1) The generally accepted definition of “discipleship” is distorted.
Generally speaking, in the Christian community the term “discipleship” has become synonymous with “teaching”. Thus anyone who “teaches” is thought by many to be fulfilling the mandate to “make disciples”.
Biblical discipleship carries the thought of a deeper interaction between the discipler and the believer being discipled than that of simply teaching. While teaching is a crucial component of the discipleship process, discipleship needs to be understood to comprise other essential components as well.
The typical practice of group teaching requires little or no interaction, since many times one person spends an entire session speaking, while others spend the entire session listening. We would not want to imply that there always has to be a dialog between the speaker and listeners. However, for a believer to mature as a disciple (apprentice), he must be given opportunities to express and discuss unique needs and understanding. In other words, discipleship needs to be redefined to include the idea of “spiritual parenting”, “spiritual tutoring” or “spiritual mentoring”.
The apostle Paul’s example of Biblical discipleship, as described in Lesson 2-2, should be compared with the current typical pattern of church practice.
2) There is an attempt to develop “teachers” rather than “disciplers”.
A by-product of the common misconception of how to define Biblical discipleship (point 1 above) is a tendency to focus special attention on believers who seem to have a “gift” for teaching. Since teaching is a gift of the Spirit*, we must conclude that most believers will not have the gift of teaching.
But “discipling” is not a gift. Therefore, while we should only expect a few believers to become teachers, almost all believers should be seen as potential disciplers.
If asked, very few believers would say their gift is teaching. Let’s be generous and say that 10% of believers are gifted in teaching. Then how are the other 90% supposed to minister?
Many believers if asked would respond by saying their gift is “to serve”, which can mean anything from serving meals at a homeless shelter to painting a widow’s house to innumerable other means of “serving”. By no means do we want to imply that these “services” are not good things.
We propose to redefine “discipleship”. God designed a system of multiplication whereby humans have populated the earth. We think it is sad and unusual if a married couple is incapable of having children, yet there is little surprise in most churches when typical believers are not parenting spiritual children (making disciples).
Romans 12:4-8 Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the standard of one’s faith; if service, in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
1 Corinthians 12:28-29 And God has placed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all do miracles?
James 3:1 Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.
3) To influence many people simultaneously is generally considered the preferred method. Personal one-on-one discipleship appears too time-consuming, energy consuming, and inefficient.
Consider that the Biblical method of multiplication is much more productive over the long term. This is very important, because the seeming short-term ineffectiveness of personal discipleship has led many to the illusion that it really is not the best method.
Many Christian leaders measure success by numbers. We believe this is one of the reasons there is such an emphasis in the Christian community to hold events and activities, which give the impression of short-term success if attendance is the measure.
Church Growth through Spiritual Multiplication
(rather than just considering “addition”)
Number of “Converts”
Number of “Disciples”
The figures in the left column represent the number of converts if a Christian were able to win one person to Christ each and every day of the year.
The figures in the right column represent the number of fruitful disciples, if each Christian was faithful during each 6 month period to mentor just one new convert to a level of spiritual maturity, so that Christian could be used by the Lord to, in turn, mentor another convert.
The figures in the right column are less impressive at the beginning, because growth takes time but it has a much greater long-term benefit.
2 Timothy 2:2 And what you (Timothy) have heard from me (Paul) in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
4) Most believers consider themselves inadequately trained, or ungifted
The Problem: A Typical Modern Church Congregation
- Followers typically don’t feel they are adequately qualified to disciple new believers and often believe it’s the role of the Leaders.
- Pastors / Leaders are perceived to be trained to disciple others, but don’t have the necessary time to devote individually to each new believer.
- Pastors / Leaders are doing their job supporting the church.
- Followers typically are OK with this model even though the problem leads to an anemic Church.
The Solution: Implement a Better Model
Ephesians 4:11-16 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.”
- The role of Church Leaders is to “equip the saints” to disciple / spiritually mentor others. This can be done in corporate training sessions and modeled in one-in-one relationships.
- The role of the “saints” / followers is to have a surrendered attitude and a learner’s disposition to be trained to mentor others.
- The result should be personal discipleship / one-on-one mentoring as the norm rather than the exception. The expectation is that every believer is in the process of being mentored or mentoring others.
