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Discipleship: The Rhythm of Invitation and Challenge

Some of the last recorded words of Jesus are found in the book of Matthew 28 when he says in verse 19, “…go and make disciples of all nations…” This is part of a larger passage of scripture often called the “Great Commission” and is considered a key teaching of Jesus. Since we’ve identified discipleship as a key component of Winebrenner’s culture, what are a few coordinates for better understanding this teaching of Jesus?

There are many helpful interpreters of this teaching but today I am relying upon the work of Mike Breen, founder of 3dm and author of multiple books including Building a Discipling Culture. Breen writes that Jesus invited “his followers into an intimate relationship with him while also initiating a direct challenge to behaviors he knew were either wrong or unhealthy” (17).

For example, in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus is recorded as saying “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” What an invitation!

But a few chapters later in Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus says “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” A very challenging teaching.

We see this rhythm throughout the teachings of Jesus…invitation…challenge…invitation…challenge.

Breen develops the following matrix to describe the four possibilities (high invitation/high challenge; high invitation/low challenge; low invitation/high challenge; low invitation/low challenge). A discipling culture requires high invitation and high challenge:

You can read more about this particular design by clicking here.

There are many ways that this understanding can be incorporated and expressed in a context that prioritizes theological education. Since my primary tasks are related to administration I only teach occasionally at Winebrenner Seminary. However, when I do teach I begin almost every class session with something that resembles this understanding of discipleship. Currently, I am teaching a course exploring biblical interpretation and will begin our next session by asking those enrolled to take a few minutes and reflect upon

  • What did you find as an encouragement to your discipleship journey?
  • What did you find as a challenge to your discipleship journey?

Depending upon the content of the particular course, almost every class provides some connection to the topic of the evening. Biblical studies invites opportunities to see this rhythm in the life of the followers of Jesus. Leadership invites conversation about how our days are often filled with invitations and challenges to our leadership styles. History, theology, counseling, etc., all have some elements of invitation and challenge.

Even the classroom experience itself falls into the rhythm of invitation and challenge. The root for discipleship and the root for discipline are shared. Discipleship requires an element of discipline. As we discipline ourselves to see how God invites and challenges us in our spiritual journey, we have the opportunity to continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus and our understanding of discipleship.

  • Brent C. Sleasman, President
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