Discipleship in the Church
What is the mission of the local church?
How would we know if we are successful in that mission? (multiplying effective home groups)
What is the fundamental core of multiplying home groups? (multiplying Christian workers through the discipling ministry)
Discipleship in the church
The biblical case for discipleship
The case is established both by precept and principle. We are using this term, "discipleship" in a way different than the bible uses it. The bible does not talk about workers having disciples, but rather people being disciples of Christ. It doesnt make it wrong for us to use it referring to people we are discipling, but we are on safer ground just demonstrating the work of discipleship.
Jesus example: Mark 3:13-15 (Coleman). We see Christ being with them and sending them out.
Jesus command: Matthew 28:19-20 we are teaching others to be disciples of CHRIST, not us. Teaching them to observe what Christ teaches, not us. The central imperative is "make disciples".
Pauls example: Colossians 1:28,29; 1 Timothy. 1:2 & 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4 (30 other disciples mentioned) We could probably argue that this is most important ministry (note the strong language in Col. 1). Note also the language he uses to describe Timothy "beloved son" does not likely mean he led Timothy to Christ, but that he trained or mentored him. Likewise also with Titus.
Pauls command: 2 Timothy 2:2
Why is this so important?
There were two great preachers in England in the 1800s. John Wesley and George Whitefield. One was a greater speaker and had a greater ability to reach the multitudes - Whitefield.
However, Wesley had the greater long-term impact. Why? Discipleship. He was committed to discipling the people he led to Christ so that they would be able to do the same. This led Whitefield to say toward the end of his career that he had woven a "rope of sand".
We see quality over quantity, core over crowd, cell over program. Yet it leads to far greater quantity.
In other words, we are comparing addition versus multiplication growth. One person reaching 100 people for Christ every year but not teaching them how to do the same, versus one person reaching one person for Christ every other year, but also discipling them to do the same.
In 50 years, the 1st has reached 5,000 people for Christ. And, his outreach ministry ends when he dies.
In the same 50 years, the 2nd has effectively reached 16,777,216 people.
QUALIFICATION: We are NOT saying that this exact progression will or should be seen the evil one would have a hay-day with that interpretation and has in our church. But the biblical principle is essential to the churchs health and growth nonetheless and is explosive. The church must also be involved in cross-cultural work that will not be as easy, rendering the calculated model inaccurate.
Why dont people/churches practice biblical discipleship?
Roulette wheel example (if you knew it would turn up "17 black" at a particular time, how much would you wager on it everything you had right?), we have to know that God will deliver. His approach is correct.
Wont be glorifying enough, behind the scenes, many times years of work; the desire to control (build a personal kingdom). Addicted to stimulation/ worldly values. This is where the heart of sacrifice of materialistic goals gets laid on the altar. Will I use Gods time to invest in the lives of younger Christians? I will need to sacrifice worldly goals to be effective at this.
Illustration: too impatient to garden because we cant see plant growing. It requires years of sacrificial work as we talked about with follow-up last week (time, money, thought-life). We live in a quick-fix culture and this ministry flies in the face of that.
Or someone experienced abuse in a discipling relationship and throws it out.
Or, I did it with the wrong mindset legalistically, thinking that it was all up to me, not directing them to the power of God.
Discipleship in Xenos
Our first task, then, is to hammer out a definition of discipleship that we can all hold in common. We need a definition that is broad enough to encompass the variables involved, but specific enough to provide some focus and direction for us.
A discipler is one, who like Paul in Col. 1:28, 29 strives to present people mature ("complete") in Christ in the two key areas of Gods will for every believer: sanctification and ministry.
Therefore, in Xenos we define it: "A discipler is one who helps willing people attain Servant Team status by both ministering in a general way in the church, and by holding specific meetings for study, coaching, counseling, and prayer (in the context of a close personal relationship)." Let's unpack this definition phrase by phrase.
"helps willing people attain Servant Team status" - We could have said "helps people become godly Christian workers," but we have intentionally said this because in Xenos, the Servant Team is our cadre of relatively mature Christian workers, so this is the goal. We need to have a goal that is concrete enough that we know when we have attained it. Although we will continue to help our disciples beyond this point, it will be more as colleagues.
