The Five Questions: Something Extra for Pesach – Question #3 (What About Discipleship/Discipling?)

May 2, 2019

This continues a series of blogs originating in a response to a Red Door Diary video I posted where I highlighted (and lamented) the Messianic Jewish Movement’s general failure to attract other Jews to Yeshua-faith. That video may be found HERE–>

This current blog is my response to the third of five alternative issues raised by a friend commenting on this video.

What About Discipleship/Discipling? – What happens, most importantly, to discipleship, creating a learning community which creates a life-giving, Yeshua transformed setting for ordinary believers in Yeshua to live out their lives and raise their children?

You name here another area where I, like you, long for a much deeper investment of time, resources, and skill. Yeshua did not send us forth to make converts of all nations, but to make talmidim, disciples. And Yeshua told us the goal of disciple-making: that the disciple would be like his teacher, in this case, like Yeshua. We are charged to go in the power of the Spirit to not only win people but to be agents in helping them become like Yeshua. This is a huge job, and it is not an optional add-on. Again, nowhere are we told that we have been sent forth to make converts, but rather, disciples, "teaching them to observe whatever I have commanded you."

And as you mention, this family likeness to Yeshua is to be passed on intergenerationally. It does not happen magically. It is not simply the work of the Spirit. It is also our work. Paul reminds us of this partnership, speaking of himself and his apostolic team and their partnership with God, "Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Co 6:1). That is our job: that the people we win to Yeshua-faith would not receive the grace of God in vain, but would go on to manifest the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah. This aspiration is all over Paul's writings, and often memorably expressed, as here in Romans 8:29, "those whom he knew in advance, he also determined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."

Let's say "Amen" to this, but not only with our mouths. May it be also with our actions and our agendas. This is why I am currently working on the second draft of a discipling book especially for Jewish Millennials. I not only "get" your passion on this matter: I share it!

One final point though: we ought not to let disciple-making eclipse outreach. One can only make disciples of those who have been won to the faith we proclaim. And when we are fully formed disciples, we will be more likely to attract such people. Thus, outreach and disciple-making (which I term "apprenticeship") go hand in hand, walking together, and not in hierarchical order.

7 comments on “The Five Questions: Something Extra for Pesach – Question #3 (What About Discipleship/Discipling?)”

  1. Amen! -- particularly to the notion of fully-formed disciples who are thus equipped to teach other potential disciples. As for the notion of needing to "attract such people", I think it may be more appropriate for knowledgeable disciples to emplace themselves where their teaching may be appreciated and thus "attractive". However, this is a consideration already mooted in discussion following the first two essays in this five-question series, at least for Jewish outreach or inreach. One aspect not yet elaborated, however, is the different locations and methods that may be most appropriate to distinctively Jewish and non-Jewish communities where Rav Yeshua's "fully-formed disciples" may operate. One method does not fit everyone.

      1. And you are certainly right about those "other imbedded [sic] issues", Stuart. I addressed the matter of Jewish embedment in previous posts, so you know already what sort of operating spaces I envision for Jewish discipling; but have you any suggestions about suitable operating spaces for non-Jewish disciplers?

        Before I retired from my engineering career with a major aircraft producer, in order to return to Israel, I used to co-lead a Jewish study group that met once a week during the lunch hour. We would discuss the weekly parashah and issues deriving from it, and sometimes we would discuss other topics of Jewish concern. I even compiled and presented a brief series about Jewish messianism and purported messiahs through the ages. There existed also another such group led by Christians that discussed issues of their own particular interest. Occasionally there was some respectful interaction between these groups on some common interest. However, neither of these groups was really able to address the depth required for discipleship, due to time constraints among others. I mention them, nonetheless, as examples not constrained within religious frameworks or facilities, which could collect interested parties who might wish to attend one or another venue that pursued greater depth, and direct them thither.

  2. How does one prevent discipleship from becoming something akin to the "Shepherding" movement? The leaders were an outstanding group of men who unfortunately hurt a lot of folks. In their attempt to disciple, boundaries were broken and overreach happened. Is it just a messy affair or is there a better way?

