Discipleship Today

Practical Family Discipleship Tools

Every follower of Christ is called to make disciples as part of the Great Commission. God has also ordained that each person is a part of a family structure of some sort and this provides a perfect training ground to put into practice many of the tools. The goal is to reach as many people for Christ as possible and to help them grow to maturity in their relationship with Him. God has provided people in each of our lives that we can invest in, beginning with those closest to us. As we learn how to disciple those directly under our care, we will develop a skill set that can then be expanded to a very hurting world outside of our homes.

We have already shared the dismal statists regarding the destruction of the family via divorce and the tragedy regarding the high percentage of young people rejecting Christ shortly after they leave the home. This tidal wave of failure must be addressed or we are in great danger of losing the bulk of an entire generation. Rather than just complain about the problem, we want to move into solutions and become proactive.

Each person has a limited amount of time, and time is a resource that can only be spent once. In Economics class in college, the instructor introduced to us the concept of “Opportunity Cost.” This professor illustrated the concept with this sentence, “The cost of a McDonald’s hamburger is not just the cost of the burger, but everything else we could have spent the money on.” This sentence rings true with our schedule and daily decisions. We can only spend an hour once and the cost is not only what we did with the time, but everything we could have done with it. We are stewards of time as well as money and we need to consider how we spend our non-replaceable resource called “time.” What are we investing in? Discipleship should be high up on the list!

Many families are not placing as high of a priority on discipleship as they could or should. Perhaps the reason is that they feel they are doing enough by sending the children to a youth group or Sunday School class. Maybe there is a lack of understanding regarding the severity of the need and responsibility. In addition, some may lack the instruction or ideas of how to go about the process. The truth is that sending the children to a few hours of spiritual instruction a week, while helpful, is not enough to overcome the onslaught of evil and pressures from our world system. Additionally, our schedules must be reviewed to make sure that they are under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and whatever is not, needs to be removed.

What follows are multiple suggestions and ideas to help everyone overcome their lack of knowledge or fear of how to disciple those closest to them. Not every idea will work or even need to be implemented, but almost everyone can and should do something to disciple those under their influence. Everyone is different so a “one size fits all” approach does not work in the Kingdom of God. Below are some suggestions for each basic type of family unit. The goal is to begin the discipleship process if we have not, and if we have begun, to learn even more tools to assist in the journey of discipleship. We learn at home so we can make a greater difference as we step outside of them.

Singles

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.  But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife,  and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband (1 Corinthians 7:32-34 ESV).

Being a single adult provides the greatest freedom to serve Christ. The opportunities to travel, keep a flexible schedule, and develop a personal relationship with Jesus will open many doors for evangelism and discipleship. As a single adult, there is time to study the Word of God, listen to teachings, read, and serve without the time constraints of being married or raising children. If used properly, this period of life can provide the greatest opportunities for investing in others. So many single adults waste this stage of their life worrying about what they do not have (being married) instead of enjoy what they do have, an abundance of time to further the work of the Kingdom!

If you are a single adult, stop and take an inventory of the people in your life. Whom would the Lord have you invest more time in? Is there someone at work/school that is hurting or going through a difficult time? Perhaps other single friends need help or desire to grow spiritually. Would the Lord want you to consider leading a Bible or book study, prayer meeting, or beginning a service project to assist someone in need? Every situation can turn into a discipleship opportunity as you bring Christ into the time spent together with others. As you fill up your spirit with excellent teachings and your private devotional time, the Lord will provide others in your life for you to share with them what you are learning.

One group to consider investing in are those that are younger than you. If you are a single adult, there are most likely younger people that look up to you. Siblings or other young people in your church or social networks often idolize the single adult, and this provides an excellent opportunity to invest in the next generation. Leading a Bible study or simply spending time with younger people can pay tremendous dividends for the Kingdom of God. To realize how important this is, just remember how you felt when your older sibling or perhaps some other older young person reached out you. If that did not happen in your life, remember how you felt because it did not happen! You can make a difference in many people’s life if you invest your time properly. Prayerfully consider these tools and how you could use them in your current relationships, and then marvel at what doors open to you as you seek the Lord!