The ultimate goal is spiritual maturity, spiritual fruitfulness, and spiritual reproduction, which leads to church growth through multiplication.
Is a Spiritual Gift Required to Disciple?
MISCONCEPTION: There is a common misconception that the average Christian cannot effectively mentor another Christian unless they are “spiritually gifted”. Is there a scriptural basis for that belief? We don't think so.
Most Christians correctly believe that they should be available to the Lord for the purpose of being a witness to the unsaved, even though there is not a “witnessing” gift. Likewise, there is not a “discipling” gift.
This misconception can be a convenient rationale to excuse the lack of discipleship, but it has no scriptural basis. Church leadership ought to convey to congregations that every Christian should be available to the Holy Spirit as a witness and a spiritual mentor.
- God has not intended for every believer to be gifted as an “evangelist”.
Ephesians 4:11 And He personally gave … some evangelists,…
- But God has intended for every believer to be available to Him as a “witness” (not a spiritual gift.)
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses …
1 Peter 3:15 but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
- God has not intended for every believer to be gifted as a “teacher”.
Ephesians 4:11 And He personally gave … some pastors and teachers
Romans 12:6-8 According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: … if teaching, in teaching;…
- But God has intended for every believer to be available to Him as a “discipler” (that is, a spiritual parent or spiritual mentor), not a spiritual gift.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-13 … instead we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother nurtures her own children. … like a father with his own children, we encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you …
John 12:24-26 I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.…
Matthew 28:18-20 (Command to the Church) Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
Both the command to be witnesses, as well as the command to make disciples, were given to the Church at large, not just to those that were physically present at the time.
Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember,I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
5) The practice of mentoring, or spiritual parenting, is not being modeled by many older believers.
The typical newer believer will imitate older believers who they look up to, or with whom they associate. Thus every believer is a role model for other believers, even if they don’t want to be.
6) “Personal discipleship” (spiritual parenting/mentoring) is not promoted and modeled by the leadership in many churches.
I Peter 5:1-3 [leaders are told] … I exhort the elders among you: Shepherd God’s flock among you, … not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
Leaders are not just to tell people what to do, but rather, show them what to do. Can Christian leaders realistically expect followers to imitate what they themselves are not modeling (by example)?
7) There is an assumption by many that the appropriation of biblical knowledge by itself will lead to spiritual maturity. (See Lesson 2-2 for detailed discussion)
8) The church community typically focuses on making converts rather than making disciples.
Jesus, in giving us the Great Commission (Mattnew 28:19-20), said to go into all the world and make disciples, not just converts.
How do we distinguish between a “disciple” and a “non-disciple”?
We believe it is true that not all believers are disciples, from the Biblical standpoint.
What then is a proper definition of the term “disciple?” We believe it will help us to consider a disciple to be an “apprentice.” (See also Lesson 2-4)
Luke 6:40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Therefore, a disciple is one who is becoming LIKE Jesus -- not just knowing more ABOUT Jesus.
9) Many believers are reluctant to make a commitment that they perceive may interfere with or limit their lifestyle or plans.
10) Biblical truth is often presented in isolated (topical) form, without a good understanding of how it fits into the Christian life as a whole. This leads to the believer’s life becoming compartmentalized.
Imagine you’re watching a presentation of a project, a medical procedure” or someone’s family vacation. You would normally expect the presentation to begin with an “objective”, or an “overview”, and then proceed in a progressive and sequential manner.
But what if the order of the presentation was random? The presenter would be able to explain each individual picture, but would generally have difficulty presenting a progressive narrative. The more complicated the material and the greater the unfamiliarity of the viewer, the more difficult it would be to try to make sense out of the presentation.
Many times the Christian life is presented in a similar random order. Thus the newer believer may have a difficult time trying to fit the isolated pieces together in a sensible way. That is why we recommend that the mentoring relationship begin with a visual overview, Lesson 1-1, followed by a progressive and systematic presentation of living the “Normal Christian Life”, the balance of Phase 1.
It Is Helpful to Progressively Present Concepts in the Order in Which They are Typically Needed by the New Christian
(Read from bottom to top)
Note: The above sequence is meant to serve as a “guide”, not as a strict order of presentation.
CAUTION: Lesson 2-1 is not intended to promote a critical, or judgmental attitude, but rather to identify areas of spiritual need, in order to prayerfully seek God’s solutions.