leaders who are Disciples
The need for more competent hands to lead congregations has never been more urgent hence adequate training must not be jeopardized. The mission of the church, as spelled out in the Great Commission (Mark 16:15-18; Matt 28:19-20), is no more on the front burner of church’s agenda. Many congregations have become a place for socialization, or better still a care center. The repercussions can be grave. “According to a survey taken in 2000, 44 percent of the British claim no religious affiliation whatever, a number that has grown from 31 percent in 1983. More worrying still for the churches, two thirds of those ages 18-24 now describe themselves as non-religious: almost half of young adults do not even believe that Jesus existed as a historical person, which is quite a radical stance.” (Aubrey Malphurs, 2009). Every pastor and Christian worker is like a surgeon with lives to save. It does not matter how urgent a medical operation may be, a butcher will not take the place of a surgeon. Knowing that every believer is redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, we cannot afford to put such precious lives under the control of pastoral ‘butchers’. A church without disciples is worse than holding a worship service in an uncompleted building. The congregants will eventually become a mockery in the community. A church that fails to produce disciples or turn the believers to diligent followers of Christ is an ill-prepared army; unfit to launch attacks on the Kingdom of darkness. Jesus says Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace (Lu 14:31-32). When a church becomes ineffective and lacks the skills to put the enemy to flight, it has no option but to sue for peace. At such a time, compromises set in and the local assembly becomes a caricature of a true church. Dietrich Boneffer says “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” A word is enough for the wise. Today’s leaders are worn out. Some are doubting if they were ever called into the ministry. Many fine folks are already going back into the world, picking along the way the habits they once bid goodbye to. Is it not scary that most ministers are now refurbished materials and not brand new saints they used to be? Little wonder many are asking “How did we find ourselves in this situation?”
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (1966). The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan. Forster, Richard. 2012. Celebration of Disciplines. London: Hodder & Stoughton. Leighton, R. 1822.
The Genuine Works of Robert Leighton. Oxford: William Baynes & Son. Malphurs, Aubrey. (2009). Strategic Disciple making: A practical tool for successful ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. Wilkes, C. G. (1998). Jesus on Leadership. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Article written by Ezekiel A. Odeyemi