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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

A Recipe for Discipleship

By Wes Bartel
Feb. 13, 2011

Cake is my favorite health food! I have enjoyed it ever since I was a child, and I have never outgrown its appeal. I do not require that it be covered with icing, chocolate, fruit or any other embellishment. To me, cake is the 21st-century manna. Its appeal to me is not in the form that it takes, nor even in the way it is decorated or served. Its appeal is found in its ingredients. It is what goes into the cake that makes it a cake!

Twenty-first-century discipleship must be defined in the same way. While we cannot identify a specific recipe that every church can follow, we must identify the indispensible ingredients of the recipe.

There are at least four necessary ingredients, and we will find that all four of these ingredients are absolutely indispensible to any discipleship method you choose to embrace in your church.

Systematic study of God’s Word
The first ingredient necessary for effective discipleship is intentional emphasis on the systematic study of God’s Word. Systematic study of the Bible provides the biblical lens through which we view our life, our world and our God.

In the spiritual realm, the journey from sinner to saint is really a journey of vision. It is a dramatic transition from viewing ourselves, our world and our future through the human lenses of unregenerate man to a completely new worldview. It is, in fact, a call to repentance.

There is nothing more important following conversion than intentional movement of the new convert into systematic Bible study! There, the student must move from the humanistic, secular view so prevalent in today’s culture to the biblical worldview of the Bible. There, in the classroom, we begin to see God as sovereign Creator, man as fallen, sin as unacceptable, success as obedience to God’s revealed will.

In reality, systematic Bible study could be likened to an advanced eye care clinic and the teacher to a skilled optometrist. The ultimate outcome should be students who truly develop a uniquely Christian worldview.

Cross-generational approach
The second important ingredient is that discipleship be cross-generational in its approach.

True biblical discipleship begins at birth and continues until death. It is, in fact, a lifelong journey, and the church that limits its discipleship ministry to “adults only” has made a tragic mistake!

The Bible provides a very clear mandate to parent and pastor when it states, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NIV).

This mandate leaves very little room for any method that, by its function, exempts the child or the teen from the process of discipleship.

The church is under the mandate of the Great Commission to teach the Scriptures to its people — all of its people! I acknowledge that, to accomplish this effectively, the church must creatively employ varied methods and programs. I simply ask that we not succumb to simple, pragmatic solutions, but that we base the selection of our discipleship methods on established biblical principles that embrace lifelong learning and growth.

This is the primary reason why traditional discipleship ministries such as Sunday School or Christian education remain such valued discipleship tools for the 21st century. They uniquely allow the church to provide age-level biblical instruction to students from cradle to grave. They also allow the teacher to design an educational model that will meet the unique learning needs of the individual students and make the Bible specifically relevant to the age-level needs of the class.

If the church is serious about the Great Commission, cross-generational ministry must become an indispensable ingredient to the process.

Relational in structure
The third necessary ingredient to effective discipleship is that it be relational in its structure.

The Bible describes the unique community that developed in the New Testament church following the outpouring of Pentecost:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

This exciting model should provide an ideal template for effective ministry within the church. Every local congregation of Christians should ideally be transformed into an authentic Christian community that exemplifies the true essence of the Church. Biblically, this community known as the Church is the visible body of Christ. However, this can only happen when Christians truly “connect” together in an interdependent, relational network of ministry.

This unfortunately has become a primary weakness of our traditional Christian education methods. We tend to view our classes as learning centers, and their primary focus becomes knowledge transfer. Often the classroom more reflects the atmosphere of the public school system than of the church. We line up our students in straight rows of hard chairs and then lecture to them for an hour. Interaction within the classroom is often viewed as unnecessary at best, undesirable at worst.

We incorrectly assume that with knowledge comes change. True change must have its roots in relationship. Our discipleship methods must be intentionally designed in such a way that fellowship, friendship and ministry can be encouraged.

Life-change focused
The fourth ingredient for effective discipleship is that it be life-change focused.

Although an intentional, systematic study of God’s Word is essential in the discipleship process, it will not by itself produce strong, mature, overcoming Christians. Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church established the correct goal for those involved in ministry:

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Paul’s words seem to suggest both a goal and a result. The goal is to teach in such a way that maturity is achieved. He also informs us that if we achieve maturity we will witness stability. In other words, the teacher must not focus only on knowledge transfer but must have life change as a primary goal!

Discipleship, at its very core, is dynamic. It is a cooperative venture between the disciple or teacher, the Scripture, and the Holy Spirit. The ultimate goal is never fully accomplished until the new believer experiences the life-changing power of the Living Word. In fact, it could honestly be stated the ultimate goal is never accomplished in this lifetime. Discipleship is a lifelong process of change and maturing.

God’s Spirit identifies sin and deficiency. God’s Word provides a picture of His plan and purpose for all people. Discipleship is the movement of the individual from defeat and deficiency to spiritual growth and maturity. While teaching is part of the process, the goal is a changed life. In the final analysis, this is the product of the church.

Practically, this must be implemented first by the mentor, leader or teacher. It is done in several ways. First of all, the teacher or leader must prepare spiritually for this encounter. Prayer and self-evaluation are an indispensible part of the preparation process. The teacher or leader must be sensitive to the opportunities for ministry within the classroom or group and to the Holy Spirit as He directs. The leader must also study the students and be aware of their individual needs and spiritual condition.

Those we lead must be encouraged to evaluate their own life personally based on what they have learned from the study of God’s Word. They must then be encouraged to be creative as they address areas of deficiency and move aggressively toward spiritual maturity. No instruction should ever end without the student actively addressing the “so what” of the lesson content.

As we have stated above, discipleship, by its very nature, is life-change focused. For any ministry to be an effective tool in the discipleship process, it must become a ministry that results in changed hearts and changed lives. Anything less is not truly discipleship.

From The 360º Disciple by Alton Garrison, et al. (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 2009). Excerpted with permission.

WES BARTEL is director of Discipleship Ministries for the Assemblies of God.

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