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Note from the editor: This blog post by Jeremy Carr originally appeared here at The Resurgence on July 22, 2013.

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Jesus uses Scripture to unravel our misconceptions of discipleship and center us on him, propelling us into true disciple-making.

“You don’t value discipleship.”

That’s what a young man told me recently as he sat down to inform me of his intention to begin looking for another church.

He explained that over the years at our church, he had grown in his faith and in his relationships in community, but that for this next season he needed “more discipleship.” The conversation progressed from criticisms of our discipleship method to the summary accusation “you don’t value discipleship.”

No pastor or church planter wants to hear this. After all, our prime motivation in church planting is to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:16-20). The Great Commission fuels our methods of discipleship. In my case, this young man was someone I had personally invested in for many years.

DO YOU VALUE DISCIPLESHIP?

His accusation left me with the question: Do you value discipleship? As I evaluated my personal discipling of others and our church’s discipleship method, I was reminded of the story in Mark 7:1-13. Jesus is confronted by a group of Pharisees who question certain practices. They refer to “the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:35) and “many other traditions” (Mark 7:4), equating their oral law with the authority of the written Law.

Our prime motivation in church planting is to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:16-20). The Great Commission fuels our methods of discipleship.

In so doing, the Pharisees were promoting cultural traditionalism at the expense of extending the gift of God’s word. Moreover, they question Jesus on his method of discipleship: “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders?” (Mark 7:5). In essence, they were accusing Jesus of not valuing discipleship.

DISCIPLING BY THE BOOK

When questioned on his discipleship method, Jesus quotes Isaiah and Exodus, packing a one-two punch of Prophet and Law. He draws the Pharisees’ attention back to Scripture, displaying the Scripture’s role in discipleship as supreme over their religious traditions. The Book of Mark, like all the Gospels, reveals for us the truth that Jesus himself fulfills the Old Testament prophecies and meets the Law’s demands on our behalf. Furthermore, Jesus states, “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45).

The resurrected Jesus then charges his disciples, who are “witnesses of these things,” with the mission that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47-48). Jesus uses Scripture to unravel our misconceptions of discipleship and center us on him, propelling us into true disciple-making.

JESUS VALUES DISCIPLES

Jesus did not die for your method of discipleship. Jesus died for disciples. He did not come to shape people into methodological conformity. He came to rescue us by his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension so that we may be transformed to be like him.

Jesus did not die for your method of discipleship. Jesus died for disciples.

With this in mind, I said farewell to this young man because I realized he had different needs for his season of life. I chose to value him as a disciple more than I valued his discipleship. Trusting the Holy Spirit’s work in and through this young man, I can rest assured that his identity as a disciple is not compromised by his transition to a different context for discipleship.

Scripture reveals the good news of Jesus. This good news shapes how we love, serve, and teach others as disciples making disciples. Rather than asking, “Do you value discipleship?” perhaps we should ask, “Do you value disciples?” How we answer this question will shape our approach to discipleship, calling people to Jesus, unpacking the truths of Scripture, and providing the environment for the Holy Spirit to shape them and empower them for obedience.

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Jeremy Carr (M.Div, Th.M) is lead teaching pastor and co-founding elder of Redemption Church, an Acts 29 church in Augusta, GA. He is author of the book Sound Words: Listening to the Scriptures.

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Note from the editor: This excerpt by Joe Thorn originally appeared here at JOETHORN.NET on August 22, 2007.

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As we are developing ministries for our new church in the Chicago suburbs we are starting from scratch. From leadership development, to worship, to mercy ministries, to discipleship we are not buying pre-packaged material or simply using someone else’s system. There are a lot of reasons for this that I will get into later, but one of the things I have been thinking a lot about is the issue of making disciples.

For many Christians, the idea of making disciples boils down to a kind of intellectual development. I have been a part of churches that considered themselves “strong in discipleship” which meant they took theology seriously and taught their members everything from the nature of God, to the ordo salutis. While I believe this is a foundational component of discipleship, it is not the whole. And even when this emphasis on doctrine is present, there is often a disconnect between theology and experience; between knowing and doing. This obviously is not true of every church that emphasizes doctrine, but it is a common problem. The reality, of course, is that doctrine is necessarily connected to what we do and feel.