If you will prepare yourself by study, prayer, and an investment of time, God will open doors for you to serve Him in marvelous ways. A young lady named Sarah was twenty-eight when she was married. Her older sister was married at age 20 and her younger brother at 21. Sarah wondered why she had not been asked to be married, struggling with what was wrong with her. Her parents shared Paul’s exhortation recorded in 1 Corinthians 7 and she choose to invest her time in serving others while she waited for marriage. During this time, Sarah travelled to China and worked in an orphanage, taught English in a high school, and was able to share the Gospel with many foreign students.  She went to cosmetology school in order to learn a useful skill and she used this service to assist many low-income families and continues to do so today. In her local church she became “Aunt Sarah” to a large number of young girls, ages 10-20 and invested her time in discipling them. Sarah could often be seen before or after a church gathering surrounded by dozens of young girls hanging on her every word. She chose to invest herself in others rather than thinking solely about herself or what she was missing. Eventually God brought in a wonderful young man that swept her off her feet and they were married. At Sarah’s wedding, she had 40 young ladies singing as a choir and there was not a dry eye in the house. Sarah used her singleness to help disciple many others and only eternity will reveal the full impact of her choice. Sarah chose wisely, and so can you if you are single…invest in others and God will grant you the desires of your heart as they align with His (Psalm 37:4).

Husband

Paul stated in the verses above that once you are married you no longer live your life for yourself. There is now a spouse to consider and this will radically change how you will live the rest of your days on earth. Marriage is a tremendous blessing as well as one of hardest jobs in the world in which to excel. The Apostle Paul gives detailed instructions regarding marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  because we are members of his body.   “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

While not necessarily politically correct in our day, this is nonetheless the Word of God and must be considered prayerfully by every Christian married disciple. Beyond the specific instructions on how a marriage should function – husband’s loving their wives by laying down their lives for them daily, and wives making sure they respect their imperfect husbands, some key insight in given into discipleship.

Husbands should be helping to sanctify their spouse by making sure she is “washed in the Word of God.” The “in the same way” part of this Scripture passage gives insight for the husband on how to help disciple his wife. This may be intimidating to some men due to the wives being older in the Lord or perhaps not very receptive to the husbands leading, but the command is still there. Men are to learn to die for their wife, just as Christ did for the Church, and men are to make sure the Word of God is central in their homes.

Making the Lord the center of the home is a daily decision and a never-ending process. What currently dominates your home? The TV, FaceBook, sports, or Christ? Husbands must be men of the Word in order to share the Scripture in their homes – Jesus said that out of the abundance of our hearts our mouths speak (Matthew 12:34), what is coming out of our mouths?

Making changes is not impossible, but must be a willful decision if they are to occur. If most meals are eaten together, (which they should be if they are not) then this time allows the husband to lead in a prayer of thankfulness for the food and for the one that made it. In addition, this time could be used to bring up a discussion about what was read in your private devotions or perhaps what you believe God has shown you during the day. Open-ended questions could be asked about a particular verse of Scripture or some potential problem the two of you are facing. Open ended means a question that cannot simply be answered with yes or no answer. These type questions are more of the “what” or “why” type questions. “Why do you think God allowed this to happen to Joe and Mary?” Or, “What do you think God is trying to tell us in reference to my job situation?”

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or be super creative. Try suggesting reading a book or listening to/watching a Christ-honoring program together and then discussing it. With the advent of the internet, there are unlimited resources available for you to consider if it is your desire to help your spouse grow in spiritual maturity. Biblically, husbands must take the lead in discipleship and God will give you the ideas and grace to do so, if you will ask Him for it.

Another factor to consider is the tremendous power that is released by praying together with your wife.

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. Matthew 18:19 (ESV)

A husband that leads his wife in consistent prayer will increase her respect for him exponentially. Prayer allows for a deeper level of communication and will help to center the home in Christ. Even if the wife is not comfortable praying aloud, or for that matter the husband either, praying together will help both grow spiritually. It may be awkward at first, but the comfort level will come and the home will change under the husbands’ leadership.

Discipleship may happen by chance but it has a far greater potential to happen with a plan. If you seek the Lord about your responsibility and prayerfully ask Him for direction, He will give it. God brought your spouse into your life for a reason and part of that reason was for you to care for her, nurture her, and help her grow in spiritual maturity.

Wife

A wife plays a crucial role in helping her husband grow and mature in the Lord (discipleship). She has the ability to build him up and help him become a strong man of God, or to destroy him. Solomon, who knew a little bit about wives, states it this way:

The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down (Proverbs 14:1).

An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,  but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones (Proverbs 12:4).

