For those of you that don’t know, I’m an avid golfer and an overall fan of the game of golf. Recently The Open Championship was played at Royal Troon in Troon, Scotland. It was a phenomenal tournament to watch, especially Round 4. In Round 4, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson went head-to-head in one of the most epic rounds in all of golf history. Mickelson shot six-under that day, finishing with a total score of -17; and Stenson shot eight-under, finishing with a total score of -20. The closest competitor finished at 6-under par!
People were amazed at the play of both Stenson and Mickelson, especially in the conditions they faced. Many people understand that in order to play well at a links course—in windy, damp, and rainy conditions—golfers must hit the ball in the sweet-spot. Each golf club has a sweet-spot so that when the golfer swings and connects the sweet-spot with the ball, the club and ball come together to maximize the force, impact, and distance of the ball. Hitting the ball in the sweet-spot helps the ball pierce through the wind and keep it on track.
What Discipleship Isn’t
For many years, whether intentionally or unintentionally, discipleship was propelled by information. In other words, churches had Sunday School, corporate worship, Discipleship Training Union, and Wednesday night Bible studies and prayer meetings. Such elements were more of the corporate programming of the church, which didn’t include other independent studies people participated in.
In addition, it seems that an element of discipleship in Christendom (a period where the church was the center point of culture and society) focused a lot on the do’s and don’ts of Christianity. Christians do go to church, attend Sunday School, give a tithe, go on a mission trip, and tell others about Jesus. And the other hand, Christians don’t cuss, play cards, dance, wear immodest clothes, play sports on Wednesday evenings or Sundays, watch certain kinds of movies, drink certain kinds of drinks, go to certain kinds of places, etc.
It’s not that Bible studies or teaching believers proper Christian behavior is bad. But over the course of the last decade or so, many church leaders have come to the conclusion that dousing believers with a plethora of Bible studies along with the dos and don’ts of Christianity doesn’t lead to true discipleship. Thus, as Geiger, Kelley, and Nation discuss, discipleship is not information nor behavioral modification.
What Discipleship Is
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Mankind has a heart-disease called sin. This heart disease has infected and damaged the imago Dei (image of God) in every person. Instead of reflecting the radiant glory of God (His characteristics and attributes), men and women reflect the characteristics and attributes of a depraved heart.
Understanding that men and women have heart issues, God, through the prophet Jeremiah, communicated that the New Covenant (brought about by Christ) would rectify this problem. Jeremiah 31:33 states, “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days…I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts” (HCSB). In this same vein, God, through the prophet Ezekiel communicates this about the New Covenant, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances” (Ezek. 36:26–27 HCSB).
Because the New Covenant focuses on a heart transplant—whereby God gives mankind His heart—discipleship, then, is a transformation (and heart) issue. As Geiger puts it, “We must aggressively go after the hearts of people.” And thus the goal of discipleship is the conforming and forging of men and women’s hearts into the image of Jesus (see Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:10).