Discipleship in Jesus’ Style

The following is a guest post from Ken Smith. Ken is a retired RPCNA minister, former missionary, and perhaps is best known as the pastor whom the Lord used to bring Rosaria Butterfield to faith. Ken was my pastor during my days as a seminary student at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and I witnessed and experienced him practicing the lessons below. Now that I am back at RPTS, he is still encouraging me in this area. 

Though a longer post, you will profit greatly from a key principle in discipleship as Ken shares about the “with Him” principle.

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I was slow in “catching on.”  I was a young pastor in a small denomination that had been shrinking in size for over fifty years when I was ordained.  Through the grace of God and in His timing I became exposed to how to help a new believer in Christ grow and mature… and reproduce!  As I learned later through my own research that this all takes place as a result of our union with Christ and our personally abiding in Him (cf. John 15), I became excited to see our congregation incorporate these things into their church life.

Now it was a traditional practice that the elders of the church – we are presbyterian in church government – should visit the members and “shepherd” them in the Christian life.  So as a new pastor I brought this up before our elders, and without objection we took assignments to visit the “sheep.”  Only one of our elders fulfilled his assignment.  I could not figure out why the others looked at the floor and said they had not made their visits.  I was baffled.  They were serious Christians but seemed to balk at this kind of visiting our members.

This went on for several months until I was embarrassed even to inquire into their assignment.  And then one day the Lord opened my eyes to Scripture.  I had known the text, but never applied it to this situation.  It was Mark 3:14 (AV). “And He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach….”  The lights went on!  Of course.  Jesus had these men “with Him” so they could watch Him, listen to Him, learn from Him on site.  How does He speak with these people?  What questions does He ask?  How does He respond to rebuff?  When does He leave them?  The picture became clear!

That week I called Mr. Young, a godly businessman.  We played golf together.  “Mr. Young,” I said.  “I need to make a visit on Mrs. Miller.  Could you go with me on Thursday evening?”  “I’d be glad to go,” he said.  “What time will you pick me up?”  And so we went.  We had good fellowship in the Lord going and coming, and he was helpful in the actual conversation with Mrs. Miller.

That was the start of a whole new era of elder oversight and visitation.  I got to know the elders better, and they learned how to talk with the members about their status in the Lord and in the church.   And it was then I tumbled to the fact that they had never been exposed to nor trained in how to care for the members’ spiritual walk with Christ.  I could relate other experiences with these beloved men as we shepherded the sheep together.  In fact, one night Jim and I visited a man who was the father of one of our members.  In the course of the evening we had the blessing of sharing the gospel with him and witnessing his committing his life to Christ.  Jim bubbled all the way home!  He had never heard the gospel presented in a personal way, not to mention having the man actually repent and commit his life to Jesus!    The next Lord’s day after the service Jim just could not leave his new contact alone!

The “with Him” principle has all kinds of application.  I learned from Dr. Marylib Coleman an interesting item in this regard.  She was an educator at the University of Pennsylvania as well as being a member of our Board of Christian Education.  We were discussing this “with him” principle; and she told me that up until 1929 medical students being trained to be physicians always worked with cadavers (dead bodies).  Then they started getting these students “on the floor” with a full physician as he visited patients on his round.  You’ll often see it today: a physician visiting patients with a cluster of young trainees actually “with him” as he or she ministers to the patients.  So these would-be doctors learn by being with their mentor in actual situations.  It’s no longer just theory, and I’m told they now go on the floor at the end of their first year.

In many of the work fields new employees learn the ropes by being with the regulars who are skilled and experienced.  One might say they learn by osmosis.  It’s the “with him” principle with scores of situations where the apprentice spends time “with” the instructor on site as he works.

To bring the idea home, let’s step into the home for a moment.  We had a young girl at one of our summer training programs…this one at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.  She indicated she had problems which affected her ability even to feel.  Sometimes her hands would grow numb.  I suggested we get some counselling after returning home, and she agreed.  I had always wanted to sit in on one of Dr. Jay Adams’ counseling sessions, so we met in Philadelphia for our appointment.  In the course of the interchange, Dr. Adams asked, “What does your dad do?”  She said, “I don’t know.”  He was astounded, and let her know so.  “You mean you live at home with your parents and you don’t know what your father’s work is!?”  She replied, “I never see him.  He goes to work before I’m up and gets home and goes to bed before I get home from my work.”  She was unaware that she had internalized the situation and had unwittingly indulged an unspoken anger, explaining why her hands turned numb when she became disillusioned, disappointed, and fiercely resentful.  My point is that while there was proximity, there was no relational contact between her and her father.   Dr. Adams was able to help her, and she reported the next week in her life was the best she could remember.