Dr. Richard Pratt teaches that our theology should establish orthodoxy (the truth about God and the gospel), orthopraxy (a life lived in harmony with God’s law) and orthopathos (religious affections). Others have said that the aim of theology is doxology, or worship. These are helpful and biblical ways of explaining the connection between Christian thinking, doing and feeling. How does this connect to making disciples? We cannot make disciples apart from teaching sound doctrine, but simple indoctrination is not enough. Our theology should give life to godly living and real affection. Jesus makes it very clear that discipleship is more than what we know. His disciples are those who know the truth, love genuinely and live obediently (Jn 8:31; 14:18-24; 13:34-35).

But how do we go about making disciples? I would suggest three simple principles.

1. Instruction. God has given us his word, which is the tool by which the Holy Spirit sanctifies us (Jn. 17:17, 2 Thess. 2:13). From preaching in the puplit, to the the class room, to small groups, and informal discussions with believers who can guide others on their way, instruction is a foundational element in making disciples. Theological instruction is fundamental to this task, as are instructions in keeping the commands of Jesus. A better understanding of theology will always produce a greater fervency in love and obedience. To make disciples we must teach. This is one of the primary tasks of our pastors/elders, but is also, in different ways, the responsibility of every Christian.

2. Observation. One of the more critical, and yet overlooked aspects of making disciples is that following Christ must be modeled. It cannot be fully taught theoretically. It is not enough to see one another merely in the church-classroom context to amass a knowledge base. We must see one another in the context of real life, where joy and sorrow, fear and courage, faith and failure can be seen. Paul spoke of the value of learning through the observation of the godly when he said,

You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 1 Thess. 1:5-7

Making disciples demands that we get involved in each others’ lives, and allow people to see us work through life, ministry and faith. Opportunities for this will only be available as we intentionally create them. Just today I read an interview with Pastor Josh Harris on his blog abut his experience being discipled by CJ Mahaney. There he said,

CJ brought me into his life. So many things can’t be passed on through a book or a sermon. They have to be seen. They have to be modeled. Living with CJ’s family for over a year gave me an up-close look at his faithfulness as a husband and father. I witnessed his purposefulness in every situation. I learned from him the importance of taking initiative. How leading was serving and it required a willingness to expend energy and set direction for others to follow. CJ spent time with me. (Read the whole thing, it’s fantastic.)

3. Practice. Just like with almost anything, we need to practice. To learn anything new requires us to work it out practically. Making disciples demands that we provide opportunities to get out to work, serve, and sacrifice, or to stay in to pray and fast. Consider the commands of Jesus. They encompass belief and behavior in private and public matters. They relate to work inside the church and outside of it. A church that is serious about discipleship will create the contexts in which Christians can practice, or work out, their faith.

It should be clear that making disciples is something that can only happen within the church. Sure, it is possible to grow in our understanding of theology apart from a church. And one can find opportunities to serve without belonging to a particular fellowship. But this is less about making disciples and more about some kind of personal development. Discipleship is not about doing for one’s self, but following another. And outside of the local church discipleship will fall short because of the absence of covenant and authority. Ligon Duncan recently wrote a post on the T4G blog titled, “The Local Church, the place Jesus chose for discipleship.” In it he wrote,

Jesus wants us to be discipled in the context of the believing community where the vows of baptism are taken and where a whole fellowship of Christians is committed to mutual encouragement and accountability…

Making disciples must happen in the church because we need a community that is not only agreed on the gospel, but has covenanted together and can hold one another accountable for our confession and our conduct. If church discipline cannot be practiced, discipleship will necessarily be weakened.

Discipleship should be active and largely intentional, but not all of it needs to be rehearsed. Instruction, observation and practice should happen through both formal teaching, and informal experiences. For this to be a reality, the church has to become more than the place where we sing and listen to preaching together. It must be the family we are adopted into that shares the greater goal of loving God and neighbor.

Do you have a plan to make disciples at your church?

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Joe is the founding and Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL, and the author of Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself (Crossway/ReLit) and Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God (Crossway, 2015). He was a contributor to The Story ESV Bible and The Mission of God Study Bible.

Note from the editor: This blog post by Godwin Sathianathan originally appeared here at The Gospel Coalition on February 26, 2013.

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I owe a significant debt to four men and three churches who, over the years, became my spiritual fathers and families. These wonderful people walked alongside me through troubling and joyful times. They prayed with me, mentored me, and laughed with me. They celebrated my victories and wept with me when my dad unexpectedly died. They counseled me when I began to explore pastoral ministry and spoke the Word to me when I became discouraged. They reminded me not to take myself too seriously, and they lovingly pointed out sin in my life. God only knows where I’d be and who I’d be without his grace working through them.

