During December we’re focusing on learning to disciple. Please see the Prayer page to read our strategic prayer request for this month.
There is a great deal of discussion concerning discipleship in the modern church. Questions arise from congregation to congregation such as what is a disciple? How do we know when one has become a true disciple, or a mature disciple? What does discipleship look like? How is another individual discipled to Christ? I took a little time to look at Mathew 28:16-20 in four or five commentaries and got many different answers to the same kinds of questions listed above. I liked this answer the best:
The term “disciples” was the most popular name for the early believers. Being a disciple meant more than being a convert or a church member. Apprentice might be an equivalent term. A disciple attached himself to a teacher, identified with him, learned from him, and lived with him. He learned, not simply by listening, but also by doing. Our Lord called twelve disciples and taught them so that they might be able to teach others (Mark 3:13ff). A disciple, then, is one who has believed on Jesus Christ and expressed this faith by being baptized. He remains in the fellowship of the believers that he might be taught the truths of the faith (Acts 2:41–47). He is then able to go out and win others and teach them. This was the pattern of the New Testament church (2 Tim. 2:1–2). In many respects, we have departed from this pattern. In most churches, the congregation pays the pastor to preach, win the lost, and build up the saved—while the church members function as cheerleaders (if they are enthusiastic) or spectators. The “converts” are won, baptized, and given the right hand of fellowship, then they join the other spectators. How much faster our churches would grow, and how much stronger and happier our church members would be, if each one were discipling another believer. The only way a local church can “be fruitful and multiply” (instead of growing by “additions”) is with a systematic discipleship program. This is the responsibility of every believer, and not just a small group who have been “called to go.” (Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 107–108). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.)
Unfortunately I was raised in the type of church that talked about above with the cheerleader mentality and was educated in the same philosophy. I don’t think most churches I served would necessarily have said this about themselves, but none the less it was true. It was the way we did church and the way we were taught to do church. Later in my role as a pastor I began to understand that this was neither the best way nor the Biblical way to do the work of making disciples. I began to study different plans and began to realize that there were several of them out there and that the most successful churches had found or created a systematic plan that was the best fit for their congregation. They learned the secret of intentionally creating disciples who then were discipling others rather than merely gathering church members.
The plan that I was putting in place in Oklahoma was based on one used by Christ Himself. He did the work of discipleship by first speaking to large crowds, such as a congregation on Sunday morning. He then selected a small group of 12 men to do more in-depth training with in a relational setting. From these 12 men He selected three guys who became known as His inner circle that received even deeper instruction. I put in place small groups that I was helping lead and began the search for three men that I could meet with one hour every week for a year so that they could be trained to gather small groups of two or three for themselves and begin discipling them. I was meeting with a smaller group of men myself on Friday mornings.
However my plans all got changed and I never developed the inner circle of trainees that was the last phase of the plan. I believe this last phase is where the true discipling process, discipling men to make disciples, was to begin. Robert Coleman in his book ‘The Master Plan of Evangelism’ says every Christian ought to be thinking, “Who is the one God is leading me to in order to disciple?” at all times. Isn’t that the kind of thinking Jesus is speaking of in Mathew 28:16-20? I know I haven’t thought that way for a while. Maybe we should all ask Christ to renew our minds so that we can think His thoughts. Then we can get about the work that He has called all His disciples to do, bring life transformation through the process of intentional discipleship. Imagine how life transforming that would be to each one of us.
Jim serves in the area of Scripture Use.