Authentic Discipleship

By  Max Wilkins –

“Is there anywhere in the world that you see a rapidly growing, authentically Wesleyan discipleship movement?”

I was surprised by the question during a recent trip to Peru. After all, The Mission Society exists “to mobilize and deploy the Body of Christ to join Jesus in his mission,” and the mission of Jesus is undoubtedly to make disciples. The questioner was simply asking if we were actually accomplishing the mission anywhere.

I happily reported that right there in Peru I had just experienced one of the most exciting, authentic, and rapidly growing discipleship movements I had seen in decades. A couple of our cross-cultural witnesses (missionaries) along with a team of Peruvian disciple makers were engaged in a network of small groups now numbering close to 10,000 participants. From villages in the Andes Mountains to the steamy jungles of the Amazon, men and women are gathering weekly to grow in faith and holiness. The leader of this distinctively Wesleyan movement told me, “It is growing so quickly we can hardly keep up with it.”

While many in current evangelical circles focus on “getting people saved,” salvation is too often boiled down to raising a hand and saying a prayer. Little discipleship development ends up taking place. Intentional community and sanctified living is missing. There is, of course, a need for people to hear and respond to the gospel. Jesus’ call to “follow me” requires a decision – and trusting him in faith is essential for justification. But John Wesley also said, “at the same time that we are justified, yea, in that very moment, sanctification begins.”

Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Following Jesus begins the process of being made anew by him. As we give ourselves to the means of grace, the Holy Spirit begins his transforming work in our lives. Paul refers to this process as “being transformed from glory to glory” into the very image of Christ. This journey toward sanctification lies at the heart of Wesleyan Christianity. As Wesley stated, “Every one, though born of God in an instant, yea and sanctified in an instant, yet undoubtedly grows by slow degrees….”

The original people called Methodists understood very well that sanctification is a relational concept. It occurs as we deepen our relationship with the Lord, and as we demonstrate that relationship in our love for one another in community. To attempt to live the Methodist way by pursuing personal holiness in the absence of discipleship-based community is incongruous. Wesley writes, “‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than holy adulterers. The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.”

Jesus is forming us for a purpose. He makes us “fishers of people.” He shapes us to join him in his mission of making disciples. As we reflect the glory of the Lord and live authentically in Christian community, we cannot help but draw people to the grace and love of Jesus.

I was recently with a group of Wesleyan Christians in India who joyfully receive people into membership in their churches upon profession of faith in Jesus, but refuse to allow these members to call themselves “disciples” until they have effectively led someone else to the Lord and engaged in an ongoing disciple-making relationship with them. This idea is not only Wesleyan; it also represents the heart of all authentic discipleship.

In the late 1700s Wesleyan discipleship movements transformed Great Britain and America. I am so pleased that in Peru and India and dozens of other places around the world, the Lord continues to transform lives and societies through these same movements. My prayer is that the people called Methodists in America would rediscover the elegant simplicity of this discipleship approach. Or to quote Wesley: “I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.”

Max Wilkins is the president and CEO of The Mission Society.


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