I’ve wondered if that is why some people become discouraged with church.  It’s a kind of “with him” occasion, but with little or no meaningful interchange.  It’s also why I have learned that no one can be helped or trained in one’s Christian growth who is not available.  And obviously if one’s home is a reflection of that kind of church – proximity but no real personal interchange – everyone busy with himself/herself – why should children not be anxious to get away from home hoping to find meaningful relationships?  The “with him” and “with her” principle is fundamental to relationships in general and to discipleship in particular.

Availability, however, works both ways.  If the parent or mentor lives so far away or is booked up so there’s no apparent time for meaningful contact — and here I would include the casual, unplanned contact — there’s no learning or discipling going on.  That’s why so much of church life has been translated into “listen to me” rather than “follow me.”  And it also explains why there is often a lack of leadership.  I’ll say something about that a little later.  But don’t for a moment think this takes away the importance of preaching.  One who understands discipleship can discern rather quickly whether a pastor’s preaching envisions true discipleship or not.  When the “listen to me” is all the pastor envisions, it will show.  On the other hand, a pastor bent on discipling men will almost unconsciously show it in the way he preaches and the response the Word summons…and how he applies it.  He will also, because he’s looking for men to disciple, constantly be recruiting men who want to grow in Christ.

During the years of my working under Synod’s Board of Christian Education, I tried to visit the congregations to learn the status of our churches in general and our educational and training experiences and content in particular.  To profile the plight I ran into, I tell you of visiting one congregation and spending time with their pastor.   We were sitting in his study discussing the blessing of training up young men for the gospel witness and church leadership.  He began to weep.  I wondered what I’d said and inquired.  He said, “Ken, when you spend that time with these men, what do you say?  What do you do?”  My heart went out to him as I realized once again he had never been trained in how to draw men into his ministry so they could learn to grow in Christ and help others follow their lead and example.  He had never had the opportunity like the Twelve to be with a man of God as he ministered. His seminary training never suggested that, let alone demonstrate it on site.  So obviously he had never intentionally trained any other man into maturity and reaching other men. It wasn’t even on his agenda.  And it’s no wonder there was a shortage of leadership in his congregation.   He knew nothing of the “with him” vision of ministry.  But he was a serious Christian.

Let me explain a bit about how it works.  Observe that Jesus made training the Twelve a priority.  Early in His public ministry He enrolled “followers.”  To the fishermen He said, “Follow Me.”  And what is interesting is that when the time came for ordaining those men to be with Him, He chose out of them all the Twelve… after a night in prayer.  And in John 17 He talks with the Father and identifies those men as “those whom You gave Me.”  I’ve had men ask me, “Where do you get these men to be trained?”  I reply, “On your knees.”  When Jesus saw the crowds as “sheep having no shepherd,” He told His men to pray that God would thrust laborers into His harvest.   We look for those people.

Now the issue always comes up: “I just don’t have time.”  Well, first of all we don’t try to train everyone all at once.  Jesus, the master disciple, limited His choice to twelve.  One pastor in Atlanta who trains men to train others all the time works in a group of five.  He has worked out a 3-year curriculum and now after years knows of such groups of men meeting internationally.  And it began with his five men whom he taught to train others.

But here’s the crux of the matter: besides setting aside time to train men, the secret here in Jesus is the “with Him” principle.  I have an appointment later in the year, Lord willing, to spend a weekend with a church in the Northeast on the topic of discipleship.  They will fly me to their location.  But as I was thinking and contemplating this, I thought, why not drive and take a guy or two with me? They can help drive, we’ll get good conversation going and coming, and they can be on the scene as we help this congregation think through on this vital topic.  I plan to consult the host pastor about it and begin seeking the man or men to go “with me.”  If the busy pastor begins to think about discipleship seriously, he will find all kinds of time to carry it out if he thinks, “with him.”  It’s really a mindset.

Now let me pick up on one of the most useful ways I know to disciple men (and/or women).  We’ve done both.  And here I speak of taking them into your home.  It is true that both my wife Floy and I grew up in large families, so we have never been intimidated at having others live in our residence.  It’s one of the best ways I know to apply the “with him” principle.  The live-in sees us in the raw, warts and all.  And we always told them upon arrival that they would see and hear things they should avoid like the proverbial plague.  But then we added that perhaps the Lord would show them some things that would be helpful to their lives.  And that was our prayer.