Proverbs also states, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue,” (Proverbs 18:21) and a wise wife will understand that what she says to her husband will help or hinder his maturing. If the wife is older in the Lord, she should encourage her husband’s growth by gently sharing insights she has learned from the Lord, and encouraging any efforts the husband displays in spiritual leadership. The principle is to fan into flame any spark, not to pour water on it because it is small. The wise wife will praise and encourage her husband when he leads in prayer or Bible study and resist the temptation to comment about how immature or short it may have been. Husbands often have fragile egos and they need their wife’s support not criticism. Men do not like to be “slapped” or put down by their wife’s comments and will often retreat into work, sports, or hobbies when they do not feel respected.

If the wife is younger in the Lord, she should encourage her husband by asking him questions and thus helping him to reinforce his leadership role. Something rises up in a man when he feels like he is fulfilling the role of being the leader, and this will spur additional desire for growth. A wise wife will help her husband become the man of God she desires rather than tear him down verbally.

In addition, the wife needs to be careful when discussing her husband with others. She will “bring shame” to him by exposing him to ridicule or by not protecting his reputation. Solomon stated that this will result in “rottenness to the bones,” and this is an apt picture.  When a man finds out that his wife is talking about him behind his back to others, he feels undermined and the foundation is attacked. Bones hold the frame of our body up and by shaming her husband, she is causing damage to the structure. If she is complaining about his lack of leadership or perhaps some personal fault, once he knows that he is the subject of the discussion with others, all motivation to change has been lost. Love covers a multitude of sins and so will a wise wife. The husband that trusts in his wife will grow into a much better leader than the one that does not.

If both husband and wife will seek to be mature and to continue to grow in their own discipleship. they will ultimately end up assisting their spouse. The husband and the wife play a major role in the discipleship process to one another, and when a child arrives, the roles even expand.

Married With Children

When God blesses a couple with children (through either childbirth or adoption), the discipleship opportunities expand. In addition to what was stated above about the husbands and wives, now there are additional lives involved. The same principles apply whether there are one child or a dozen regarding discipleship opportunities. The more children the greater the possible impact. Regardless of family size, each couple will have to adjust their lifestyle once a child or children arrive. The first requirement for godly parents is to accept the Biblical assignment regarding children:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

God has delegated the training of the children to their parents. This is a phenomenal sentence if we consider the ramifications of it. God has entered into a partnership with parents and He expects them to fulfill their roles. The Lord has built into every Christian family the opportunity for hands-on discipleship practice. As a unified team, husband and wives begin the process of training a child in the ways of the Lord. Parents have a tremendous opportunity to install these discipleship principles with their own children. This will help prepare both the parents and the children to reach out to other potential disciples. In addition, if the parents do a good job discipling those in their own homes, the destructive trend of faith rejection can be turned.

We have already mentioned making sure that both the husband and wife are growing spiritually in their own walk with the Lord, and this remains a focus after children arrive. Now the discipleship process needs to be enlarged to include the child(ren).

This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, a few of which have already been mentioned. First, the family schedule needs to be evaluated to assure that where the time is being spent is the most beneficial place. If it is not, then change must be made and the sooner the better. Second, mealtime offers a wonderful opportunity to bring Christ and the Scripture into the daily lives of each family member. Discussions can be planned or spontaneous, but make sure the Lord is a central figure in the conversations. Depending on ages of the children, topics can range from interpersonal relationship challenges, to character development. The Scripture provides every answer to all questions either directly or in principle. Therefore, we must make sure that the Word of God is the center of our homes and always the ultimate resource for our answers.

Fathers can lead devotions around the meal table, in the living room or bedroom. These can be as deep as the level of understanding of the children. Bible stories can be read and discussed. Leading questions can be asked regarding moral choices, or characters actions, and a lively discussion can be achieved. The goal is to provide an atmosphere where Christ is central and the Word of God is valued. In addition, insights can be shared from the daily devotions that each parent or child recently received. The Psalm or Proverb of the day also provides an abundance of material that can be read and discussed. The materials and ideas for a good discussion are only limited by the imagination.

Family worship times can help provide a growing discipleship environment in the home. If someone plays an instrument, chorus books or hymnals can then be used to lead in songs. If no one plays an instrument, then MP3 players and CD’s abound that contain wonderful worship songs to be enjoyed in the home. Worship is supposed to be a part of every day and not relegated to Sunday services only and leading our children in worship will help keep Christ as the center of our homes. The children need to see the reality of our walk with Jesus in order to want to follow in our footsteps.

Here are some other ideas to consider prayerfully:

Mothers or fathers can read excellent books aloud to the family and then discuss them. These can cover any genre and could include classics like, Pilgrims Progress or Pride and Prejudice, fictional or actual history, end times thrillers, and a host of other type books. The book is not as important as the time spent together. Every discussion should focus on growing in Christ and obtaining a better understanding of how to walk with Him in our daily lives. The characters actions and thoughts can be evaluated and then their lives become object lessons to impart spiritual truth into our everyday lives.

