The matter of discipleship is a topic variously approached. By some churches exalted and by others entirely neglected. In following lines we will look upon the definition of discipleship, examine what bible says about it and then introduce model of a wholesome Christian relationships. Second part will be covering components being used in disciple making process, pillars or columns every disciple maker ought to include in his ministry and next to the last different stages of disciples we meet with.
When the word discipleship is being said many people imagine some kind of a strict program with notebooks, calendars, deadlines and loads of accountability. The truth is they are not far from the truth, but often the attitude that is being hold is wrong. Discipleship is not about what we do, but who we are. Let us first look at the word disciple. Disciple, “mathetes”-learner or pupil, is someone who learns. This comes out of Greek word “manthano” – to learn or receive instruction. Logically in order to receive instruction there must be someone that provides instruction and that is a disciple maker. When setting Jesus as an example we can easily see that he did not spent all his time in a room with his disciples giving them countless lessons containing theories about everything that could possibly happen, but he was teaching them on the way! By doing this he was setting an example they were to follow and slowly he was passing on responsibility to them. This was something he did every day, not only once per week, it was a lifestyle! “A disciple is a person-in-process who is eager to learn and apply the truths that Jesus Christ teaches him, which will result in ever – deepening commitments to a Christ-like lifestyle”. And “Disciple making is seeking to fulfill the imperative of the Great Commission by making a conscientious effort to help people move toward spiritual maturity – drawing on the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, utilizing the resources of the local church, and fully employing the gifts, talents and skills acquired over the years.” Thus Great Commission in Matthew 28, 18-20 clearly states we are to make disciples of all nations. How is it possible then, that there are hundreds of people sitting every Sunday in churches listening to sermons for years, but never pass on any of their knowledge or life experience of living with Christ? Why do we meet then every Sunday; only for our own sake? Is not this egoistic, self-centered behavior which is abomination to Lord, totally contradicting his specific directions? We often do not realize how difficult it is to just start living a Christian life. Many started, but without anyone leading them they did not survive for long. And those that did grow, grew only very slowly. In order to attain sound growth we need someone that pulls us up.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.“
(NIV, Proverbs 27:17)
If there was nobody in our lives that went into this specific kind of relationship with us, we naturally find it hard to disciple others, because we have never experienced it on our own. Lacking discipleship often leads to “old spiritual babies”, Christians who in spite of the fact they went to church for many years still require easy nourishment and are acting childlike. So as we want to achieve healthy position we ought to be involved in three kinds of relationships. Those in which we disciple others, we are passing our knowledge and experience further, and raising next generations, secondly those where we have people on a correlative level in a balanced relationship where we share similar experience of going through similar problems. At last we have a responsibility to find ourselves a person that would coach us, so there is a constant development in our lives. If there is paucity in any of these categories we are lacking something. Besides Jesus we have also other examples like Barnabas who took Paul the first time to the apostles when they were afraid of him. Paul then continued by taking young leaders from all the big cities discipline them, which by the way had a good influence for their future cooperation. We are not perfect and we never will be, but in a year we should be somewhere else than we are today. As long as we do not satisfy with some kind of fixed agreement, current situation, yet we are on a fighting line we move forward. With God there is nothing like fixed agreement for
he wants us whole or not at all.
Common components in discipleship
Verbs used in Matthew 28:18-20 are: go (and make disciples), baptize and teach. Discipleship is closely related to evangelization. Before we can start a discipleship process the person must be born-again, therefore the starting point of making disciples is to go and begin winning the lost. The next step is baptizing them. This originates from the word “Baptizo” which means to dip, immerse or submerge. Besides obeying scriptures and openly proclaiming Jesus as a personal savior there is another important role of this. We need to provide him a real body he can be a part of, “immerse to”, plugging him to life changing groups (1 on 1), small groups but also the main Sunday service. It means that we are putting him in an environment in which he can start to grow immediately. Shaking hands and congratulations are just not enough! Finally teaching takes place. After disciple knows the law and doctrines we still must make sure he knows how to use it, how to apply these teachings to his every day life. This comprises of three stages: Head, heart and hand knowledge; Starting with simply introducing them to all the knowledge and facts presenting opinions and skills that they must know, before going any further. This stage is mostly covering the area of intellect. Main topics as repentance, salvation, prayer, communion, word of God and other are part of this. Refer to “what.” Sequentially our job is to make him love it! If one personally believes that what he knows is truth and experienced it on his own, totally grasping the theory and identifying it with reality of his own life, then we can say we answered the second fundamental question “why.” In the end we focus on “how.” When a disciple has the understanding which is deeply rooted in his heart he now must start living it. We give him methods and techniques to good time management, bible reading program, devotional time, prayer life etc… This process might take a little longer, yet if the requirements above are met eventually it will take place.