So they lived with us twenty-four seven.  They fit our meal schedule; they joined in our family worship; they learned how to live as community; and, of course, we spent alone time with them.  We always considered our three sons in doing so; and when they became to the age of discernment, we always asked them before taking anyone as a live-in.  We only had to ask one fellow to leave because he chose not to get up for breakfast.  He would not “fit in.”  And we told him it was his choice to leave since he was unwilling to fit into our home, and “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”  He was an engineer at Westinghouse, and he has long since apologized for his stubbornness and we have long ago forgiven him.  But in general our live-ins were serious about wanting to learn how to live faithfully for Jesus Christ; and many of them had never experienced a Christian home.

This idea of taking the “with Him” principle to the home ties in closely to the Scripture practice of “showing hospitality.”  Hospitality means love of strangers, so that is not exactly the same as focused ministry to growing believers.  But my point is that the home is a great environment for helping people grow in Christ.  And it buys up opportunity to take advantage of the time factor without shutting out one’s kids.  But it’s more than providing shelter.  It’s pointed right at Christian discipleship.

All of which is this: true discipleship through the “with Him” principle sets the stage for multiplication.  Meaning what?  Meaning that we expect these whom we have disciple will do the same.  And here it brings us into that most intimate part of the Lord Jesus’ relationship to His Twelve in John 13–16.  It bears much study and meditation.  Let me just suggest a few things. When Jesus washed their feet He made it clear true discipleship is not a pyramid of leadership…with me at the top.  For another thing He encouraged them that it was He Who would make them fruitful and effective in their ministry.  He let them know that it was He Who had chosen them so they would be fruitful.  He opened His heart to them and said they were to Him not servants but friends with whom He had shared everything He’d heard from His Father.  Talk about intimacy!  And so it goes throughout that upper room experience.  They needed the encouragement.  Heavy things were ahead!  But still He would affirm them as His own men, save one, who would begin the worldwide assignment of “making disciples of all nations.”

I write this as more of an analysis than a critique of our status in applying the “with Him” principle in our Christian and church lifestyle.  Certainly people whose walk with Christ is in shambles are in no mindset to disciple anyone, let alone incorporating him into a “with Him” status.  And that includes pastors and elders, men whose lifestyle will challenge and guide those needing training just by being with them when their walk with Christ is right.  It really rubs off!  My prayer over the years continues to ask God to help the church, especially the leaders, to open up their lives to other young men and incorporate them into their lifestyle.  And the same applies to women.  Here I must acknowledge the ministry of my wife Floy to the many who have passed through our lives and in many cases eaten at her table.  I hope you may find this reminder to be an encouragement to you to develop Jesus’ style of discipleship…the “with Him” principle.

Now what you do with such a man to be discipled is not the purpose of this paper; but suffice it to say that this builds on one’s knowing what goes into the process of developing a mature, reproducing disciple.  That’s a topic in itself, but in many ways it works itself out through the life and habits of the one doing the discipling.  How does he himself live out his union with Christ?  That’s what his disciple needs to learn.   So he simply applies the with him lifestyle.  And, of course, that’s the way his kids learn, or don’t learn, too.  There are plenty of good books on Christian discipleship, but to follow Jesus’ example, we must begin to incorporate the with Him principle.  If you are ashamed to incorporate another man or two into the “inner sanctum” of your life, you will not develop mature men who are open to disciple other men.  Believe me.  God doesn’t build men of God with a lie.

9 Comments

  1. Michael Roe February 23, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

    That was really helpful. A question of application. How do you practically adapt that to the challenge of today’s busy and detached culture?

    • Barry York February 24, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

      Michael,

      I asked Ken your question, and here is his response:

      1. One at a time. Just like when one’s first baby is born. (Children are great teachers and really enjoyable!)

      2. We as Christians are “countercultural.” We don’t govern our vision on “what everyone else is doing.” We set our patterns on Christ’s call. He gives the fruit. He gives the insights. He is alive and leading His people. Remember, He said: “My sheep hear My voice, and they follow Me….” And, of course, there’s lots more. Such a “relationship” in today’s culture is hard to find; but when Jesus leads, it has its own appeal to those being called.

  2. Russ Pulliam February 27, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

    Thank you, Barry, for more wisdom from the master, Mr. Ken Smith. Now I see why he likes to play golf with several of us. It part of the “with us” strategy! However, he thinks I throw his game off slightly when I ask theological questions on the first hole.

    • gentlereformation February 29, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

      Thanks for the note. It was a pleasure to post this gem from Ken. And a funny anecdote to boot!

  3. Russ Pulliam February 27, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

    Thanks, Barry.

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