Family prayer meetings can be called during times of crises or when the Lord’s specific direction is needed. Praying together and recording the request and the answer will help solidify the reality of Christ to the children. These times will often provided opportunities to explore issues like patience, waiting on God, what happens when God says, “no” to our prayers, etc. All of these are basic discipleship training issues. We teach our children to pray by praying. They will ultimately “catch” what is important to us by what we actually did, not necessarily what we said.

DVD’s or movies can be watched and evaluated from a Biblical perspective. We are not to be naive or unaware of our adversary’s schemes (Ephesians 6:11), and we should help our children process the entertainment they watch so they are growing in discernment as they mature (Hebrews 5:14). Every book, movie, and song has an author and they had a reason for writing what they did. These things may be germane in nature, but there is a spiritual side to everything and we must train our little disciples to grow in discernment.

Like any other discipleship relationship, the spending of time together is critical. A great deal of impartation and spiritual life takes place as you spend time doing the normal family activities. What is actually done is not as critical as the fact that a large amount of time is being spent together. Every parent looks for teachable moments, and the majority of these happen as large chucks of time are spent together. Very few people in nursing homes regret not spending more time at the office yet often regret that they cannot spend more time with their family. We can only spend time once, choose wisely.

Single Parents

In our current society, divorce is rampant and this has created a large group of single parents. Both men and women are now attempting to raise their children without a spouse to assist. Children often fall through the cracks of the broken home. As the single parent attempts to maintain a job and eventually seek another potential marriage partner, the children can be overlooked. Time is required and reprioritizing the schedule must be considered for the sake of the children. It is not their fault that the marriage fell apart, and they should not be deprived as a result. Single parents must attempt to fulfill the role of discipler even though they are now doing it alone. In fact, it is even more critical since the home is broken in two.

A single parent still has to invest in the lives of their children in the arena of discipleship. Reading books, praying together, Bible study, home worship, church membership, and such are needed for children of a single parent home. Children still spell love – t-i-m-e.

If the couple was Christian and divorced, the message has already been given to the children that the parent’s Christianity was powerless to stop the divorce. This hurdle must be overcome in the discipleship process with the children. Even more time will need to be given to explain the marriage failure and why God did not intervene to prevent it. These issues provide a great opportunity to teach about forgiveness, patience, endurance, and many other desirable spiritual qualities.

Whether male or female, the single parent will need to supplement their discipleship process of their children with godly role models. The single parent will have to seek out others to include in their life to replace the spouse that is no longer there. Small groups, church involvement, gender specific clubs or sporting programs can all assist in this process. The goal is to present to the child(ren) others that are excellent examples of Christianity and invite them into the process of discipleship with your children. Strong, godly friendships, extended family, and a committed church body, can all help to stem the damage caused by divorce.

Summary

The family unit is an excellent training ground for discipleship. It is often the most important, as well as the most overlooked regarding its potential. God created the family structure and He gave explicit details explaining how He expects it to function. If the Christian families would do a better job at discipling the children under their roofs, we would begin to see a reversal of the devastation of the family unit, the Church, and the nations. In addition, the large number of young people rejecting Christ as soon as they leave high school would begin to reverse. God spoke through the prophet Malachi the following:

 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord‘s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.   But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth (Malachi 2:13-15).

The family unit is designed by God to propagate not only children but future disciples of Christ. Parents are given the honor and responsibility, from God, to invest wisely in the children under their care. While some of this process of discipling can be delegated to others to assist, the parents are still the ones that God will hold responsible for the discipleship. This is an awesome responsibility and the potential is amazing. God will empower and give grace to those that seek Him and walk in obedience to His commands. This includes the command to make disciples, beginning in the home.

The natural outworking of this process is forward looking. While it may seem that investing so much in the family is working against the spreading of the Gospel, the exact opposite is the truth. Since studies reflect a huge percentage of young people walking away from the faith, whatever investment is necessary to stop this bleeding is well worth the effort. If the 70-90% leaving the faith could be kept, or significantly reduced, the long term results would be overall growth of the Church at large.