"by both ministering in a general way in the church" - Unlike discipleship models which emphasize only one-on-one discipleship, we recognize that discipleship also requires a corporate dimension--important input from a variety of other Christian workers and friends. Even Jesus discipled people in the context of a community, and healthy home group and wider church involvement forms the foundational healthy environment for the development of younger Christians.
The shots I take with people in home church (to encourage, admonish, answer questions, etc.) are a real aspect of their development. The work I do teaching classes, home church, etc. also contributes to the discipleship task of many people.
"and by holding specific meetings for study, coaching, counseling, and prayer" - On the other hand, discipling people involves intentional and focused investment. When a group relies only on the influence of general ministry to get the job done, willing people don't develop as quickly as they could. "Everyone's job is no one's job." So we need to initiate interactions that are specifically designed to help them develop. There are many variables that require us to be flexible in how we spend this time.
Some of us make our main contribution in cell groups by what we teach and how we interact with them before and afterward. We need to resist the notion that if the people in our cell groups are in Christian Principles, they are getting what they need. They need repetition and depth in their biblical knowledge, and they need personal models and input. Cell groups are a unique opportunity for this.
Many of us will supplement this with a regular additional time with one or two folks who are particularly eager and promising. We will spend this time focusing on what they seem to need at the time--sometimes additional study, sometimes helping them face and resolve sin-problems in their own lives, sometimes coaching them in their developing ministries with others. Over a period of time, we will want to address all of these areas, and we will always (in my opinion) include prayer with them.
I think we need to avoid rigid uniformity here, and we need to avoid using the flexibility as an excuse to neglect intentional investment ("I like the way I do it better than the way you don't do it.").
"(in the context of a close personal relationship)" - Even Jesus, though he was Lord and Master in a way we never are, called his disciples his "friends" who knew what he was doing (John 15:15). And Paul called the people he was discipling, "beloved children." Having a regular meeting does not guarantee that discipleship is occurring. Much that must be passed on (character; reciprocal vulnerability; discernment; response to situations; resolving conflict; actually ministering together, etc.) requires time, interaction, and experiences outside meetings.
"Everybodys job is nobodys job" (sound familiar from last weeks discussion on follow-up?)
In a good home church there should be workers looking for people to disciple, hungry to serve in this manner.
Errors to avoid
We've been committed to personal discipleship in Xenos for many years, and we've benefited greatly from it. We've also made many mistakes in this area, and we need to be sure that we learn from our mistakes. Here are the ones that come to my mind.
"I've got to get a disciple right now." This sometimes happens in home groups that strongly emphasize discipleship. Getting a person becomes a hoop to jump through so we can say we are discipling someone. We grab a person and try to force-feed them, rather than prayerfully finding someone who wants to learn what we're suited to teach them.
"I am totally responsible for the growth of my disciples." This is another form of legalism, and it leads to excessive force, manipulation, overstepping our bounds (DATING RESTRICTIONS; SIGNING IN & OUT OF MINISTRY HOUSES; etc.)--and ultimately to failure and discouragement. We had a lot of this in the early 1980's, and we're still living it down (DEN'S RECENT REPORTS). Let's stay away from this, and give people the freedom to make decisions!
"Stay away from my disciple." (TERRITORIALITY) There have been cases where disciplers have gotten very possessive of disciples to the point of fighting over disciples - fighting over who gets to disciple a new convert, keeping other disciplers away from "my" disciple; people trying to "take over" another persons disciple, etc. Colemans use of the example of Christ breaks down here because we are not sufficient as he is, nor do we have his authority. Ultimately, they are not my disciples at all--they are Jesus'. I am only assisting them by helping them learn how to follow and obey him. The goal is not for me to hoard disciples, but to develop younger Christians. That means I will not only be glad that they get quality input from other workers, but I will also deliberately expose them to other quality workers.
"I've got to be able to raise up leaders as effectively as so-and-so." (COMPARISON) This is a very common form of legalism for all areas of ministry, and it provides a fertile soil for accusation. Learn the lesson of "NO LITTLE PEOPLE!" Do your work under grace, as unto the Lord, trusting him for results--and be content that you are pleasing him.
"I've got to disciple others in exactly the same way so-and-so does." OR "People I disciple need to turn out to be just like me." (Illustration: brick layer vs. stone mason) Proper uniformity = "Every mature Christian should be involved in discipleship and just about every disciple could eventually help lead a home group."