Today I am a pastor and long for my church to grow in this kind of intentional disciple-making. Discipleship at its core is the process of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. That sounds simple. But what does it actually look like? And how do pastors lead their churches in discipleship? A good place to begin is Jesus’ last words to his disciples: “go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . and teaching them” (Matt 28:19-20). Three contours of discipleship culture emerge from this passage.

Clarifying the Contours of Discipleship

1. Disciple-making is an intentional process of evangelizing non-believers, establishing believers in the faith, and equipping leaders. 

“Make disciples” implies intentionality and process. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen because a church exists and people show up. It is a deliberate process. Considering the modifying participles of “going . . . baptizing . . . teaching” help us recognize this process. It must include evangelizing (going to new people and new places), establishing (baptizing new believers and teaching obedience), and equipping (teaching believers to also make disciples). How does your church evangelize, establish, and equip?    

2. Disciple-making happens in the context of a local church

It’s a community project, not just a personal pursuit. And that community must be the local church, because Jesus has given her unique authority to preach the gospel, baptize believers into faith and church membership, and teach obedience to Jesus. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen in coffee shops and living rooms. It also happens in the sanctuary where the Word is sung, prayed, read, preached, and displayed through communion and baptism. Jesus didn’t have in mind maverick disciple-makers; he had in mind a community of believers who, together and under the authority of the local church, seek to transfer the faith to the next generation. Does your church view disciple-making within the context of the church, or only as a solo endeavor?

3. Disciple-making is Word-centered, people-to-people ministry. 

When Jesus said “make disciples” we cannot help but remember how he made disciples: three years of teaching twelve men on the dusty road. Disciple-making, then, is the Word of God shaping men and women within life-on-life relationships. It’s demonstrated in Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonian church: “being so affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8). This is gospel-driven, Word-saturated, intentional one-anothering. It is men and women regularly teaching one another to obey what Jesus commanded. And it goes well beyond watching football and having inside jokes with Christian friends. How would you evaluate your church’s Word-centered people-to-people ministry?

Creating a Culture of Discipleship

If these three contours are essential ingredients for a discipleship culture, how do pastors lead their churches in growing that culture? Here are seven ways:

1. Preach disciple-making sermons. Pastors are not called to preach convert-making sermons or scholar-making sermons. They are called to preach disciple-making sermons. This means that they must craft sermons that will evangelize, establish, and equip. This means that they are teachers, pleaders, and coaches from behind the pulpit. Sermons also disciple through modeling careful exegesis, keen application, and prayerful responses to the passage. After we preach, congregants should understand and feel the text at such a level that they long to be more obedient disciples.

2. Shape disciple-making worship services.

Every church has a liturgy, whether you call it that or not, and every liturgy leads the people somewhere or disciples the people toward something. The question is where. The non-sermon elements of a worship service—songs, prayers, scripture reading, testimonies, and tone—contribute to the formative discipling of your congregation. Does your worship service lead people in thanksgiving for God’s gifts and goodness? Does it disciple people in confession and repentance? Is there an element in your worship service that offers assurance of salvation? Does your service lead people in celebrating our future hope? Thinking through these components with your worship director will strengthen your disciple-making services.

3. Invest in a few disciple-makers.

We’ve heard it before, but let me say it again: Jesus and Paul ask their disciples to invest in a few who will in turn invest in others (Matt. 28:18-192 Tim 2:2). Pastors, choose a few men you can pour your life into and intentionally disciple for a period of time. Create a simple but effective format to accomplish this task. For example, meet with a few men twice a month to discuss sections of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, confess sin, and pray for one another. Keep it relational. At the end of your time together, ask each man to choose a few men with whom he can do the same. The benefits are manifold. You are obeying Jesus’ disciple-making command, you are cultivating a disciple-making culture through strategic multiplication, and you are investing in those who may become your future elders.     

4. Make small group Bible studies central to your disciple-making strategy

Many churches offer small groups like a side item at the buffet, but few offer it as a main course. While Sunday school and other teaching venues certainly disciple people, small group Bible studies are unique in that they achieve multiple discipleship goals. After your corporate worship gathering, consider making small groups ministry your next priority. This means identifying and training mature leaders to shepherd and disciple their members. It also means providing a clear vision for your small groups ministry. For example, our church asks our groups to commit to three disciple-making values: Bible, community, and mission.