In addition, as families begin to heal, refocus on Christ, and walk in discipleship, outreach will increase. A great deal of time and energy is currently being spent on recovery programs, but little on prevention. As marriages spiral into destruction, young people walk away in rebellion, and the overall condition of the family deteriorates even further, the Church and communities struggle to pick up the pieces.  If the tide of family destruction could be reduced significantly, these burdens would be relieved. Functional families can generate significant energy for the propagation of the Gospel, while dysfunctional ones drain it. Functional families require far less resources from the already overburdened churches, and actually can be released sooner into ministry. Healthy, growing, discipleship oriented families will help reproduce more of the same kind, whereas, dysfunctional ones also reproduce more of their same kind. Which one offers the brightest hope for the future?

Since our goal is to walk in obedience to Jesus’ final command – go and make disciples, then the home is the first opportunity to learn how to walk in obedience and perhaps is the best place to invest for long term growth potential.

The Quest for Truth

Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding.” – Proverbs 23:23

I was in that hazy moment between sleep and wakefulness.  In that period, when the fragmented after-image of some obtuse dream superimposes upon the world at large, I thought that what I dreamt was real.  With shock and horror (and the agility of a cat) I leapt off the sofa absolutely convinced that a congregation of snakes had gathered at my feet.  Fortunately for me, it was all a dream.

For many people today, there is a dream-like quality to their understanding.  As in my ridiculous dream, there is an overlay of humanistic lies and worldly philosophies upon the truth.  But that’s the way it is with the shadowed half-truths offered by the world.  What seems to be real is actually the misty dream of human, worldly reason.  It’s time to wake up!  We read in Ephesians 5:14, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  When fully awake, you realize that the world’s wisdom, which once appeared so absolute, is actually nothing more than an ethereal illusion.

Consider what the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Dr. Del Tackett (2006) of The Truth Project asks the question, “Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?”  There needs to be, for every believer, a hunger – a quest – to passionately know the truth.  So, how much of what you believe is built upon the solid foundation of God’s holy word?  Invariably many Christians will occasionally embrace not only the word of God but also the shadowy dream-like imagination of the world.

To give you an example, I remember talking with a group of Christians about the implications of God’s word on our view of life.  Ultimately the conversation turned to the debate between creation and evolution.  I was shocked by how many embraced the theory of evolution and yet adamantly confessed that they believed the entire word of God.  What happened?  To put it bluntly, the illusion of evolution was superimposed upon the reality of creation and the illusion won out.  You need to examine yourself and ask if everything you believe is from the truth of God or from some morphed amalgam of both the truth and a lie.

Look around at the world at large and find a source of truth other than God – it might be harder than you think.  Newscasters are blatantly biased.  Politicians twist facts for personal gain.  False religions abound and deception is rampant.  But God has given us His word, a wellspring of truth that will never run dry – and you must seek it out.

This quest for truth is of great importance, and it is a quest that you must undertake – not only for your own salvation, but for the salvation of those around you.  For without truth there is no saving knowledge of Christ.  Let the dream-like illusion of the world vanish in the pure light of truth.

Let me encourage you: it’s time to be fully awake.

©2012 Michael Duncan

Tackett, D. (2006). The truth project. Video series. Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family

Are We Packing Pews or Penetrating Culture?

First, allow me to point out my intent is not to be nasty or crass against those churches that have opted to cast Christ’s Great Commission (To make disciples – Matthew 28:18:20) aside. But, with that stated, I must question their decision and their motives. For the very Christ-life in me, I cannot understand how such so-called Christian churches are able to justify such a crucial decision that brings with it eternal consequences. As the church, are we more committed to packing pews rather than penetrating our culture? If this is so, what in God’s kingdom are we doing?

Christian discipleship is about “transformation” and “multiplication.” That is, we are to learn the way of the Master (Jesus Christ) and we are to go and make disciples. According to Barna Research, many of today’s Christian-labeled individuals feel and believe making disciples is “the pastor’s job!” An essential fact that is unbeknownst to most church attendees is that every Christian is called to “go and make disciples.” Jesus’ commandment is for everyone who claims to have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – being born again.

These five qualities summarize what a disciple should be:

  1. A disciple must submit to a teacher who teaches us “how” to follow Jesus.
  2. A disciple must learn the words of Jesus.
  3. A disciple must learn Jesus’ way (method) of ministry (service).
  4. A disciple must imitate the life and character of Jesus.
  5. A disciple locates and then teaches other disciples who also follow Jesus.

The sad news is, of these five Christian disciple qualitities, numbers 2 through 4 get most of the attention, while numbers 1 and 5 are commonly unpracticed by today’s church members – Christians at large. This is a notable problem relative to the economy of Christ because discipleship qualities 1 and 5 are essential at being a disciple and at making discipleship work according to God’s plan.

