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Discipleship As Holy Collaboration: Helping Others Follow Jesus in Real Life 

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Yolanda Solomon

Editor’s note: this column is Adapted from Discipleship as Holy Collaboration by Yolanda Solomon. ©2024 by Yolanda Michelle Solomon. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com

By Yolonda Solomon

Christ-centered community is a major key to making disciples because it’s a living witness of the gospel that proclaims that the kingdom of God has come on earth. When we make disciples and help people grow in spiritual maturity, we love our neighbor out loud and reflect the abundant generosity of God with our lives. The God of the Bible isn’t stingy with who he is. To redeem creation, God revealed himself to his creation through Christ, to give us access to the triune Godhead. The Son reflects the Father’s generosity by giving his life away on the cross to save people, and the Father sends the Spirit to reveal God’s will to us and progressively transform us to look like Jesus.

When our faith is disembodied and more about mental assent to a set of beliefs and less about presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, it’s difficult for people to believe that Jesus is working on earth. If people can’t see the arms and legs of “Christ’s body” working, how will they believe that the head exists?

Most pastors know that discipleship is God’s mechanism for the growth of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16) and that since Jesus prioritized making disciples in his ministry on earth, then Christ’s body should do the same. But my new book, Discipleship as Holy Collaboration, isn’t about that. It’s about the beauty of discipleship. There are many things that we know are good and right that we don’t do. I know that leafy greens are good for me, but I will choose a Popeyes biscuit over a spinach salad anyway because fat and salt on bread is beautiful. Jesus’ discipleship calling is a command that is good and true, and it’s also beautiful because following Jesus = following beauty and truth.

When we engage people with the good news of the gospel, we should remember that people are drawn to what is beautiful before they care whether it’s true or not. Reason comes in afterwards. On this topic philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of. . . . We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart” (Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensées). The road to making disciples goes through heart transformation, and we engage people’s hearts when we illustrate the sufficiency and beauty of Jesus and the kingdom of God as a beautiful, coherent way of life.

Many people are hesitant to make disciples because they’ve fallen out of love with Jesus. In this book I want to engage your heart as we look at Jesus in the gospels, rediscover his beauty and in doing so reignite a zeal for the beauty of discipleship. In the pages to come, I want to cast a vision for the beauty of Jesus’ discipleship calling by exploring how making disciples of Christ is a way to participate (right now) in the abundant life that Jesus calls us to.

The Spirit-filled community of the king is the foundation of discipleship. Discipleship is a corporate expression of obedience to God and love for neighbor that allows people to see what Jesus’ love looks like in practice. When Christians prioritize discipleship in community, we make Jesus easier to see. The greatest commandment (love God and love people) empowers us to fulfill the Great Commission (make disciples of all nations). In the book of Acts, we see Spirit-filled communities continue the ministry of Jesus as they proclaim the good news of the gospel and embody the love of Jesus. Those communities are an attractive witness of the power and presence of Jesus because their lives make visible “the abundant life” that Jesus promised. Communities have the power to form (or deform) and shape us. The past ten years have shown me the great harm and heart (de)formation that happens when professing Christians fashion Jesus in their own image to gain power and then call that wanton pursuit of power discipleship. In this book I will discuss how healthy, Spirit-filled Christian communities proclaim the good news of the kingdom by appropriating God’s love and grace into the life of the believing community and then bending it out into the world.

In my new book, I also put my business in the streets and describe how different faith communities have shaped my own discipleship journey and spiritual formation (for better or for worse). At the core, I will provide practical tools for anyone who wants to take Jesus’ discipleship call seriously—whether you’re a new Christian, pastor, college campus minister or lay leader in a local church.

My disciple-making philosophy is simple. Imitate Jesus as you’re empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our ability to make disciples is directly related to how we imitate and participate in the divine life that Jesus invites us into. In John 21:1-22, Jesus appears to the very disciples who deserted him, to commission them to follow in his footsteps and “make disciples” of all nations. Jesus doesn’t ask why they deserted him, and he doesn’t scold them. In fact, before Jesus commands Peter to “feed his sheep,” he feeds them breakfast.

Jesus knows it’s impossible for the “most problematic inhabitants” (Colin Gunton, Christ and Creation) of creation (aka humanity) to make disciples of Christ apart from being disciples of Christ. After denying Jesus, Peter had to experience Jesus as a forgiving shepherd before he could shepherd anyone himself. Peter had to experience Jesus as a grace giver before he could testify about the power of God’s grace. And the same is true for us. On that beach, Jesus fed his disciples (physically and spiritually) before sending them out to make disciples. In the same way, Jesus empowers us by the Spirit to make disciples because he knows that we can’t continue his story in our own strength.

Yolanda Solomon is the Director of Discipleship at Epiphany Church in Brooklyn.