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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

Discipleship matters.

The goal is not a crowd, but rather a core of committed Christ followers who are fleshing out the life of Christ at work, in their marriage, their parenting, their finances, their thinking, their politics, their…

… everything.

To borrow from Abraham Kuyper, there is not an inch of any sphere of my life that Christ does not say, “Mine!”

But what is the nature of discipleship?

There seem to be two schools of thought. The first holds that discipleship is all about ongoing investment. Whether classes or seminars, sermons or small groups, everything is designed to “feed” the Christ-follower. The language used to describe and promote this understanding of discipleship puts the entire emphasis on someone or something, doing discipleship to someone else. The one being discipled is seemingly passive. In other words, discipleship is something received.

The other school of thought is less about feeding and more about training. There is an old line that says, “Give me a fish, I eat for a day; teach me to fish, I eat for a lifetime.” So rather than providing an ongoing pipeline for biblical teaching (present though that may be), the overarching goal is to teach people how to become Bible students themselves.

So which is the true nature of discipleship?

The answer lies in the word itself. 

The word “disciple” is from the Greek word mathetes and literally means “learner.” 

Stop there. Re-read.

Learner.

This puts the action firmly into the lap of the one doing the learning. The point is that you, as a disciple, are to be actively learning. It is your responsibility to take up the mantle of self-development. 

And yes, this suggests that a teacher is involved. 

And yes, we talk about someone going to college to receive an education.

And yes, Jesus seemed to fill the teaching/equipping role by inviting 12 men (and more than a few women) to do life with Him for three years. 

And yes, they were called “disciples.”

But reflect on those early followers: Theirs was an invitation to learn, not to enter into a passive process of being fed. We certainly know that not all of the 12 went to school on Jesus. One in particular didn’t seem to learn much of anything. If discipleship was simply something done to you, Jesus failed epically with Judas. 

(I wonder if Judas ever said he needed to follow another rabbi where he could be better “fed” and thus grow better spiritually than he was under Jesus.)

Growing in faith is something that can be served by others, but ultimately must be owned personally. 

This is decisive. Too many followers of Christ view discipleship as something that is done to them and for them—akin to a personal enrichment program. Yet the writer of Hebrews made it abundantly clear that people who keep getting “fed” in this way are in arrested development. Once out of infancy, they should no longer need to be fed, but instead be feeding others (see Hebrews 5:11-13).

But even more disquieting is how we have missed out on what it is we should focus on learning. The back half of the Great Commission exhorts us to teach new believers to obey what Christ has commanded. This is the essence of the content of discipleship.

And what has Christ commanded?

To live our lives in mission to the least and the lost.

In other words, what we are to be learning is increased love toward others and increased faith for the task of serving them. We are not to be searching for a feeding station that creates a culture of dependency and endless demand for head-knowledge, but rather for a learning environment where an active life of faith is stretched and encouraged.

I know, knowledge is needed. Doctrine matters. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. But that transformation only happens when what is in the mind translates into obedience to serving the widow and orphan, and reaching out to the hell-bound and skeptic. 

So discipleship is enhanced through practical teaching, learning the personal disciplines of prayer and Bible study, engaging in ministry, cultivating relationships that bring challenge and opportunity, and welcoming circumstances that demand the essence of commitment and obedience.

In other words, faith is stretched by being in the game where you are admonished by teachers/leaders, investing in connecting with God through prayer and the Scriptures, putting yourself on the front lines of the cause of Christ, mixing it up with other Christians who sharpen you as iron against iron, and being led by God into unique situations that challenge you at the deepest of spiritual levels.

That’s not passive, but active.

It’s something that can be served, but never delivered.

It takes a church, but only goes so far as the person is willing to be,

… a true learner.

James Emery White

 

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

I teach a lot about families, parenting and, perhaps most of all, fathering.

I believe deeply in the powerful and pivotal role of a husband and dad in relation to wives, moms and children. Maybe because involved and engaged dads are a dying breed.

So where does that leave single-parent moms? Those women who have been divorced by their husbands, abandoned, betrayed, abused or tragically widowed... and, as a result, are left to raise children on their own?

They are the heroes.

And they are in very good company.

After Jesus was born His parents took Him to Jerusalem when He was about six weeks old to be dedicated. While they were there, the Holy Spirit came upon a man named Simeon, who then offered some very disquieting words to Mary, the mother of Jesus:

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)

And the first sword through her soul would come quickly. 

One of the better-known details about Mary is that when she was betrothed to Joseph and had her angelic visit about the birth of Jesus as a virgin, she was young. Engagement usually took place immediately after entering puberty, so Mary would have just entered her teens – as in 13, 14 or, at the most, 15.

But what isn’t as well known is that while Mary was young, Joseph was old. So theirs was what is known as a “May-December romance.” And by our standards, very May and very December. He was probably in his 30s or 40s.

But this would not have been uncommon for that day.

This helps explain why we don’t hear anything about Joseph once Jesus is an adult. Sometime between the time Jesus was 12 and 30 years old, Joseph apparently died. The last record of Joseph is when Jesus was 12, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple. The next scene from the life of Jesus, in all four biographical accounts of His life in the Bible, is when Jesus was around 30 years old and began His ministry. 

