“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” [Galatians 6:1-3]
The Apostle Paul’s admonishment to the church in Galatia to bear each other’s burdens is a powerful reminder of the high calling of discipleship. There is none of us who hasn’t experienced personally, or witnessed fellow Christian’s who have divorced, fallen prey to abusing alcohol, or a myriad of different sins. As Paul told us, “There is none righteous, no not one”.
One of the prevailing problems in the 21st century church is the innumerable sins and struggles that Christians face in their daily lives, that go completely unaddressed and unknown by the church. Because the vast majority of Christian community only occurs at church meetings, the mature Christian’s at the local church never have the opportunity to identify burdens (and/or sins) among their brothers and sisters the way they would if they interacted with them on a daily basis, in all of the different avenues of daily life.
A pastor once told me that he is only responsible for the things that his congregation bring to him and audibly tell him. Of course, if this is how we parented our children, it would likely lead to disastrous results. The wise parent observes his child in all sorts of different settings and situations, as a way of properly training up the child in the way they should go, according to God’s path for their life.
This principle should surely be present as we make disciples of all men. We are not merely called to preach at people, true discipleship involves so much more. Bearing each other’s burdens means ministering to the whole man;
-) If our brother is hungry, we feed him
-) If our brother is unemployed, we help him get a job
-) If our brother has a quick temper, we help him learn to tame his tongue
-) If our brother treat’s his spouse poorly, we spend lots of time with him, allowing him to observe how we love our spouse the way Christ love’s the church.
The examples are plentiful; true discipleship involves serving our disciples in many different ways, in many different settings, and in many different situations.
It cannot be emphasized enough that it takes time to disciple people. This is not a job that we check in, sit at a table, listen to someone as though we are the therapist, and then send them on their way with a couple minutes of advice. True discipleship is a way of life; it is a sacrificial way of living that involves putting aside our personal whims and fancies, in favor of serving those whom the Lord has entrusted to us.
Discipleship is not merely telling people what to do, how to act, or how to live. Discipleship is a type of communal interaction, that allows people to live alongside us, which enables them to imitate those areas in us which are most like Christ.
When I was grade-school age, my dad’s business partner, Larry Smith, (who doubled as the pastor of the church we attended), would pick me up when he was near our house, to let me spend the day with him. We lived near the water, and my dad’s business partner worked on boat’s every so often. This gave our pastor the opportunity to spend time with 10 year old Kenneth, and I would sit on a boat with him while he worked, sometimes I would bring my fishing pole and sit on the dock. He would tell me stories about his youth, ask me about my reading and studies, and I always looked forward to when he would call my mom and ask if I was available to go with him. As a young child, it was good for me to see how Pastor Larry interacted with people at the marina, and the way it contrasted against my dad’s personality. Instead of only being exposed to my dad’s skill set, when it came to social interaction, I had a front row seat at observing Larry and was able to borrow the good things I saw in both of them.
This type of discipleship in many ways mimicked the old world lifestyle of farmers, where young men would work alongside their father, older uncles, cousins, and other men in the community. Instead of only seeing Christian men at church, this level of discipleship sewed many positive threads in the fabric of community.
While my father loved Christ exceedingly, this did not mean he was a perfect man. He had a tendency to be a bit more “hard” on me, because I was his oldest son. I can remember vividly sharing some of my frustrations to Pastor Larry, regarding my dad. Pastor Larry never talked ill about my father to me, but rather, he always reminded me of my dad’s passion for God, and he bore my burden of frustration, by being a shoulder to cry on, without condemning me for sharing my thoughts.
Reading the Apostle Paul’s letters to the various New Testament churches of his age, I’m always impressed with how deeply Paul longed to be with the Christians in person. Paul strikes me as having a similar personality to Larry Smith; it wasn’t enough for Larry to only ever see myself in church on Sunday; he looked forward to opportunity’s to hang out with me. I was not merely someone who attended his church, I was a young person entrusted in his care as the pastor, whom he lovingly looked for opportunities to disciple me in every-day practical experiences.
Our great commission, to “go out into the whole world, and make disciples of all men” is not something we can choose to do, or not to do. It is our directive, from our Lord and Savior. It is our calling in Christ. True discipleship incorporates the entirety of our lives. It means, looking for opportunities to hang out with the young people in our local congregation. It means putting aside our selfish whims and fancies, and allowing our life to be used by the Holy Spirit for the advancement of the kingdom, for the bearing of our brother’s burdens, and for the gentle instruction of those in our community.