Disciple Making in the Local Church


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Introduction

            In 2015 Barna found that nine out of every ten Christians recognized that discipleship is important.[1] However, 52% of church leaders believed that the most effective method of discipleship is to be done individually.[2] The same study showed that when asking the congregation concerning how they prefer to be disciplined, the clear majority, 37%, preferred to be disciplined on their own.[3]

            These statistics are not only alarming but they are also showing the true condition and attitudes of the church towards discipleship and a diabolical trend to redefine, secularize and come up with new ideas of discipleship that are a far cry from the biblical mandate. The church is being exchanged for a social club and the church gathers for a service with no fellowship. Bible centered preaching and teaching is being exchanged for motivational style speaking: from focusing on Jesus to focusing on us, from the orthodoxy found in the teachings of the original apostles to whatever the next new thing and feel-good message is. The church is going after members in place of disciples; from teaching all that Jesus commands and how to abide in them to a couple of mid-week classes known as the “disciple classes” to explain the church’s basic beliefs.

            This paper is not advocating for the elimination of the institutionalized or mainstream church that meets in a building every Sunday. However, this paper will prove the impossibility of making disciples in that setting alone.

How Disciples are Made in the Context of the Local Church and a Christian Community.

            If this “thing” we call church does not find its way in our lives and in our homes, it will continue to embrace a great omission of discipleship and go without honoring the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. The lack of discipleship is an open door to the development of carnal Christians.[4] We are encouraged to set our minds on the things above (Spiritual Christians) not on the things of the earth (Carnal Christians).[5]

            Carnal and/or immature Christians placed in a position of authority in the church are a cancer the eats away any possibility of mature fruit to develop in our local churches. The first sign of such immaturity is the relying of extra biblical standards of authority: that is, placing our trust on a mere man, a tradition, an experience that can’t be confirmed in Scripture, relying on other documents, or even relying on Bible foot notes.[6]

            The church will never be able to effectively make disciples from a pulpit speaking to hundreds of people once or twice a week. When speaking of relational environments, Putman states that Jesus defined the methodology of discipleship by his own example. Jesus did not just stand in front of people teaching, he shared his life with twelve men. “He walked alongside people, having conversations with them through the normal course of each day, holding people accountable, and demonstrating spiritual truth to them directly.”[7]

            There are three irreplaceable elements in the process of discipleship according to Putman; it should be 1) Bible centered, 2) intentionally directing people to the goal of spiritual maturity and 3) a place where people can honestly talk about their lives and work out what it means to follow Jesus.[8] These elements can only flow in small groups. Furthermore, Putman give us well-defined key components in the making of disciples. 1) The importance of the Word of God as our guide and ruler of what is truth. 2) The importance of the Spirit of God as the only power that can produce change, and 3) the importance of the people of God, as discipleship cannot be done without relationship.[9] This is in total contrast to the statistics presented earlier where it seems that the church of today, leaders and the congregation, feels that discipleship can be done without each other.

The Role and Importance of the Local Church, Pastor, Saints, and Spiritual Gifts in God’s Plan for Being and Making Disciples

             A constant theme that is found through this class is the need for the local church to be proactive and intentional when it comes to discipleship. Discipleship is not going to just happen. Programs, curriculums and biblical fellowship must be aggressively incorporated. The Senior Pastor can’t accomplish this task alone, however, he is the leader and must be the one leading, allowing and creating an environment where discipleship may flourish. The saints must understand that going to church and sitting while observing a weekly service is not what the Lord intended. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. This thing we call the church is well defined in its purpose, its vision and its modus operandi.

What Should Be the Church’s Focus?

            The church rests in one revelation, “He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:15-16 (KJV) The focus in Christ!

What Should Be Our Vision?

            Our vision is found in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16). There is no other vision given to the church. Our vision is 1) to evangelize to the world, 2) to teach all that Jesus commands and 3) to teach how to abide in all that Jesus commands. Jesus gave us a summary of the whole law by telling us to love God above all things and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.[10] As we read through the red letters we see how this summary looks like. The Church MUST focus it’s teaching on these things. As it refers to the part that speaks about how to abide in these commands the church must come together as a family and be able to share each other’s lives for a practical application.

What is the Church’s Modus Operandi?

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42 KJV). There is no other formula; there is no other way. A church must 1) remain faithfully in the teachings of the apostles. The doctrine of the apostles is not a new Way; it flows directly out of the commands of Jesus. Jesus said it this way, “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31-32 (KJV) Our freedom depends on remaining in God’s Word (LOGOS). Jesus also said, as he quoted the Old Testament, “…Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 (KJV). The word here is Rhema, the revelation of the Logos. Our lives depend on this. We can’t take His Word (Logo/Rhema) lightly. 2) A church MUST have true fellowship, not just a Sunday Service. True fellowship involves the breaking of bread together. If we do not eat in each other’s homes, we are playing church; it is not real! We are not called to have services, we are called to have fellowship. 3) A Church MUST pray! Did Jesus not state that his house must be called a house of prayer?[11]

            Ultimately, every church must have a way to assess the people’s spiritual gifts and utilize those gifts for the edification of the body. It is indeed one body, with many parts; each one playing a vital role.[12] It is important to promote a healthy body.[13]

Conclusion

            Discipleship is the main responsibility of the church, it is the vision. Discipleship must be intentional and relational. There is no room for “Rambo Christians” in discipleship. The lack of discipleship is opening doors for many carnal Christians. We must change drastically and bring this thing we call church into our homes and small groups. The Word of God must be the center, the Holy Spirit essential and unity indispensable as the perfect ingredients for growth.

            Many of the leaders are simply wrong in promoting isolated discipleship. It is a lazy and irresponsible approach. We are not called to come up with a new focus, vision and/or modus operandi for the church. The answers are already very clearly established in Scripture. We did not advocate for the elimination of the institutionalized church, as we know it. Nevertheless, we did propose a radical change in our approach; the reality that if we do not bring the discipleship process into small groups, and better yet, into our own homes, and if we do not engage in true and meaningful fellowship, we will continue to see the amount of immature and untrained Christians growing in our local congregations. Disciple-making is our job; lets do it!

[1]           Barna Group, The State of Discipleship: Research conducted among Christian adults, church leaders, exemplar discipleship ministries and Christian educators, (Colorado Springs: The Navigators, 2015), 44

[2] Ibid., 49

[3] Ibid., 44

[4]           Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence, (Nashville: B&H Academic), 38

[5] Colossians 3:1-3

[6]           Greg Gibson, “Eight Signs of Immature, Carnal Christians

How to Mature from Following Men to Following Christ”, Battered Sheep, Accessed July 31, 2016, http://www.batteredsheep.com/carnal.html

[7]           Jim Putman & Bobbie Harrington, Discipleshift: Five Steps to Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Male Disciples, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 134

[8] Ibid., 135

[9] Ibid., 138-142

[10] Luke 10:27

[11] Matthew 21:13

[12]         Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence, 189-191

[13]Ibid., 191

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