Taking a Closer Look at Qualities 1 and 5

1.  “A disciple must submit to a teacher who teaches us “how” to follow Jesus.”

In Ephesians 5:21, Paul taught that submission was for everyone. In order to attain spiritual maturity, our character is developed through community; and that occurs only with submission. For example, when attending school, we submit to a teacher, instructor, or professor. Our teacher is the one, who leads us, by our own submission into a deeper understanding of a given academic subject while keeping us accountable for what we have learned through testing and grading. In much the same way, this teacher-student relationship must be applied in the lifelong process of disciple-making. Without humbly submitting ourselves to this type of community, well-spirited believers float adrift and wind up in a spiritual coma; numbed by years or even decades of religious activity without productivity (transformation).

5.  “A disciple locates and then teaches other disciples who also follow Jesus.”

Without reproduction, discipleship fails. Remember, Christian disciple-making is about “transformation” and “multiplication.” As a challenge, the next time you attend church, look around and what you will likely see is other church attendees sitting in their same location, chatting with the same people, and doing so at about the same time before and after the service. Even the pastor’s message, the praise and worship team’s songs, and the testimonies will be about the same as the week before, too. Do we find ourselves doing much the same? Once we are raised up in disciple-making (being fully taught), we must then go and make more disciples for Jesus. That is what the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is about, “I have trained you, now go and do the same thing.” Most Christians do not follow Jesus in the same way. As disciples of Jesus, we are to go and reproduce more disciples for Jesus – to make new disciples through our own relational networks.

Let us go and be less about packing the pews and more about penetrating our culture – for this is at the very cornerstone of Christian discipleship (Hull, 2006).

“Christianity with discipleship is always Christianity without Christ” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

References

Bonhoeffer, D. (1959). The Cost of Discipleship. Translated by R. H. Fuller, (rev. ed.). New Nork, NY: Touchstone.

Hull, R. W. (2006). The complete book of discipleship. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Disciples: Character and Competencies

We cannot be a Christian without being a disciple. Jesus taught and modeled a kind of faith that demands far more than just simply coming into agreement with religiosity. We must make a transformed commitment to follow Christ daily. Discipleship is defined as the process of following our Lord and our Savior, Christ Jesus; in other words, discipleship is the central core of the Christian experience, for Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1959) wrote, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” The Christian faith and following Christ Jesus are irrefutably connected (Hull, 2006).

The following represents the characteristics and the competencies that reside within the type of individual the gospel produces.

Personal Characteristics of Disciples

  • A disciple abides in Christ through the Word (John 15:7).
  • A disciple abides in Christ through prayer (John 15:7).
  • A disciple bear much fruit (John 15:8).
  • A disciple responds to God’s love with obedience (John 15:9-10).
  • A disciples possesses joy (John 15:11).
  • A disciple loves as Christ loved (John 15:12-13).
7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:7-13, NKJV).

Personal Competencies of Disciples

  • A disciple submits to a teacher who teaches how to follow Christ.
  • A disciple learns the words of Christ Jesus.
  • A disciple learns Christ Jesus’ way of ministry.
  • A disciple imitates Christ Jesus’ life.
  • A disciple imitates Christ Jesus’ character.
  • A disciple locates and teaches other disciples for Christ Jesus.

Discipleship is Not Just for Church Leaders

Throughout the history of Christianity, only a select few received spiritual training. In other words, prior to the Reformation only church leaders such as pastors, priests, bishops, elders, and monks received a program or system-based theological education. After the Reformation lay people eventually made their way into Christian training and preparation environments. To this day, perpetual differences still exist between Christian laity and leadership when it comes to the level and amount of available training.

There are pastors who continue to maintain a spiritual air, that all too commonly, push nonprofessionals to the way side – making them feel left out. Although this spiritual elitism may be unintentional, many lay people are driven into feeling inferior and spiritually irrelevant relative to the economy of God. Due to such circumstances and attitudes, lay people feel as though they are not in a position to compete with the “real” disciples – those who have decided upon full-time church service as a profession or vocation. Certainly, one can agree that most pastors are expected to know more about religious matters than that of lay people, but this should never be used as the measuring gauge when it comes to an individual’s level of spirituality.