"I can't be effective because I was never discipled one-on-one by a mature worker." Being discipled by a proven discipler is an advantage. This is why you should pursue being discipled if you can. But you can learn how to disciple others even if you didnt receive textbook discipling. However, dont use this as an excuse to avoid sacrificially investing in the life of younger believers to help them grow.
"Everyone in our home group should have one-on-one discipleship time if they want it." This monopolizes workers' time and eventually burns them out. It also takes them away from ministering in their gifted areas, and gets them focused equally on hungry and unhungry people.
"I'm not a leader/gifted at/mature enough to disciple, so I needn't be involved in it." Some of us are more gifted at this than others--especially in leadership duplication. But the definition of discipleship we're using now is broad enough for all of us to participate, and we agreed to do this when we signed the Servant Covenant.
"If our people are going to classes and serving in ministry team roles, that's all they need." This is the program-based fallacy that leads to a superficial workforce. They need repetition and depth in biblical content beyond what the classes can give them. They need personal models and input that classes and ministry team roles cannot give them. They need to develop foundational ministry skills that are best developed in a home group/discipleship context (outreach; body-life; developing spiritual gifts). I worry that many people in Xenos these days view "ministry involvement" primarily in terms of having a titled role (EXAMPLES) rather than developing these areas. The point is no that titled roles are bad; it is that these are more important.
"No one is interested in being discipled." This may be true in your present situation. If so, are you praying for someone who is? But it may not be true--you may be too negative. Pray that God open your eyes to see the willing hearts!
So here are ten dangers to avoid are you going to use them as an excuse to not get involved in this fulfilling ministry, or to be grown in your usefulness to the Lord in this central ministry?
Practical Advice on Discipling Others
Shepherding vs. Discipling
This is an important and helpful distinction in working with younger Christians. Shepherding and discipling differ in three key areas:
Both of these ministries are critical to help young Christians move forward in their relationship with Christ. The leader must model the importance of shepherding. An excellent time for this includes after home group meetings where we would be less likely to fellowship with people we disciple, and more likely with people who need shepherding.
Why is shepherding so important?:
Avoid committing to a discipleship relationship with someone you should just be shepherding. Don't say "yes" just because someone asks you to disciple them. Instead, shepherd them in love and prayerfully watch their lives. Without being perfectionistic, prayerfully consider the following questions:
If the answers to these questions are basically yes, then we need to be willing to get in there with them even if they have rough edges.
Some people will have qualities that are more irritating to us that tend to disqualify them in our minds (complainers, divisive, arguers, passive, self-centered).
Beware of OUR own tendencies to be overly critical or non-discerning.
Prayer is an essential precursor to effective discipling.
Solicit the input of other mature workers before committing to a discipling relationship.
If the answers to these are basically no, be wary of committing to a discipling relationship even if they are attractive in other areas (gifting, personal charisma, winner in the world, they like the same hobbies you like, etc.)
We will not find someone is all good or all bad, there will be a mix. Be skeptical, but not overly negative on people. Direction of movement is more important than present state. Remember it is God who is at work Phil. 2:13; 1 Corinthians 3:7.
In addition to common meetings and social time, you should have a regular, weekly time set aside specifically for discipleship. Very few people can disciple others effectively "on the fly." At least one hour, preferably longer, and weekly is needed. Here are some things that make this time productive:
At the appropriate time, ask, "Who are you discipling/investing in?" Most do not naturally gravitate toward this ministry; they need to be challenged. All they really need is the commitment to be consistent with someone and be a step ahead of them. If they are busy doing ministry they are effective in, ask them how they are discipling others in that ministry.
Help them in their discipleship work. This communicates how important this work is. Ask how it is going. Express genuine interest and excitement for any progress. Warn them and counsel them about the most common errors to avoid. Counsel them against tendencies toward overly controlling versus passivity, naive optimism versus negativity, etc.
You will need to decide which of these elements to emphasize according to a number of variables (urgent needs or opportunities, maturity of the disciple, considering if the circumstances are right you might be ready to admonish and realize the time isnt right, what you talked about recently, beware of your own tendencies, understand their personality and how it should be approached, etc.). We need to not only prepare, we need to be ready and able to respond on the spot. 2 Timothy 4:2b be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
As you develop as a discipler, you will have more than one person at different stages of spiritual growth sanctification and ministry development.
Conclusion: The benefits of doing discipleship
3 John 1:4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. 1 Thessalonians 2:19,20.