By David Anderson
Since moving to the United States from Ireland over seven years ago, I’ve learned a lot about American culture, to say the least. From using Google Translate on one occasion to communicate my order to a server (both of us spoke English) to trying to order a coffee just once without the cup reading everything from Steven to Divit (instead of David), I have some stories. One of the greatest blessings of making the jump to Louisiana has been that Cajun cooking… y’all!
Picture this: you hear of a new restaurant in town. Finally, you get the opportunity to go, strutting in like you’re the city’s top food critic…and then – the whole experience falls flat. The food tastes good, but the place itself is a little cold, and the staff doesn’t look very happy. They’re ignoring you while running around trying to stay ahead of orders. The substance is there, but there’s no life beyond it.
Now, imagine walking into your local “Lord’s Chicken” – Chick-fil-A. The experience is as top-notch as ever. Offering a personal butler would be the only thing to take it to another level. But this time, your order is wrong…(which we all know never happens – it’s an analogy, friends). You don’t want to be “that person,” so you go home trying a new menu item, but it’s just not the same as ‘what I always eat!’ The structure was there, but what mattered most was missing.
You may be asking: “What do these examples have to do with discipleship?” A lot, I believe. They’re environments. These are places where, if both structure and substance combine, people are significantly impacted – just as with our discipleship relationships. Similarly to these examples, if we aren’t careful, our approach to discipleship can unknowingly provide students with similar challenges: all structure, no life, or adversely, all Spirit, but no structure.
Thankfully, people aren’t projects, so there’s no given formula to apply to ensure every student is perfectly discipled. There may not be a “Great Discipleship Formula,” but I believe there is a given “Discipleship Framework.” One that, if followed, we will see things happen in the life of a student we never thought possible.
In Ezekiel 37, we see Ezekiel encounter a valley filled with dry bones. Looking at our world, there’s a lot that seems dead. It’s important to remember that with our God, everything still has a pulse. He is the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not (Romans 4:17).
God tells Ezekiel to command the Spirit to move upon the bones. When He does in faith, Spirit and structure combine to cause an army to supernaturally rise up. This is a picture of discipleship.
This passage outlines three key elements I believe are essential to discipling the Next Generation into an army against which the gates of hell will not prevail.
- BELIEF (Supernatural Faith) that God can do the Impossible – the foundation of our discipleship.
Ezekiel 37:3 (NIV) He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?“
Question: “Do we really believe that no matter how spiritually dead someone (or an area of their life) appears, Jesus can do the impossible in them?” This is an important question we must answer before embarking in discipleship. Jesus said Himself in Mark 9 when asked if He could set a man’s son free, “If you can?… Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23).
- BONES (Structure) – we must be strategic in our discipleship.
Ezekiel 37:6 (NIV) “I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'”
Most people have a lot of passion for life change but often lack in helping students take practical steps towards it. Every great athlete has a training plan they’re held accountable to by a coach or trainer. Jesus chose his disciples, asked them to follow Him, and then practically walked with them – teaching them the key things He wanted them to know. Great discipleship involves people, a plan, and a place. Choose your disciples, understand where they are in their journey, and journey with them.
- BREATH (Spirit) – we must follow the Holy Spirit in our discipleship.
Ezekiel 37:10 (NIV) “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”
It’s essential that we are always open to the breath of God, who knows people best and is aware of exactly what they need. In Ezekiel 37, it’s the breath that brings the bones to life!
It’s important to know that we often lean towards one or the other for points #2 and #3. In order to experience the fullness of discipleship, it’s not mere bones or just breath alone – it’s both. Breath and bones. Wine and wineskin.
Breath of God without bones = hot air that always moves upwards but never forwards.
Bones without the breath of God = discipleship that is cold, rigid, and lifeless.
Breath of God (Spirit) + Bones (Structure) + Belief (Supernatural Faith) = Discipleship That Changes Everything
Over time, this framework has proven to bring things together – tissue by tissue, muscle by muscle. It’s a teenager whose thoughts begin to align, who then turns away from self and begins to make God-decision upon God-decision. Then, muscles start to grow, they gain stature, and eventually, they stand upright and stand for Jesus. If they continue, they soon begin to take steps and eventually walk out the Great Commission themselves in their generation. A disciple making disciples. This is the goal; this is what Jesus’ last words have called us to do.