Monday, August 1
Vision for Discipleship
A few folks have asked me to post a paper I wrote for a college class on my vision of discipleship. I warn you its a 8pg. paper and to long for a blog. Feel free to comment if you'd like
Discipleship, the process of a Disciple growing in maturity toward Christlikeness, being equipped for service and learning to minister to others in the body of Christ, is the primary role of the Church in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ. While the goal of every believer ought to be to grow in a relationship with the trinity and look increasingly more like Jesus in every aspect of life; often a misunderstanding of the role of the Church (or lack thereof) in a believer’s life stifles this process. Therefore my vision for discipleship is to, alongside the Holy Spirit, help mend and restore the Church to health; so that the members can be truly and fully discipled; not only for themselves but also for the sake of the world.
Most often, the Churches view of discipleship is in terms of programs, book or bible studies, accountability partners or numbers in participation for varying services and events. A quick search on google.com for the topic of discipleship shows a listing of sites offering options for a Pastor/leader who is looking for discipleship implementation options for their Church. Most of these come in the form of curriculum; used either one-on-one, or in small groups settings. One of the sites that show up first is First Steps. Their concept is for a church or individual to use the curriculum one-on-one with a new believer, but they specify that the discipler must strictly follow the outline sent, and the Disciplers are not to gain in any way from the relationship (even emotionally). In the contract, which both the disciple and discipler are to consent, to it specifies “Your discipler has made a commitment to lead you through this notebook in about ten lessons. Your discipler does not have an obligation to spend more time with you than the ten required lessons.” (disciplinganother.com). Is that really how we would define a discipling relationship within the body of Christ? Meeting ten or so times to go through a workbook together after which all responsibilities and ties can just end, and that person is on their way to maturity in Christ. The church is lacking in the area of discipleship. What is suppose to be the natural outcome and role of the church is missing, and we will not find it through pre-packaged curriculum with strict boundaries, relying most heavily upon Bible teaching and study with follow-up questions.
Discipleship is more than a contract to learn biblical principals and basic doctoral statements; it is more than meeting for a set time for accountability. Discipleship involves a choice to enter into relationship [with Christ] and accept a new way of life, submitting to God through the leading and power of His Holy Spirit. Discipleship is allowing the Church, the body of Christ, to aid in our process. Forming us into His image, and learning our own Spiritual gifts so that we can fulfill our own role with in the church; “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ… (no longer)… tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.” (Eph 4:13-15 NRSV)
Many of the so-called discipleship methods are actually supplementary or replacements for the true process of discipleship. True biblical discipleship took place within the context of the church and encouraging relationships with other believers in the body of Christ. Heinrich Arnold, in his book entitled Discipleship, affirms the communal aspect of discipleship “The decision to follow Christ must be a deeply personal one. But it can never mean- as someone once said to me, “Only Jesus and I remain.” Discipleship must always be related to one’s brothers and sisters.” Therefore Jesus brings together the two commandments “Love God with all your heart, soul, and being,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Heinrich Arnold, pg. 18)
The 21st century, in which we live, is a great distance from the life and culture of the early first century church and there is some ambiguity of what the early church looked like in function; some speculate they followed the synagogue model. If they did follow the pattern of the synagogue, it was highly modified to include the encouragement of the brethren and the use of the gifts of the body during the service; which were not common practices during the synagogue worship. We find a clear example of this type of church life in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Verse 26, often under the heading of Orderly Worship, describes a church service in this way: “…when you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1Cor. 14:26 NRSV). Paul then admonishes them with some ground rules for an orderly service. Making clear that God is the giver of gifts but, their use is expected to be orderly and for the building up of the body.
Ephesians 4:12, 13 is often quoted as the goal of Discipleship: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” If we were pressed to define the goal of Jesus in His relationship with the disciples this passage is fitting. Everything Jesus did with the disciples was to equip them for the work of the Gospel, to mature them, and to build them up and connect them with the Father.
Christ’s call and goal was discipleship. A problem we face today in modern Christianity is that some of our definitions are confused or inaccurate. Today, in the church, it is possible to be “saved” but not be a disciple. Discipleship is like a next step, necessary, but not something to loose your salvation over, so to speak, if you decide not to enter in to it. I would challenge this idea of separating being a Christian from being a disciple. The essence of being a disciple is embedded in following Jesus.
In Matthew 28:19, 20 we read, what we now call, the “Great Commission” that Jesus gave to his disciples, and is carried over to all disciples of Christ. The scripture reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Of whom was Christ implying they were to make disciples? They were to make Disciples of Christ, The 12 disciples were to then become the example, and teach the principals that Jesus had taught them.
After the feast of Pentecost, one of the Feasts of the Lord given in the Old Testament, and the falling of the Holy Spirit, the church grew exponentially, Reading through the New Testament epistles we gain a picture of the members ministering to the members, leaders arising and the Holy Spirit calling leaders forth. Going back to the passage in Ephesians four mentioned earlier, it is necessary to read the preceding verses to understand how this growing, maturing, and attaining the full stature happens. Starting in 4:11, Paul describes the gifts, often referred to as the five-fold ministry; “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers”. Why did he give these gifts to some? The answer lies in verse 12 “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ”. My study of the Epistles leads me to believe that what we claim as the goal of discipleship is met by the work of the five-fold ministry active in a healthy church. When this happens the “whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph.4:16). So the goal of discipleship is met through the church and the body (members) being the body the way it was intended.