5. Raise the bar of church membership

Unfortunately many Christians don’t realize that joining a church is a vital step of discipleship. When you join a church, you are not joining a social club; you are publicly declaring your faith in Jesus and joining yourself to a group of Christians in life and mission. In view of this, pastors should view membership as discipleship and accordingly bolster their membership process and expectations. Instead of making it easy to join your church, make the process more involved. Get your elders teaching multiple sessions on the gospel, central doctrines, the importance of church membership, and your church’s operating convictions (baptism, for example). Broach tough subjects such as divorce and past church history during membership interviews. Finally, ensure membership actually means something for members. What unique privileges, roles, and responsibilities do members have in your church? Are your members actually joined together in Word-centered people-to-people ministry, as they promised when they became members?          

6. Confront sin and practice church discipline. 

Like church membership, discipline is neglected by some churches. Much like encouragement and affirmation are key components of disciple-making, so too are exhortation, confrontation, and if necessary more elevated measures of corrective discipline. God uses all of the above to make disciples and protect disciples within local churches.

7. Read disciple-making books with your leadership. 

Let me recommend four books for your disciple-making arsenal. The Trellis and the Vine by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall outlines a practical vision for disciple-making. One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm will equip you with the motivation and tools to read the Bible regularly with others. Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman is the best lay-level book on the subject I’ve read and will help you understand how membership rightly practiced is discipleship. And The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer calls elders to lead the way in disciple-making.  

Growing a disciple-making culture at your church might sound daunting. It’s hard enough to make disciples within a small group Bible study, but a church with all its complexities, systems, and baggage? Yikes. Here’s a piece of advice: start small, keep it simple, and focus on areas where a little investment will go a long way. For example, you may want to invest in a few who will do the same with others. Start with your elders. Or perhaps you want to focus on ramping up your small groups ministry. Start by training your current and new leaders around key biblical values that encapsulate discipleship.

Whatever you decide to do, may you find tremendous energy and courage to make disciples from the bookends of the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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Godwin Sathianathan earned an M.Div. with emphases in Pastoral and New Testament studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and is an associate pastor at South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, Massachusetts.

The below excerpt is from Pastor David’s book, Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live (88-90).

Following Jesus necessitates believing Jesus, and believing Jesus leads to proclaiming Jesus. Consequently, a privatized faith in a resurrected Christ is practically inconceivable. Yet privatized Christianity is a curse across our culture and the church today.

Multitudes of professing Christians say (or at least think), “Jesus has saved me. Jesus’ teachings work for me. But who am I to to tell other people what they should believe? Who am I to tell others that their belief is wrong and my belief is right? Even more, who am I to tell them that if they don’t believe in what I believe, they will spend forever in hell?”

I completely understand this feeling. I remember standing one day in a sea of people in northern India. If you’ve never been to India, just think people. Lots and lots and lots of people. Approximately 1.2 billion of them, to be precise, over 600 million of whom live in northern India. Crowded streets and urban slums are surrounded by seemingly endless villages that span the countryside. Economic disparity runs rampant as more people live below the poverty line in India than the entire population of the United States put together.

But India’s poverty is not merely physical; it’s spiritual, as well. The church partners with whom we work in India estimate that approximately 0.5 percent of the people in northern India are Christians. In other words, 99.5 percent of the people in northern India have not believed in Christ for salvation.

Knowing this, I looked around me one day in that crowded sea of people and thought to myself, Who am I to travel all the way over here to tell these people what they need to believe? Who am I to tell them that all of their gods are false, whether they’re Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, or any other gods, because Jesus is the only true God? And who am I to tell 597 million non-Christians who surround me at this moment that if they do not turn from their sin and trust in Jesus, every one of them will spend eternity in hell?

It felt extremely arrogant, completely unloving, and uncomfortably brash to claim that 597 million Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs around me at that moment would go to hell if they didn’t trust in Jesus. And absolutely, such a claim would be arrogant, unloving, and brash–unless it is true.

If Jesus were just another religious teacher on the landscape of human history, offering his thoughts and opinions regarding how people should live, then it would definitely be arrogant, unloving, and outright foolish for me (or anyone else) to travel around the world telling people they need to either follow Jesus or face hell. But Jesus is indeed more than just another religious teacher, and Jesus is indeed the resurrected God, Savior, and King who alone has paid the price for sinners and paved the way for everlasting salvation, so telling people everywhere about Jesus is the only thing that makes sense. It is the height of arrogance to sit silent while 597 million Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs go to hell. It is the epitome of hate to not sacrifice your very life to spread this Good News among every person you know and every people group on the planet.