There are often various misconceptions of discipleship. Discipleship takes place when people attend church programs. In fact, much good teaching can take place during church, but it is often too general and not targeted to the special needs of a new Christian. Discipleship just happens. In fact, we must go counter cultural and instruct others personally and lovingly about the ways of Christ. We need to ask the hard questions and get involved into the process of why they do things. Discipleship is only for new Christians. In fact, discipleship is a process that should be occurring all through our lives. A disciple always follows his master's life. Once a disciple, always a disciple. Discipleship is a program. In fact, discipleship is a lifestyle. We are Christ's disciples and this Christian life calls us to learn and live like Him. This will require significant changes in the way we think and live. Discipleship is only for certain parts of our lives. In fact, Christ wants to teach us in each aspect of our lives from our parenting skills to handling finances. Mentoring is a term that describes the training of a person in one or more specific areas.
A true disciple takes all of Christ's teaching and implements them into our lives in such a way that we live like Christ did. We must not be content with only the passing on of knowledge and tradition and assume the accompanying of conviction and belief. We are called to live out a godly life before those we instruct, just as Christ did. There is a great difference between the modern-day student and a godly disciple.
Building Blocks for Laying a Foundation for Disciple Making
Believers in the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Christians were never intended to only gather in the same space and merely associate with one another. God has designed us for much more—to participate with one another in Christian community. Jesus clearly charged us to make disciples and His mandate is all part of any church’s effort towards renewal. A disciple of Jesus is a person who has heard the call of Jesus and has responded by repenting, believing the gospel, and following Him. The importance of disciple making as a core activity of a church’s life is certainly not new, but it does not hurt to ask ourselves whether this clear biblical mandate has been relegated to a Tuesday morning women’s group, a Wednesday-night men’s group, or some other type of program. As Dietrich Bonheoffer said:
“Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray."
Believers must begin and continue to think of themselves as disciples of Jesus.
The concept of being a disciple of Jesus is not fundamental to salvation has taken root in the minds of many Christians and in many denominations today. Young theology students have pressed their strategies as an extra step for only those who desire a deeper commitment. Many church plants have even made this into a weekly class over the working of individuals with individuals to grow an individual believer. Promoted as an option over a necessity. Stressed as important but not a requirement in ones spiritual journey. Believers once saved must continue the journey towards growth and that means being a disciple and making of other disciples. Some are less than successful disciples, others are disciples, which are on for a while and off for a while. But we are disciples and we must see ourselves as ones each and every day.
The Great Commission Does Not Make Our Contemporary Distinction Between Evangelism and Disciple Making.
Jesus sent his followers to make disciples of all nations. This wonderful passage of scripture was to make disciples leading people to profess faith and be baptized, and then into a life of obeying all things Jesus commanded. Many writers today utilize the double words of Making Disciples or Disciple Making. As a community of believers we were actually developed as disciples after the moment we gave our heart to Jesus and repented of our sins. It was something, which the First Baptist Church of Naples believed in, and my Pastor Dr. Freddie Smith provided the means for mature disciples to disciple those of us who were new in the faith. We should ask ourselves what is needed to make our congregations places where this kind of disciple-making goes on as a normal part of the church’s life. Do we authentically welcome unbelievers to come among us and take whatever time is necessary to seek and find Christ? Are we prepared to lead them in a step-by-step process of disciple making from initial profession of faith into a life of maturity in Christ? My home church of FBC Naples thought so.
Disciple Making is Not a Distinct Category But a Synonym for Christian Living.
The ordinary path of Christian growth is learning what it means to be Jesus’ disciples and understanding the resources God provides to help us grow. Within this broader understanding of discipleship, it is certainly appropriate to have special study seasons or specific programs designed to help people in their walk with Christ. However, along with specific ministries that might be labeled “discipleship,” there needs to be a general consciousness that everything in the church should be viewed through the lens of making disciples.
The Life of a Disciple of Jesus Begins with the Call of Jesus.
In the story of the earliest call to becoming a disciple, Mark tells us that Jesus took up His public ministry by preaching repentance and faith in the good news. He then called four fishermen to follow Him, which they did immediately (Mark 1:14-20). In the next chapter He called Levi to leave behind his tax-collecting business and follow Him, which Levi did. Later that day Jesus spoke of what He was doing in terms of the call: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:13-17). Based on these passages, and consistent with other Scripture, I define a disciple of Jesus this way: A disciple of Jesus is a person who has heard the call of Jesus and has responded by repenting, believing the gospel, and following Him.
The Apostle Paul Believed that Biblical Doctrine was Important to the Disciple Making of New Believers.
Most discipleship programs are works related as in something you must do for you to have the Christian life. These may include personal spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, fasting, etc., or more active disciplines such as community service and missionary work. These are worthy things that we need to be doing, but is this the place to start? Paul approached this important question of living as disciples in another way. He taught again and again that the basis for “doing” must be “knowing” (Colossians 1:9-10). If you think of doctrine as separate from discipleship, you need to reexamine your views. The “doing” of Christian living is built on a solid foundation of “knowing.” We also want to be certain that our biblical and theological teaching really does contribute to the hearers’ walk with Christ. The “teach” of the Great Commission is not the teaching of information, but very specifically, “teach them to obey all things I have commanded you.”
There Is No Disciple Making Without Community.
God’s appointed arena for making disciples is the church. The modern discipleship movement was birthed by para-church organizations that stressed particular discipleship methods. Usually these methods revolved around a multiplication philosophy that focused on small groups or one-to-one training. No doubt there is a great deal that has been of benefit to Christians, but this has also contributed to a highly individualistic understanding of discipleship. However, once we understand discipleship in the broader sense of helping one another live out our Christian lives, then the absolute necessity of the church community comes to the foreground.
Discipleship begins with the next generation.
The first consideration in a church’s mission to make disciples should be the discipleship of its own children. Pastors and other church leaders should feel the weight of Jesus’ rebuke to His disciples when they thought He was too busy or too important to give serious attention to children who were brought to Him (Matthew 19:13-15).
If We Are Following Jesus We Must Follow His Mission To The Entire World.
From the very first words of His call, Jesus made it clear that to follow Him as a disciple had a purpose — a mission. Earlier I mentioned the challenge of convincing believers that they are disciples; now the challenge becomes to convince these disciples that they are actually missionaries. Of course, the word “missionary” can bring various reactions, but in its most basic sense, a missionary is someone on a mission — and a disciple of Jesus is a person with a mission. We are to be disciples making disciples. That means we are people still learning what it means to follow Jesus as His disciples ourselves, and an important part of that discipleship is helping those who may be a few steps behind us. Jesus told those first disciples that He would make them fishers of men. Jesus does this work as church leaders become Christ’s instruments to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).
Let’s think about that fact and begin doing something about it! If you would like to have conversations related to this blog post, why not drop me a line so we can begin your journey and conversation.
You can connect with Dr. Tom Cheyney and the RENOVATE Church Revitalization Coaching Network additionally via Facebook at RENOVATE Conference. Tom is the co-author of Spin-Off Churches (B&H Publishers), a conference speaker and a frequent writer on church planting, new church health, and church revitalization. Tom’s latest book is going to press entitled Ninety Church Revitalization Lessons Learned the Hard Way: A Primer Before You Jump Into Church Renewal. Also, be looking for The Biblical Foundations for Church Revitalization by Tom Cheyney and Terry Rials later this year. If you or your church would like more information about how to be considered for the next series of RENOVATE Church Revitalization Applicants you may contact him at Tom@renovateconference.org, or firstname.lastname@example.org.