A number of years ago I attended a conference at the Harley-Davidson factory in Kansas City. A number of pastors and church leaders assembled at the factory to spend a few days touring the facilities and visiting with the administrators.
Some of us were there because we had a lifelong love of motorcycles. Most of us were there because we wanted to learn how the Harley-Davidson leaders had transformed a nearly bankrupt motorcycle company into a model of success at the turn of the century.
The thing I remember most about the conference was a statement made by a young executive who spoke to the group. He had just returned from Europe where he helped introduce the Buell sport bike. He stepped to the microphone and introduced himself. He said, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a Harley-Davidson executive.”
Since that time I have discovered disciples disguised in many walks of life: teachers, doctors, mechanics, students, professors, engineers, nurses, administrators, athletes, firefighters, farmers, businessmen, soldiers, homemakers, … the list is almost endless.
Many people consider themselves to be Christians. Far fewer think of themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ. To be a Christian usually means we give assent to the Christian religion, that we are comfortable with occasionally attending church, and we know we are not Muslim, Buddhist or some other religion. To be a disciple, however, raises the expectations to a whole new level.
Interestingly, Jesus never used the term Christian. In fact the term is only found three times in the Bible, and twice it is used by non-believers. Jesus chose to speak about disciples. He said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27). “If you continue in my word then you are truly disciples of mine. (John 8:31). “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8). “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19).
So, what does a 21st-century disciple look like? They look a lot like those we find in the first century. Those who followed Jesus then were fishermen, tax collectors, businessmen and businesswomen, mothers and fathers. Today, they look like you and me. They come from every nation and every race. They can be found among the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the famous and obscure. Wherever you find fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ who have received God’s grace and love others as God has loved them, you will find disciples in disguise.