In all four accounts of Jesus’ life, not a word is mentioned of Joseph. When Jesus returns home, when Jesus interacts with Mary… no Joseph. And on the cross before His death, Jesus asks John to watch over Mary. This intimates that Jesus, as the eldest son, had carried that responsibility to that point and now asked another to watch over His mother. This tells us that Mary was a widow.

There’s even an old tradition (not found in the Bible, but rather a tradition) that says that Joseph lived until he was 111 years old, dying when Jesus was 18. That he had been married with children before Mary, but his first wife had died. That would make him a very elderly man when he was betrothed to Mary – around 92 years of age. 

Regardless of exactly when he died, or what filled his life before his marriage to Mary, his death explains why Jesus didn’t begin His public ministry until His 30s. He was providing for the family, carrying on as a carpenter as taught by His father. He assumed the role of caregiver until His brothers were able to assume primary care for their mother and the other siblings.

So the first sword through Mary’s soul?

The death of Joseph while she was still young and raising children.

Many of you are single-parent moms. In fact, the typical single parent is a mother. Did you ever think about the fact that Jesus was raised by a single-parent mom?

You know what that makes me think? It makes me think that maybe God has a special place in His heart for those who are thrust into that role. It makes me think that all of your efforts, when it feels like you’re fighting an uphill battle, wondering if you’ll be able to pull this parent thing off all by yourself, may turn out okay.

Jesus sure did.

Now I know that some of you who are single parents feel that God couldn’t possibly have tenderness in His heart toward you and your situation because you found yourself a single parent through the trauma of divorce or an out-of-wedlock birth. So somehow, you’re not only a single parent, but you’re on God’s bad side for how you became a single parent. So you’re not part of Mary’s group and never will be. You think there is some kind of scarlet letter on your chest that results in God caring about single parents who are widows, but not divorcees or those who made a sexual mistake when they were young.

Where are you getting that from?

I don’t mean to make light of divorce or sex outside of marriage because no, that’s not God’s perfect will for anyone’s life. But to view either one as the unpardonable sin that brings about the wrath and scorn and rejection of God for the rest of your life is simply wrong. Or that somehow it makes God’s heart shrink toward you as a single parent and the struggles you face.

You want a comforting verse from the Scriptures? It’s from the 34th Psalm:

“Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there; if you're kicked in the gut, he'll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.” (Psalm 34:17-19, Msg)

And He will be there for you.

Every time I teach on the importance of fathers to the family, I always wish I could tack on a special message to the many single-parent moms who feel an extra dose of discouragement, defeat, guilt, shame, hopelessness or fear. 

To be sure, I believe in the critical importance of fathers in the lives of children. Any single-parent home – composed of a single-parent dad or mom – is never plan “A.” 

But when it happens, particularly to a woman – and no matter the reason – not only does grace flow freely to repentant hearts, but there is a special place in the grace-giving heart of God for her challenges.

Beginning with the single-parent mother of God.

James Emery White

 

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

One of the most frequent questions I get is how I keep up with culture. My stock answer is to read voraciously. Then the follow-up comes: How can I become a better reader?

Borrowing a phrase from Thomas Jefferson, Susan Wise Bauer rightly maintains that any literate man or woman can become a reader. “All you need are a shelf full of books... and a few ‘chasms of time not otherwise appropriated.’” 

With the scent of a savvy, real-world reader, Bauer gives the following suggestions:

  • Morning is better than evening: Why fight the fatigue?
  • Start short. As with physical exercise, work your way into shape, starting with no more than 30 minutes a day.
  • Don’t schedule yourself for reading every day of the week. Aim for four days, giving yourself some days off for the inevitable interruptions of life.
  • Never check your email or social media right before you start reading. You know how it distracts the mind and commands your time.
  • Guard your reading time. Set it, keep it, and protect it.
  • And take the first step now

I might add three more to her list:

First, do not attempt to read a book – particularly a significant one – in the context of chaos. Blaring music, kids running amuck and interrupting you every five minutes, getting up to answer the phone... such distractions are insurmountable. Guarding your reading is more than setting the time itself aside; it is protecting its quality. 

Second, do not become discouraged if you read slowly, resulting in only a few books a year. The more you read, the faster you will read. The same is true with comprehension. Your mind is like your body—you should not expect to run a 4-minute mile the first day nor complete a marathon after two weeks of training. Speed and increased abilities in reading comprehension come with time. And they will come.

Finally, reading is served by knowing the degree to which individual books should be read. Not every book qualifies for a cover-to-cover journey. Long ago, Francis Bacon gave this wise counsel: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested.” Read each book to the degree that it deserves, and no more. A classic text that will help in this area is Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book

Most people would be amazed at what can be accomplished with such practices. Will Durant, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of the famed 11-volume The Story of Civilization once compiled “The One Hundred ‘Best’ Books for an Education.” As if he anticipated the reaction to such a program, he writes: “Can you spare one hour a day? … Let me have seven hours a week, and I will make a scholar and a philosopher out of you; in four years you shall be as well educated as any new-fledged Doctor of Philosophy in the land.”

He’s right.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Adapted from James Emery White, A Mind for God (InterVarsity Press), order from Amazon.

Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had.

Francis Bacon, Of Studies.

Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book.

Will Durant, The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, compiled and edited by John Little.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

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