They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” –Luke 24:32
“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
I grew up in the United Methodist Church. In high school, I spent a lot of time with friends at retreats and camps sponsored by The Church of God, Findlay, Ohio. When I got to college, I regularly attended an Episcopal chapel service on Thursdays—my first taste of real wine with the bread while taking communion! I even thought about becoming an Episcopal priest, drawn to the rich history of that church’s liturgical tradition. Once I moved to California, while a student at Fuller Theological Seminary, I faithfully attended a large Pentecostal church. Then it was back to ministry in a Methodist Church. I also visited the services of many different flavors of Christianity along the way. And I am grateful for that!
While it is true, sadly, that the multiplication of denominations in the history of the Christian church has often been owing to argument and division, God has redeemed that disunity by demonstrating the beautiful diversity and multi-faceted nature of the Body of Christ. No two churches are alike just as no two people are alike—an expression of God’s splendid creativity! I can look back on my life now and see that all of these different church experiences were preparing me to minister to students on a university campus who all came from different backgrounds, some Baptist, some Catholic, some Presbyterian, and some not raised in church at all. I could understand all of them better because I knew a little bit about where they had come from.
One of the most impactful churches I ever attended was a community church in Knoxville, Tennessee. It seemed like a third of the members of the church were college students; I was a graduate student in the History program at the University of Tennessee myself. It wasn’t a perfect church by any means because there were a lot imperfect people in the church, just like me. Billy Graham once said that if you find the perfect church, don’t join it or you will spoil it. But one of the things this church had right was the priority they placed on community. The leadership made it clear that, if you were going to call this church home, it was critical that you do more than just show up on Sunday morning. The expectation was that you would join a smaller home group so that you would get to know others and they would get to know you. My recollection is that over 90% of the church members belonged to these home groups.
One thing is clear when you read the gospel accounts of the New Testament. Jesus did not make disciples by lecturing to them all the time. He didn’t hold a series of classes and seminars during which the disciples listened, took notes, and then headed home. Instead, they lived with Him. The disciples walked with Him along the dusty roads of Palestine. (In the painting above, Swiss painter Robert Zund  depicted such a walk with Jesus even after His resurrection on the road to Emmaus.) Can you imagine the hundreds of conversations they had about a myriad of subjects along the way? They shared meals and they had arguments. And all the time, almost imperceptibly, these men and women became disciples. It wasn’t a linear process—sometimes there were three steps forward and then two steps back. But it was an organic process, a culture of give and take, walking side by side. There were no spectators or passive listeners here. Jesus as Love and Truth demanded either commitment or walking away—there was no in between.
And what did Jesus and his disciples discuss on those long walks? What were the topics He thought were important enough to raise and the gospel writers believed were significant enough to record? I looked through all four gospels and jotted down the subjects of some of these conversations: the Kingdom of God, Prayer, Fasting, the Sabbath, Obedience/Cost of Discipleship/Dying to Self, the Law and religious tradition, the human heart/sin/repentance, the significance of Jesus’ death and the importance of the cross, the innocence of and care for children, marriage and divorce, wealth/taxes/giving, servanthood/humility/fruitfulness, faith and faithfulness, expecting the end of the age and being ready for it, what passionate love and devotion for the Lord looks like, our speech/oaths/hypocrisy, persecution/suffering/enemies, anxiety and worry, judging others, false prophecy and spiritual blindness, the final judgement/the last days/hell/the resurrection, finding lost people, forgiveness and mercy, neighborliness and generosity, the identity of Jesus as messiah, the Holy Spirit, and the Father’s house/heaven.
I’m sure this is not the complete list of “disciple-making discussion starters.” Still, is it crazy to think that we might just grow in our discipleship in the same way that those men and women did back in the first century? What if we just started meeting regularly together, maybe over meals occasionally, and talked about these things? What if we explored the Bible together on these topics and trusted that God the Holy Spirit would speak to us, as He promised He would in John 14:26, and reminded us of everything Jesus said about these subjects? What if we became more than just Sunday morning spectators or note-taking seminar attenders? What if we really, really got to know each other, enough to express care, compassion and a sense of belonging to each other? I honestly believe that this is how the process of growing and molding the disciples Jesus chooses actually works.
Heavenly Father, we want to be the disciples You have called us to be. And we acknowledge that not only can we not do that on our own but that there are parts of us that actively resist that calling. But You are lovingly determined to produce Your character and Your heart in us by Your Spirit. We say to that goal-- Amen, Lord, have Your way with us. Give us people to walk along beside us in this life who will help us to become Your devoted, obedient and loving disciples and servants. Help us to be the same to them as well. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.