According to Michael J. Wilkens (1992), any residual spiritual elitism can be defeated by some basic precepts regarding discipleship:

  • All Christians are disciples who are born anew to spiritual life when they choose to follow Christ Jesus.
  • Both the starting point and the goal of spiritual formation and discipleship is transformation to the image of Christ Jesus.
  • Together discipleship and spiritual formation render a full New Testament perspective of the process of the growth of Christians.
  • Spiritual formation and discipleship must be biblically and theologically grounded.
Bonhoeffer, D. (1959). The Cost of Discipleship. Translated by R. H. Fuller, (rev. ed.). New Nork, NY: Touchstone.

Hull, R. W. (2006). The complete book of discipleship. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Wilkins, M. J. (1992). Following the master: Discipleship in the steps of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Do Church Services Equal Discipleship?

In reviewing survey reports done by various research organizations (i.e. Barna Group, Pew Forum, LifeWay Research, etc.) about how discipleship is done in churches in the United States, I’ve discovered one clear fact: most churches equate worship services and Bible study groups to discipleship. In doing so, they may have inadvertently modified Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 to read, “Go therefore and make CHURCH MEMBERS of all the nations.”

And the reason also seems to be pretty clear: attendance numbers seem to be the true goal of most churches. Not just overall church attendance numbers, but numbers seem to be the focus on church committees and boards, and in the many church programs offered each week.

For example, I currently attend a church with a very modest attendance of around 50-60 each week. The church attendance has doubled in the last six months or so; likewise with Wednesday evening Bible Study. The numbers continue to grow as the weeks go on. Each week the pastor and long-time members of the church are practically giddy about the increase in the number of new attendees. However, there are few church ministries outside of Sunday morning worship or the Wednesday evening Bible study. Not to say that more are not planned or desired, but as of this date, there are few.

But moreover, there is no distinct life-long discipleship process or mentoring program at the church. I’ve noticed the pastor has geared his messages to good discipleship lessons, but that could be said for most sermons or Bible study lessons. What is missing is an intentional program to disciple believers in Jesus Christ. The pastor would say that he is hoping that one day this will happen but for now his “discipleship” ministry is preaching/teaching twice a week.

He is not alone. Before attending this church I attended a local “mega-church.” Ironically, the pastor of my current church used to work at this mega-church. This church has three Sunday morning worship services that include separate services for children and teenagers. During the non-summer months, a Sunday evening service and a few home Bible study groups are provided. There are no mid-week programs. However, during the summer, a family style dinner is provided on Wednesday evenings.

What is missing? That’s right, there are no intentional discipleship programs going on. This is a church with thousands of people attending each week and yet the Great Commission is being completely ignored.

This is not unusual to just the two churches I’ve recently attended.

In late 2008, the Assembly of God (“AG”) denomination commissioned LifeWay Research to conduct a survey to shed light on the current state of discipleship in AG churches. According to the AG Discipleship/Church Ministries Division, “discipleship is a top priority of the Fellowship.” However, they were concerned about how the local churches were performing their role in this crucial area.

Out of the 12,000 churches that received the survey, only about twenty percent responded. Although the lack of responses is discouraging, there was something to be learned from those who did respond. And again, numbers are what the AG was focused on. In fact, the AG was quite pleased that the report shows that “56 percent of AG churches have a five-year average worship attendance growth of 10 percent or more.”

But when it came to discipleship, the bad news was just that, bad. Although the following results are from the AG survey, I am not picking on the AG. I believe these results would be no different for most denominations in this country:

  • Less than 35% of the responding pastors reported an active involvement of 60% or more of their people in Christian Education or small group discipleship ministries.
  •  Only 45% of AG churches regularly evaluate the progress and spiritual growth of their members.
  •  Only 35% of AG pastors are satisfied with the state of discipleship within their church. Of that number 28% are only somewhat satisfied.
  •  Only 17% of AG churches offer an adult mentoring program.

AG pastors consider the following the most important discipleship ministry offered to adults in their churches:

  • Sunday School: 33%
  • Pastor led teaching time: 31%
  •  Small groups: 21%
  •  Other: 6%
  • Mentoring program: 3%

AG pastors consider the following are their most important meeting times for discipleship ministries

  • Sunday morning: 46%
  • Wednesday evening: 26%
  •  Other: 18%
  •  Sunday evening: 10%

What these numbers tell us is that most pastors believe discipleship is not done primarily outside the weekly church services. Again, I am not trying to pick on Assembly of God churches. I’m just illustrating the mindset of pastors in this country about what discipleship is to them. Clearly it is different from what the Bible teaches.

The good news is that the AG is not taking these results lying down. Indeed, their initial response to the report was to “release several new resources that will better equip churches to disciple believers of all ages. These include: 360-degree discipleship, a handbook for maturing believers; a Spiritual Health Planner, to develop a plan of personally discipleship growth; Small group resources for children and adults to increase understanding of the cardinal doctrines and fundamentals.”

