Currently there is a renewed interest in the subject of discipling, sometimes called shepherding or mentoring. 

This is a subject with a very bad reputation, although the idea of a Shepherd is Biblical, in the past it has been severely abused and distorted.

Let me say at the beginning of this article that the main error seen in previous generations, was that leaders sought to create disciples of themselves, rather than making disciples of Jesus. Sadly we are witnessing this mistake happening all over again. Egocentric leaders are taking over peoples lives and making decisions for them concerning the way they live, what they believe, and what they do with their money etc.

God's heart

Any leader with God's heart, will not seek to have power over people, but will have as his prime objective the building-up of others, so that they take full responsibility for their own lives. Success should not be measured by how many people are 'under' someones authority, but by how many people they have helped to live without their constant intervention. 

People need to become mature enough to make Godly decisions for themselves! However, maturity in the Christian sense is not self-confidence, or self reliance, rather it's a faith that enables a complete confidence in, and total reliance on God. It follows that 'discipling' is flawed if by accident or design it creates followers of a particular leader or movement.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 4, Paul speaks with the authority of an Apostle, one charged with writing Scripture. He seeks to show that in himself he is nothing, but that as an Apostle, people should follow his example even after his death. Like Paul, all leaders need to live-out the fact that they are themselves disciples of Jesus Christ. 

No One Else

There is no other mediator between Man and God other than Jesus Christ. God never intended any man other than Jesus Christ to have control in people's lives. Paul clearly gives guidelines about how to follow Christ and we too should follow these principles.

Phil 3 v 17 shows us that we are all expected to be an example to others.  There is an enormous difference between a leader taking authority over people and people having a submissive and willing heart. The Bible does not tell leaders to take authority or demand respect, but it does tell us all to submit to and respect our leaders as well as each other. Respect should grow from a leader's good example. We all have to be submissive, leaders too! 

Having to obey someone 'or else' is Old Covenant thinking. Under the New Covenant, God does not give this sort of authority to any one. No one has the right to declare categorically that his words are definitely God's words, unless he is actually declaring Scripture. In any case, we are all required to weigh prophesy against Scripture and exercise discernment. It's a cop-out to leave 'all that stuff' to the leaders. 

Even so, I've heard some terrible threats of God's punishment come from so-called prophets. Those who utter dire threats to coherce and intimidate their 'disciples' are only seeking to elevate themselves, to build themselves a power-base. 

True Discipleship is following Jesus

Godly submission is something you give voluntarily it should not be forced on you.

Covering is something you get from standing under the umbrella that's provided by being a part of God's church.

The pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, which we find in the New Testament, must be seen in the context of the way shepherds operated in the time of the New Testament. In those days the shepherd went ahead as leader, and the sheep followed him because of their trust in him; their relationship was with the one who consistently kept them safe, and led them to green pastures and still waters. 

We are all called to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We are motivated by his love and concern for us. Jesus' sheep are not driven from behind, he goes ahead and he leads us into the way of life.

Martyn Cunnington

© Martyn Cunnington revised 2021