What is a disciple? Is it different than a convert? What do I mean when I say discipleship or disciplemaking?
One of the things we have felt over the past several years is a constant need to DEFINE terms and clarify what we mean by them; what the Bible means by them. It comes from a belief that the words we say and use have real impact only when there is a shared and clear understanding of what those words mean. When I would ask my father-in-law, “What color is that stop-light?” he would automatically say, “They are all green.” He was color-blind, so he had never seen colors through my eyes and we didn’t have a common understanding of what each color was.
Similar things have happened here in Uganda. When we moved here seven years ago, we thought we had a great understanding of the English language…boy, were we wrong?!?! Words we always knew to mean one thing suddenly had a very different meaning, both in Uganda and in other parts of the world. Even our British friends question our English so much that we have stopped saying that we speak English, rather that our family’s heart language is “Texan” and we are learning English.
All this to illustrate a point: we must agree on what we mean by such important words as DISCIPLE and DISCIPLEMAKING. For our family and the ministry we serve in Uganda, we define Disciple from Matthew 4:19, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Disciples: 1) Have committed to following Jesus with their lives; 2) Are forming their lives around Jesus’ life and teachings, being transformed into His likeness; and 3) Are committed to the same mission as Jesus, namely to make disciples in a lost world. And we define Disciplemaking as “life-on-life relationships” that produce Disciples who make Disciples, sharing a closeness where someone is able to pour themselves into another person. In this case, Jesus’ relationship with the twelve and the three are the primary model (also, Paul with Timothy as another Biblical example of this same model).
By many metrics, sub-Saharan Africa has been “reached” by Christianity. There are fewer and fewer Unreached People Groups (UPG) in sub-Saharan Africa because the Lord’s Church has spread and multiplied throughout the continent. We have heard from different people that missions and missionaries should stop wasting effort and resources building the Church in areas which have been reached like Uganda.
But when we look around, we often see spiritual children leading other spiritual children towards more confusion, legalism, and destruction. We see on the news stories of “Starvation Cults” in Kenya where more than 70 people killed themselves by starvation because their church leaders told them this is the Christ-like thing to do. If there were spiritually mature disciples of Jesus at this church, they could have put a stop to it. We see this in our own communities where people chase miracles and earthly blessings because church leaders have manipulated the Scriptures to teach that these are life’s priorities. If there were spiritually mature disciples of Jesus leading these churches, then they would know how to discern the Bible and help others apply it to their lives. Many churches that we work with are more like a youth and children’s ministry with another youth leading the way: They have committed to following Jesus but they do not understand how the Holy Spirit should be transforming them into the likeness of Jesus. They have approached Jesus as their personal Saviour from hell (fire insurance) but have not made Jesus the Lord and King of their everyday lives (by the way, if you’re focused on the misspelling of Savior, see my point on English and language from the second paragraph above=).
The purpose of Disciplemaking is to help spiritually immature Christians grow more mature in their faith in Christ, to a place where they can discern God’s will for their own lives and disciple other followers of Jesus: To help spiritual babies grow in maturity to a place where they also become spiritual parents. And this is why we believe it is so vital for the Church across Africa, in particular here in Uganda. If the Church doesn’t have mature disciples of Jesus, who will lead, discern, navigate, and disciple others?
I firmly believe that the vast majority of church leaders and Christians here in Uganda genuinely want to follow Jesus and be transformed into His image, but they have never been shown how. No one has discipled them the way that Jesus discipled His followers and many have been inoculated to the Truth in Jesus’ words. Many of them do not read the Bible because they have never been discipled in a way that gives authority to the Word of God. Many of them only seek the power of the Holy Spirit to perform miracles because they have not been discipled to understand that the greatest display of the Spirit of God is a transformed life. They would love these things, but they’ve not been led there…yet. They have been born again into Christ but have been left as spiritual babies and children, not being shown the way to spiritual maturity. And this is why DISCIPLEMAKING is crucial for the Church.
Here is an article written by an organization that worked for years to produce an African Study Bible, with notes and commentaries from African theologians and church leaders. It was a huge under-taking and has been a remarkable blessing to so many people, even some within the ministry we serve. This article focuses it’s attention on why it is so important to the Global Church that we focus efforts on disciplemaking here in Africa. Please, I ask that you take a few more minutes to read and explore: Click HERE.
And HERE is another article they have written about the NEED for disciplemaking across the African continent.
All of this points to one important factor: disciplemaking is a MUST here in Uganda, Africa, and beyond. Thank you all for being a part of it!