What does a trip to the hospital have to do with discipleship? For me, it played a big role. Actually, going to the hospital was only the vehicle. My discipleship wasn’t shaped by that trip; it was shaped by the person who took me there.
Allow me to tell you about Russell. Retired from pastoral ministry, Russell intersected my life at the age of 18. When he preached, his wife would read the scripture because his eyesight was failing him. He radiated the love of Jesus in a way that drew you close to him. I’m certain that the way I hung around him was annoying, but he and his wife never seemed to mind. One evening he said to me, “Let’s go.”
“Where?” I asked.
“To the hospital,” he said. “I have a friend there and I want you to go with me and visit him.”
I had no idea what was going to happen next, but I got in his car, a Dodge Spirit that he always used to joke with people as he said, “I come to you in the Spirit.” We arrived at the hospital and took the elevator to the ICU. As we approached the double doors to the ICU, there was a sign clearly posted next to an old telephone handset that said, “Do not enter without calling the nurses’ station to obtain permission.”
Russell was moving at a speed that caused me to believe he was ignoring the sign. “Don’t we have to call in?” I asked as he confidently opened the doors without a flinch.
“Just keep moving,” he said. “Don’t worry about that. Just stay with me.”
We entered the room of a very ill man who, to me, seemed to not have much time left. I felt awkward, but not Russell. His confidence turned to warmth and his pace slowed into his usual gentleness. He introduced me, “This is Brett. He and I are here to visit you and pray with you.”
We didn’t stay long, but we prayed. It was clear that Russell loved this man. After a time of conversation, we left. That trip caused a shift in my direction as a disciple of Jesus. Though Russell never specifically said, “This is why I invited you … ,” I knew what he was doing. He was investing in me to help shape me into the man I am today.
So let’s pause for a reality check. Who have you and I directly impacted in such a way that we’re part of their discipleship story?
Here’s where we largely experience oblivion with something that should be so obvious. Discipleship is about investment in people, directly, through exemplifying the life of Christ in you, and calling forth the life of Christ in the other. But we often think of discipleship as institutional education, the transference of information, and the process of indoctrination. Discipleship is impartation, not indoctrination.
Some will point to big churches as doing discipleship better because of their sheer numbers, and small churches as ineffective because of their small-ness or age. The truth is that Jesus was the most effective disciple maker in all of history and invested the most in 12 simple men. He imparted Himself into them and challenged them. He instructed them and said things like, “You give them something to eat … heal the sick … preach the good news … I’m sending you out … go and make disciples.”
Small or large, urban or rural — these characteristics don’t help or hinder true discipleship. Young or old, black or white, Hispanic or Asian, women or men, or children — all can only be discipled by direct investment.
Who are you taking with you to your next hospital visit?
Here’s what Russell taught me.
First, you go to where the hurting ones are. It’s good and right to visit the sick. Second, you take someone with you. Third, you model the fruit of the Spirit — in this case, humility, love, gentleness and kindness. Fourth, you endure the annoying presence of a start-up-disciple-with-potential. You can’t disciple someone you won’t have in your presence. Fifth, invest in someone without having to see the result. Finally, he saw a potential pastoral calling in me that required spiritual “seeing” on his part. Then he invested in me intentionally based on the calling he saw on my life.
Here’s the point. It’s time to repent of and renounce all ineffective discipleship of education + information + indoctrination. That formula may produce devotees, but not disciples. If we’re not investing in people, we’re not making disciples. Locations and situations may differ, and demographics may be unique, but one-on-one investment can happen anywhere and in any context. That’s discipleship.
Does your schedule allow for such investments? Does your church encourage and model such investment? Who are you discipling?
And that’s my viewpoint: Discipleship is a matter of impartation, not indoctrination. It’s a matter of who, not what.
Brett Heintzman is the publisher of LIGHT + LIFE through his role as the communications director of the Free Methodist Church – USA, which he also serves as the co-director of the National Prayer Ministry. Visit freemethodistbooks.com to order his books “Becoming a Person of Prayer,” “Holy People”(Volume 1 of the “Vital” series), “Jericho: Your Journey to Deliverance and Freedom” and “The Crossroads: Asking for the Ancient Paths.”2