After the overall commission let us look at individual elements of this process. The disciple maker ought to become a shepherd. Shepherd protects and nourishes his sheep, but he does not own them. His job is based again on three columns: Prayer, Relationship and Content. There are things that can not be talked through, but must be prayed through. Anywhere in disciple making process there should be a significant place for a prayer. For prayer softens the heart and can offer solutions. Prayer has amazing power that we definitely need for our disciples. People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Here it works twice as much. We can see people at distance, but we can only impact them at close, therefore we must build close relationships to our disciples. Without relationship we just waste our energy. There is nothing like professional impersonal discipleship. Showing we are not perfect is not a weakness, but a strength. It shows we are also in a process. However we should be worthy to be followed, which means that our lives should not completely speak against our words, but be in harmony with them. It is a daily challenge to be able to tell people to follow our example. The content, which I mentioned before (head, heart, hand-knowledge), is the third column.
As disciple makers we are not able to do it all, hence we need to include other Christians in congregation. Even though we are primarily responsible for them, we must make sure there are other Christians around them as well. Possibly the best if they have same interests in which they can challenge each other and create sort of smaller fellowship, besides the big “whole church” fellowship. Without fellowship it is not possible to continue in disciple making process for there is no one to connect disciples to.
At last but not least Holy Spirit is playing the essential part. Without him we can do nothing, but through his power we can accomplish anything. God gives growth, which does not mean we are not important. In farmer analogy we plant, cultivate and water plants and only then God is making it grow. Without those it would not come to pass.
Phases in a discipleship
The appellation used for physical growth is used for the spiritual one as well in 1 John 2:12-14. The Greek word for child “τεκνίον” – “Teknion” in verse 12, refers to little children – infants. These are helpless on its own and need protection love and basic knowledge. We can not expect they are going to provide for themselves as we would never expect an infant to take food from the fridge. It would certainly die! Spiritual infants have usually a seemingly endless hunger for knowledge and fellowship with God and his people, sharing their faith with almost everybody, yet they have quite a little understanding of very elementary basis of a Christian life. Accordingly we should not be surprised by their actions and equip ourselves with loving patience.
In following verse 13 is used the same English word child, while Greek word changed. “παιδίον” – “paidion” stands for ordinary children, not infants. This period requires the most attention in the whole discipleship process. Setting a good example and motivating is essential for in this stage disciple usually loses his initial zeal. Strong guidance hand in hand with accountability and teaching is the key to build a base he can later build on.
Both in verses 13 and 14 is used the same word “νεανίσκος” – “neaniskos” that means youth. As scripture says youth is strong and we can see this in starting self-motivation. Now he needs more responsibility to improve his strength which we can only achieve by slowly stepping aside, to the background and leaving more and more things up to him. Naturally he will sometimes fall, however we are still there to put him back on track and encourage him to try again.
“Πατήρ” – “pater” again both verse 13 and 14 stands for fathers. Fathers are mature Christians, adults who keep also at this point continuously growing. They are part of spiritual reproduction by nourishing, providing, protecting, teaching, training, encouraging and basically meeting all needs required from him for this task. They need someone that reminds them not to halt, but keep going.
We are responsible for things that are happening around us and if we are to follow wholeheartedly Jesus’ example, discipleship is the inevitable part of our lives. We must go make disciples, baptize them into body of Christ, teach and pray for them, lead them through all the stages so that in the end we reach and save as many as possible.
Personal Disciple-making, Christopher B. Adsit, Here’s life publishers, inc. 1988, p.p. 35
Personal Disciple-making, Christopher B. Adsit, Here’s life publishers, inc. 1988, p.p. 40
Win Arn & Charles Arn. The Master’s Plan For Making Disciples. U.S.A. p.p. 93 Walter C. Wright, Jr. (2004). Relational Leadership. UK: Paternoster Press. p.p. 147-148.
Mike Breen & Walt Kallestad (2005). The Passionate Church. Colorado Springs: Cook Communication Ministries. p.p. 44
written by Peter Makovíni