“You won’t believe what happened this week!” Carmen said as she entered our sharing time beaming with enthusiasm. “A friend at work came up to me and asked, ‘What’s been so different about you these last few weeks? Something’s going on—your face is so much brighter and you’re smiling a lot!’”
At first Carmen was stumped. Then she realized something was different. For the past few weeks, she had taken part in a triad of women going through A Woman’s Journey of Discipleship, which encouraged her to spend time each day with God in His Word. Because she and the other two women shared each week about what they were hearing from God, she was able to establish this habit for the first time in her life. God’s life was spilling out of her life in joy as her relationship with both Him and the two other women deepened.
Later that day, Carmen’s husband, Rick, told me how different—how joyful—she was at home with him and their children, too.
I can’t describe my own deep sense of joy when I heard this. Carmen was one of the women I had been pouring my life into—discipling—as she served on a church leadership team.
One of the most exciting things about helping churches grow cultures of disciplemaking is seeing people like Carmen come alive as they realize the Bible is not merely something to study but a way to relate on an ever-deepening level with God.
Relationship over Religion
Carmen and those like her help me to understand how the early church grew so rapidly. The spiritual climate that Jesus walked into was packed with religion: far more rules and regulations, “shoulds” and “should nots” than anyone could possibly follow.
Many of the Jewish leaders of the time missed the gospel—the truth that Jesus died for us so that we could experience real life, “more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of” (John 10:10, msg). Jesus made it possible to follow our hearts with His law written on the inside and to be filled with His presence. What joy!
Many religious people did grasp these truths. They began to have a real relationship with Jesus, a friendship with God. This was such a different thing—to have a two-way relationship, along with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the pleasure of God and His presence.
The first Christians enjoyed a movement of the Holy Spirit that we can experience today: relationship, not religion. So many people go to church seeking “more and better life.” They need to be discipled, to grow up into reproducing adults, experiencing and sharing with others their abundant life in Jesus. This is hard to do alone. They need a guide, someone to walk with them. Fortunately, any of us can do that!
Cost of Non-Discipleship
In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard addresses this from a unique angle, what does not occur when Jesus’ followers fail to experience discipleship:
Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10).
This sounds to me like non-discipleship costs us joy!
Yet when a Christ follower does experience discipleship, what a joy it is to see his or her heart catch fire! That’s why I experienced such joy as Carmen told me her story, and as she began to share with those at her workplace and at home why she was different.
I am certain this is the kind of joy Luke described in Acts, as the believers in the early church “were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds” (Acts 6:1, msg). May all of us experience more joy as we come alongside others, making disciples who make disciples, and see His church grow today by leaps and bounds!
Margaret Fitzwater and her husband, Roy, co-direct Navigator Church Ministries, a mission of The Navigators. For 80 years, The Navigators have helped people grow in Jesus Christ with proven tools to equip lifelong disciple makers.