Discipleship has become the new hot trend in the world of the evangelical church. The question becomes, “What does true biblical discipleship look like?” A great verse to help guide us in the right direction is from Paul to Timothy when he says, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2, ESV) Paul was profoundly wise, it did not seem to matter who his intended audience was, when he wrote there always seemed to be great power in his words. Hear what he tells the Philippians, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, ESV)
The Process of Making Disciples
Taking a closer look at the Philippians verse in particular there are several things that Paul is telling them, that give us a direction to take and run with when developing our own model of discipleship. You have to be able to communicate the material, no matter what you use should ultimately bring us back to Christ. Then we must display what we are trying to teach to others, it allows them to reproduce the action. If you are a parent think about your children when they are young they watch what you are doing and attempt to mimic those actions until they become their own. The same is true for young believers in Christ. Then we have to offer opportunities for those who are learning from us the chance to practice what has been learned. The final thing we get from this verse is the peace of God will be with us as we go through this process of making disciples; that does not mean it is going to be an easy process, it means we will be able to stand up to it because of His peace. However, is this what the church is doing in our day and age or have we gone about trying to “re-create the wheel?”
Investigating the Resources
My investigation into this process involved looking at several different books, speaking with different leaders within several churches from varying denominations. What I found was that the understanding of discipleship varies widely amongst lay people. However, those of us in leadership positions (deacons or elders) in churches where the Gospel is central tended to have a more succinct idea of what discipleship is. For some evangelism is confused with discipleship, while for others discipleship takes place in the Sunday school classroom. There are others that think it is merely a mentoring relationship. In Michael Mitchell’s book he references what he refers to as the Proverbs 2 method. Greg Ogden has several different methods that he discusses in his work Transforming Discipleship one is based upon Jesus and the other Paul, he also has a workbook called Discipleship Essentials that is rather good. I personally have not used it but I have used his Leadership Essentials which is utilized along similar lines.
When discipleship is a program in the church it often does not meet requirement of true discipleship, however, when discipleship is a lifestyle of the church and is treated as second nature then the congregation thrives. Gieger exclaims
In our research we found that many church leaders in these “transformational churches” struggled with questions about discipleship programs or discipleship tools. They did not view discipleship as one “thing” they offer, whether a program or a strategy. Rather, making disciples is seen as the overarching reason they exist. They viewed disciple-making as their paramount calling with every activity being used as a pathway for transformation.
While teaching and encouraging growth through learning is the primary aspect of discipleship, the other side of the coin is discipline or correction. In May of 2013 I had the privilege of attending conference held by Mark Dever senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and 9 Marks. In this conference they spoke about discipleship that takes place one-on-one with individual members of the congregation caring for one another and not waiting for the church to step in. That means they were building relationships that allowed vulnerability to take place and discipline to be handled in a godly way. Discipleship requires intentionality, not passivity on the part of all parties involved. There are some who feel discipling should take place in the context of one leader several followers and others that think the individual approach is best. I would say that no matter what approach you take it requires time and effort to get to know those you are in this type of relationship with. In the end though the rewards should outweigh the risks.
Several observations that have been made are that there has to be someone more mature in the Christian faith teaching a younger believer. The most common resource every good discipleship program shared is the Bible itself. While some chose to study books that focus on different aspects of the Christian life such as prayer, tithing, Bible study, parenthood, or some other area of struggle. While it may not be obvious but the next best resource a young disciple has is the wisdom of the one discipling/mentoring them. It can often be taken for granted the situations a person has lived through and the way he/she has responded, either with grace and biblical wisdom or worldly frustration. The only way that any resource can ever be truly effective is if they focus on biblical principles and lead us to the cross.
Most of these models attempt to implement the biblical model by teaching Scripture, being reproducible, and once the disciple has reached a certain level of maturity being allowed the chance implement what has been learned. If the model has been properly displayed in the discipler’s life then it should be easily reproducible in the mentee’s life.
As a leader in the church I do not mind the use of Christian materials as long as the focus is ultimately on Christ and how we grow in maturity and grace. I personally appreciate an organic approach of meeting on some type of regular basis and sharing life experiences, eating a meal, and digging into the Word of God. The best model any of us can use is centered on the Bible and having people grow closer to Christ and wanting to see others experience the same joy they have started experiencing in their lives.
Barna, George. Growing True Disciples. Colorado Springs: WaterBroook Press, 2001.
Gieger, Eric, and Michael Kelley and Philip Nation. Transformational Discipleship. Nahsville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012.
Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003.
Marshall, Colin, and and Tony Payne. The Trellis and the Vine. Kingsford NSW: Matthias Media, 2009.
Mitchell, Michael R. Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples. Bloomngton: Crossbooks, 2010.
Ogden, Greg. Transforming Discipleship. Downers Grove: IVP Publishing, 2003.
Rosenberg, Joel C., and and Dr. T.E. Koshy. The Invested Life. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2012.
Yount, William R. (ed.). The Teaching Ministry of the Church 2nd edition. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008.