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Washboard Discipleship

Jesus’ life and ministry were characterized by discipleship.  His ministry begins when he calls his first disciples (John 1:35-42), his disciples are present during nearly every event in his ministry (Matthew 5:1; Matthew 8:23; Matthew 14:13-21; Matthew 14:22-36; Matthew 17:1-6; Matthew 26:17) and prior to his ascension he commissions his disciples to go and make more disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).  It’s hard to read the Gospel’s without recognizing how critical the concept of discipleship really is.

What is it?

A disciple by definition is a “learner”.  It is someone who is learning to live God’s ways, to believe in Jesus’ finished work and to submit to Christ’s ongoing authority.  Another term for a disciple is an apprentice.  An apprentice is someone who learns a particular trade by submitting himself to an expert in that trade.  A disciple, then, is someone who is learning the Father’s trade by submitting himself to Jesus the Son.  As a result, discipleship is the process of learning God’s ways by faith in and submission to Jesus.  And it always happens through relationship.

How is it done?

Jesus isn’t physically present with us now, so that makes it difficult to be his “apprentice”.  We can, however, experience the Lord’s work in our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit and other people.  In Mark 3:7, Scripture tells us that “Jesus withdrew with his disciples.”  The Greek word used is diatribo, which literally means “to rub against” or to “rub off.”


Image found from etsy.com via Google search “vintage washboard.”

The imagery of diatribo is like that of a washboard.  Before electronic washing machines people had to wash their clothes by hand by dipping the clothing into soapy water and rubbing it on the metal ridges of a washboard.  In the process, the washboard would work the soap into the fabric of the clothing so that it could be cleaned.

The same type of language is used in John 15:4 when Jesus tells his disciples to “remain in him.”  This means discipleship requires that we first encounter Jesus daily.  We must carve out intentional time with the Lord in prayer, reading of his Word and other spiritual disciplines so that we can get to know him.  As we do, the Holy Spirit works the gospel into the fabric of our being through intentional relationship with Christ.  Along the way, the Lord conforms our worldview and lifestyle to his.

Discipleship likewise requires that we spend intentional time with people, working the gospel into the fabric of their lives as we “rub off” on them through relationship.  When we spend time with people who can disciple us, they help work the gospel into us.  When we spend time with non-Christians or people we can disciple we help work the gospel into them, through relationship.

Why is it so important?

Discipleship is important because it is the way that we get the gospel into our DNA.  It is the way that we learn to trust in and submit Jesus with the help of others.  Without discipleship we are like spiritual infants who are unable to mature into the men and women God wants us to be.  Additionally, without discipleship we are unable to help others grow to maturity in Christ as well.

The beautiful thing is that while discipleship can (and does) include formal meetings, it can (and should) also be done “on the go.”  We don’t necessarily have time to meet with 10 different people 3 times per week. We can, however, invite people into the things we are already doing.  We can invite them to the gym with us, to watch the game with us, to study with us or to anything else we’ve got going on.

Formal discipleship “meetings” are great, but they are most effective when we invite people to do life “with us” (diatribo), working the gospel into their lives through intentional relationship.  In this way, people get to see the Christian life in the action of daily life rather than just hearing about it in the theory of a formal meeting.  And before we know it, we’re “rubbing off” on them as the gospel gets worked into their lives through ours.  It’s unimpressive, but it is effective.

  1. January 1, 2014 at 11:38 PM

    Most man and woman of God fail because they don’t want to go through descipleship. There is The Call, Descipleship and the Commission. Learn from those who went before you with the guidance of The Holy Spirit.

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