    1. This is a great question, Glenn, and thank you for it!

      I think the short . . and right . . . answer to your question is that our task in discipling people is always, from beginning to end, aimed at transferring people's dependency from us to the Triune God. Not eventually. Not some day. Constantly. The problem with the shepherding movement is that it fostered dependence upon and subordination to the mentors/shepherds.

      From start to finish, good mentors, proper mentors, point people to dependence on the Living God and the resources he provides. In addition, from beginning to end, mentorees should be directed to seeking others to whom they can be of divinely directed assistance.

      These two measures--dependence on God, and service to others--will prevent the pathologies of the shepherding movement, and the ingrown perspective in which these pathogens grow.

    2. I'd like to add a little note, Glenn, to elaborate a point that Stuart presented in his 9May response to you below. There is only one word within it with which I would disagree, but just now I wish to emphasize a word with which I agree wholeheartedly: "mentor". Even in the 'Hasidic world, which is somewhat famous for the degree in which a rabbi's disciples would emulate his every perceived aspect of teaching and behavior, it was not because their rabbi insisted they do so, except in the same manner as Rav Shaul wrote in 1Cor.11:1 "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of [the Messiah].". In other words, it was the living example demonstrated by the rabbi, as he himself pursued Torah behavior and understanding, that was the focus of emulation; it was not impelled by the rabbi's commands or directions. Mentoring is best accomplished by drawing out from the student his own responses, as inspired by targeted questions. Thus the student becomes self-actualized rather than remaining a drone or thrall of his teacher.

      By contrast, the shepherding heresy did not limit itself to leading people along the path of Torah by showing them the ways of HaShem as delivered to the people of Israel throughout many generations. Indeed, if such leaders and disciples had been pursuing Torah, they would have found themselves immersed in the teachings of sources greater and older than merely those of their local rabbi or pastor, and the ultimate focus would have been the ways of HaShem rather than the ways of only one human leader, no matter how gifted or "charismatic". It would have been easier for the shepherded disciples to remember that their "shepherd" was also one of the flock of "sheep" under a greater shepherd. [And, perhaps, ultimately he wouldn't amount to "mutton"! {:)}] It was this lack of humbling perspective that made the shepherds of the shepherding movement so overbearing and destructive.

  3. Well, Stuart, it is 11 June. Thus 41 days have passed since your last essay above posted 2May. Since we have just concluded the festival of Shavuot, when we commemorate the giving of the Torah and the covenant of which it is the foundation, I'm hoping that you are about ready to post the next installment of your five-part series, which I would expect to see entitled: "The Five Questions: Something Extra for Pesach – Question #4 (What About the Priority of Torah Learning for Jews?)". I'm writing this hoping to "prime the pump", so to speak.

    The question, as your original correspondent elaborated it, was: "What happens to the purpose approached from a Jewish perspective, of ‘from generation to generation’ transmission in terms of Torah learning? What happens to the ability of the Messianic community to engage in ever deeper Torah learning to develop its maturing theology? I’m trying to make sense of how you and others see the bigger picture."

    I see these questions as a particularly appropriate topic for Shavuot, as the atzeret of Pesa'h, and with its emphasis on Torah. [And I hope you'll conclude the series with a consideration of question #5 before Tish'a B'Av.] However, I'm not sure I quite apprehend the context of these questions, that seem to arise from a fear that Torah learning is lacking within the messianic community and that it is not being transmitted from generation to generation. I can't say that this fear is unjustified, nor is the concern that its object impacts negatively on the theological development that is impelled by the needs of a modern restored ("post-missionary") Jewish messianism. But do you have specific insights about how and in what venues the teaching, from a Jewish perspectives, on Torah, traditional halachic Jewish praxis, and the Jewish literature that elaborates them, can be and are being promulgated within the various communities of modern Jewish messianism -- particularly within the congregations and other organizations constituting the American Messianic Jewish movement? If, on the other hand, actual conditions are such that these are not being sufficiently fostered, have you any recommendations to improve the situation?

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