Summary: Christian discipleship follows a recognizable path.

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The PATH of Discipleship

Part I

Isaac Butterworth

September 26, 2010

Mark 12:28-34 (NIV)

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. 'There is no commandment greater than these."

32 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

A few weeks ago, I shared with you what I called a four-point challenge. You may remember the four points: (1) Go to church, (2) Get in a face-to-face group, (3) Read your Bible, and (4) Serve others. That would be the list in its rawest form. At one point, I refined the list a bit by saying, Warm a pew, Warm your heart, Illumine your mind, and Illumine your world (or, at least, your corner of it).

Today, I want to refine the list a bit more, but, before I do, I want to tell you what prompted me to develop such a list in the first place. In a book by the title of Church Unique, Will Mancini claims that ninety-eight percent of the churches in America are functioning without any clear idea of where they hope to lead people on their spiritual journey. I don’t know about the percentage, but I think he’s probably right about the rest.

Many churches simply multiply programs. They have programs for women, programs for men, programs for youth, for singles, for married couples with children, for married couples without children, and so forth. And they just try to keep people busy. Involvement is the key motivation.

But what if it were different? What if the key motivation were not just involvement, but movement? In his book, Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, Andy Stanley writes: ‘Think Steps, Not Programs’ (p. 88). The idea is this: Instead of having a strategic vision that focuses on programs, you have a strategic vision of a people-process, a pathway that takes people from where they are now spiritually, to where you want them to be. Then you make sure that you have all the programs you need along that pathway, in easy, obvious, and strategic steps that take them from point A to point B.

What if we could say to everyone who comes into the life of our church, ‘We’re going to help you gain distance and momentum in your spiritual journey. We have two or three or four steps that you can take to grow in your faith’? What if we said that to people?

Two things would have to be in place, wouldn’t they? First of all, we would need to have some idea of what the ‘steps’ are, and, second, we would need to be involved in taking those steps ourselves. Wouldn’t we?

Jesus’ great commission to his church was to ‘make disciples.’ I want to suggest to you today that Christian discipleship follows a recognizable PATH. When Jesus called Simon and Andrew and James and John, he said to them, ‘Follow me.’ When he called Matthew, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And, in each case, they left behind what they were doing and they took steps, literally, to follow Jesus on the path of discipleship.

So, what steps will we take? As we read a moment ago,, Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment was. And he didn’t hesitate. He said, ‘The most important one…is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’ He then said that there was a second commandment just like the first in importance, and it was that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

If we may use the words of this Great Commandment, we can see the four steps we are to take along the path of Christian discipleship, and, as a way to help us remember these steps, I am using the word ‘PATH’ as an acrostic. We’ll cover the first two steps on the PATH this week, and next week we’ll pick up on he other two steps. So, let me begin with the ‘P’ in PATH.

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