About Jesus Steve Sweetman
The Problem With 1970's Style Discipleship
In the early 1970's within the Charismatic Movement, a sub movement emerged. This movement was called "The Discipleship Movement". It later became known as the "Shepherding Movement" when the emphases shifted slightly from discipling to shepherding, and in my mind confusing these 2 terms. I was very much a part of this movement, although never totally embraced its thinking.
The reason for this movement was clear. Many Charismatic Christians were free and easy, attending meeting all over the place, not being rooted anywhere. Certain Charismatic leaders wanted to bring a needed order and structure to the movement. The over emphasis of this trend killed the movement, or so I think.
The need for structure and order was and is necessary, yet an over emphases of structure and order to the exclusion of personal accountability and freedom brings death, lack of creativity, and can lead to cultishness, among other things. One way this manifested itself in the 70's style discipleship movement was the notion that everyone was told to disciple others. Yet everyone wasn't really clear on how to disciple. Therefore we were discipling people in all sorts of areas that in my thinking were beyond the scope Biblical discipleship.
Examples of such discipling were teaching couples how to have good sex, how to buy a car, when to buy furniture, where you should live, and so on. Jesus, in the Great Commission of Matt. 28 told the 12 apostles to go and disciple nations, teaching them to obey the things He commanded them. Jesus never taught the disciples how to have good sex, or at least we have no written account of such a discussion.
How to have good sex can be a topic of discussion within the church. It could be taught by a church leader, or could be shared by a close brother or sister in Jesus that you are joined to, but lets not suggest that this is a topic in the context of discipleship.
Another problem that grew out of the above problem in the 1970's was the over emphasis on Shepherding that was probably meant to clarify for us who and how to disciple. Everyone was supposed to have some people to shepherd, as they were told earlier that they needed someone to disciple. So here comes the problem. Biblically speaking, only a pastor shepherds people, and we are not all called to be pastors. This meant that there were many little so-called pastor/shepherds around who had no right to pastor, who were in fact little dictators, telling their people what to do and how to do it, all in the name of Shepherding and Discipleship.
In my thinking there is a difference between discipleship and shepherding, and in the 70's the difference was blurred resulting in misuse and abuse. This blurring and misunderstanding has carried over to the 90's and the 2000's in some respects. The word discipleship has many and varied meanings today, depending on who you talk to, many of which are beyond the scope of what Jesus meant when He told the 12 to disciple nations.