My plan is to start in the local church. Every church is different and has members of varying maturity. While there are many churches seeking to emulate the New Testament epistles, updated to the 21st century, others have confused the role of the church. They see its primary function as evangelism, reaching out to the world, and engaging in social justice outreaches and politics. These things are good but they are not the primary function of the church. The primary function of the church and the reason we assemble is for the encouraging, training, exhorting, correcting, and building up of the body, so the body can glorify God and fulfill His work in the world.
Discipleship is the process of growing in Christ-likeness, understanding how God created us, what our spiritual gifts are, and how they fit into the working of the body. The purpose of this is for the encouragement of the body and leading those who do not believe toward becoming disciples of Christ. This is the natural outcome of a healthy church functioning with the five-fold ministry in place, and every member fulfilling their part.
I understand that it takes time for a church to grow through this process and correct things that may be out of line, but each church needs to allow God to show them where they are and what their next step is in the process of moving toward health. Teaching is needed as the body makes the transition from looking to a staff for everything to realizing and functioning as a body.
My prayer is that instead of coming up with more supplemental programs and ideas designed to meet a need we work at correcting the underlying problem in the church so that we function as God intended. I know the task is daunting but I am not willing to follow another plan to make up for the lack of follow through on Gods plan in the church and for discipleship.
See Appendix A for teaching/training point for guiding the church towards health.
Considering the uniqueness of each church, below are a few areas of teaching or training points for within the local body to help grow a church back to a place of health to ensure the discipleship of the body.
The Purpose of the Church
Many believers and corporate bodies do not understand the true purpose and function of the church, as well as the necessity and goal of our meeting together. Some Christians believe the purpose of our church service/worship is reaching unbelievers; others believe it is solely for teaching and musical worship. The reality is that the church is a living organism and multi-faceted, but is not suppose to be dominated by one person. The body needs to work together under the authority/leadership of the Church (Most often a Pastor and leadership team). This is a foundational point of teaching within a body, if it is the role and function of the church, and our meeting together, to lead us in discipleship then this is a crucial point.
The Believers Role in the Church
It was never intended for the believer to be a passive recipient; attending for a brief time of worship and a sermon then going about their daily life. The Church is a beautiful living organism, a community of family members with Christ as their brother and the living God as their Father. In Ephesians, we see that as each part (member of the body) works together properly it promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. In our independent society we tend to believe we can do it on our own, we do not need the church, other believers, or anything else involved in our spiritual walk, we can talk to God on our own. Others may not go to that extreme but are willing to be passive listeners in church; most not even knowing that the church can not grow with out them, all believers, fully invested and apart. God has uniquely created each individual and bestowed spiritual gifts upon them to serve the body and aid them in their ministry.
While this seems like a basic point, the reality is God speaks to us in many ways. If we are to function as a body when we meet together, and use the gifts God has given us (teaching, encouraging, exhorting, correcting, prophecy, etc.), then we need to understand that He does speak, and we can hear Him. The next step is to learn to do/say what he leads us to do and say (under the authority of the headship of the Church).
God Gave (spiritual) Gifts.
In 1 Cor.12: 4, 7 we read that there “are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit… But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”. While we all have spiritual gifts from God, the goal is that each believer not only knows their gift, but also receives training in their gifting and uses it for the edification of the body and the growing in maturity of its members. Reading chapter 12 in full we understand the larger picture of every member playing their part is what is the common good for the body.
The Five-Fold Ministry
Many churches are lacking or opposed to the five-fold ministry working in the local body. Most Pastors and churches are ok with the role of Pastor, Teacher, and Evangelist. The problem comes when we start talking about the role of Apostles and Prophets. In part, this is due to confusion on these two roles and their function in the church, but it is also due to a misuse of gifts on the part of some that have hurt the body and caused wounding. The reality is that each of these gifts are necessary and needed for the church to be healthy and function properly but those who are called to these gifts need to be trained in how to use their gifts, given a safe environment and open to correction. The purpose of the five-fold ministry is not to dominate the people or “rule” the Pastor (as many Pastors fear will happen). The five-fold ministry is always to submit to God and to the local church, working in love and for the sold purpose of building up and training the body.
When we look at discipleship today and outline what needs to be involved for a relationship to be considered a discipling relationship, the things that come to mind should be natural parts of our Christian relations. My relationships within the body currently are discipling relationships as well as friendships. None of us sat down and said we are going to hold each other accountable, be honest and open, read the scripture together and sign a contract to so for the next three months, but we all were taught what it meant to be a true friend and member in the body of Christ. With that in mind we naturally hold each other accountable, seek honesty and openness in our relationships, pray together and for one another and set up times to study the word.