I applaud the Assembly of God for these actions, but what will it take for pastors in the US to understand what Biblical discipleship is? I remember it being taught in Bible college. Was my college the only one teaching it? I’d hate to think so. I call all pastors to take this information to heart and act upon it. I call on all non-pastors to meet with their pastors, in love, and plead for a Biblical discipleship program in your church. There is more to this Christian life than 60 minutes a week.

“Go therefore and make DISCIPLES of all the nations.”

Discipleship and Our Faith

N ot so many years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1959) explained, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

In Luke 9:23-25, Jesus teaches us that faith means to follow. This is a person’s first true test of faith.

Luke 9:23-25 (NLT): 23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 25 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?

Being a disciple means following Christ by our faith and by our obedience. The sad truth is we have misused the great doctrine of justification by faith and God’s grace to teach people that they do not really need to follow Christ to be Christians.

According to Bonhoeffer (1959), “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” There is no obedience without faith nor is there faith without obedience. In believing there is an act of obedience, such as Peter’s leaving his nets or Matthew’s walking away from his receipts. This act of obedience is never more than a “dead work of the law,” but it must be done because Jesus commands it. Inability to believe is probably due to unwillingness to take the first step.

Bonhoeffer’s pastoral concern shows in the hypothetical instance of a man who says he wants to believe and cannot. The usual pastor is baffled about the next step in his presentation. The secret weapon is to continue the dialogue by saying, “Only those who obey; believe. . . . You are disobedient; you are trying to keep some part of your life under your own control.” If you give up your sins, your uncommitted world, and obey, you will believe.

Characteristics of a Faith that Embrace Discipleship

In his book, “The Complete Book of Discipleship,” author Bill Hull (2006) explains that the qualities of the disciple-based faith taught in God’s Word is both basic and essential to understand how to both be and make disciples. These key points are:

  • A faith that embraces discipleship is only real when we actively obey it.
  • A faith that embraces discipleship is defined historically by people who took action.
  • A faith that embraces discipleship distinguishes itself from mere agreement or intellectual assent with demonstrated proof.
  • Jesus distinguished a faith that embraces discipleship as thoughtful obedience instead of religious words.

God’s Paradox

 Matthew 10:39 (NLT): If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.

If you want to save your life – put your own self and schedule first and control conditions and results – then you will lose your life. In this context, gaining and losing refers to the basic choice of salvation. Jesus did not restrict salvation into a neat and tidy schema. He defined it in terms of action rather than doctrine, because faith is action based on belief. So faith defined by Jesus contains the aspects such as, self-denial, taking up your cross daily, and obeying Him. This does not violate the precepts of grace; it defines the very nature of faith itself.

In Luke 9:24 Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it.” By our old nature, we attempt to set goals, make plans, and chase after them. Ultimately, this self-inspired process backfires miserably because when we insist on directing our own lives, we can never enter into the joy and fulfillment of God’s perfect plan for us. God does indeed have a perfect plan for us that make our self-willed plans seem tiny and useless: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10).

Faith is Only Real in Obedience

Jesus’ brother James, the writer of the New Testament, said it very well: “Faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). In other words, faith without action is not really faith at all. James was not talking about works as a way to be made righteous; rather he was talking about the nature of faith.

Jesus was obedient to His death. He saw His mission through the cross. Jesus submitted to death because that was His calling.

God calls every disciple to be obedient unto death as well. What must die in us as we follow in His footsteps? For me, it’s my ideas, plans, and schedule. Disciples must die a daily death that takes place hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, until the very moment we take our last earthly breath.

Faith is only real in obedience. Jesus provided the greatest illustration in His agony from within the garden of Gethsemane. He saw God’s plan through because of His humility and submission, which was undeniably confirmed in obedient sacrifice.

Faith Inventory

Who is weak in faith and who is strong? We are all weak in some areas and strong in others. Our faith is strong in an area where we consistently avoid giving into temptation. Our faith is weak if we must avoid certain activities or places in order to protect our spiritual life. We must all take a self-inventory to find
our weaknesses and strengths. No matter what our weaknesses may be, we can always count on God. Where we are weak, He is strong.

 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NLT): That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

References

Bonhoeffer, D. (1959). The Cost of Discipleship. Translated by R. H. Fuller, (rev. ed.). New Nork, NY: Touchstone.

Hull, R. W. (2006). The complete book of discipleship. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

 
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