Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Need for Discipleship

"And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem." 

(Acts 6:7, ESV)

Somewhere along the way, Shepherds and Sheep have both alike forgotten the Great Commission. If the great commission is not forgotten entirely in churches today, it seems that the latter half is ignored. Granted, some churches take seriously the command to evangelize the unconverted but that is where the command seems to be overlooked. 

It has been my experience in the circles that I have "run in," that most church growth today is by "transfer." In other words, many churches are seemingly "growing" but at what expense? We seem to have a large population of "consumers" shopping for churches that promise to do at least three (3) things:
  • meet all of their "felt" needs. People today seem to be "needier" and have come to expect if not demand churches to meet these perceived needs. The overall entitlement mentality of society seems to have crept into the "evangelical" church today. So "Christian Consumers" shop for churches that have the type of programs, interests, and things that they demand in order to be satisfied.
  • keep and hold their attention through short, storied filled, "good to the last drop-Maxwell House" sermonettes geared to assure them that they are OK. Entertainment has been on the upswing for nearly 20 + years. We are seeing more and more advertisements for churches who now have skits, plays, dramas, musical, and dance routines in place of preaching or teaching.
  • do not harbor any expectation of involvement, participation, accountability, or push for forward movement in Spiritual growth. Many "Christians" today are opting to be lost or hidden in the crowd rather than being an integral part of the spiritual growth and health of the local church.
The problem with this is at least four (4) fold:
  • Congregations may grow in numbers but believers remain infants or toddlers in their Christian knowledge and growth. We seem to know a lot about Jesus, namely is name, birth-place, occupation, ministry, etc., sadly, fewer and fewer believers truly know Him intimately.
  • Filled with such spiritual infantilism or dwarfism, believers have no concept of a sovereign, holy, God who has designed believers for His glory. They do not know solid biblical doctrine, they are susceptible to false teaching, and they are unable to gain victory over sin.
  • We are not developing future leaders and workers based on a biblical strategy, but we are building upon a pragmatic and worldly model that is choking out the Holy Spirit from our churches. Rather than Shepherds we are now seeing churches develop CEO's and business entrepreneurs.
  • we are expecting the pastors to do all the work of the ministry. We are gauging the barometer of "success" of the church based on all that the pastor (s) are accomplishing. What is the average "Christian" doing? They are coming to watch the show, to enjoy the show, and to be entertained as the watch and see how many "plates" the pastor can keep spinning at the same time. We are leaving the work of the ministry to the pastor rather than demanding and expecting the pastor to equip the body to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16)
The church is to be busy developing men and women within its constituency to be able to handle the spiritual duties and problems that arise in the local church. Average Joe and Jill's are to be developed through biblical discipleship to evangelize, counsel, train, disciple, confront, and/or minister to those around them. We need to go back to the pattern of the New Testament and disciple people who know how to explain the gospel clearly and accurately, and then take that person from conversion helping them to become a solid, dedicated, committed, fruitful, and mature believer who in time could repeat that process themselves.

Believers need to be taught a number of things. New believers need to be taught at least four (4) basic things in order to grow spiritual and mature.
  • They need to be taught how to effectively read the bible for themselves.
  • They need to be taught how to effectively study the bible for themselves.
  • They need to be taught how to memorize scripture regularly.
  • They need to be taught how to effectively and fervently pray.
Please take note that this is not all new converts need to be taught in order to become disciples of Jesus Christ. There are some 30 topics that need to be taught in order to develop and mature and individual from convert through discipleship to mature disciple. We will discuss those in future posts. Be advised that to disciple a convert to maturity is approximately a two to three year process. Quite possible this is why most churches don't "disciple." 

I remember a former pastor of mine in my early days of being a Christian state repeatedly, how foolish and unwarranted discipleship ministries were. He would state rather loudly (I think foolish) that if you wanted to be discipled to show up at 11:00 AM on Sunday mornings at his preaching service for all that you need. I submit to you that a sermon or two a week will not mature a believer, nor will it make a disciple.

Today's post is not the time to fully discuss why we don't do this and why discipleship has fallen on such hard times. Suffice it to say that it takes work, old-fashioned, roll-up your sleeves, and get your hands dirty work. You must, in order to be effective, spend great amounts of quality time with the individual that you are discipling.

My prayer for today is that God would again raise up an army of individuals in the church who are discipling one or two individuals helping them grow and mature until they are able to do the same. May God again remind us that it is not mass-evangelism, mega-churches, entertainment, super-duper communicators, spiritual CEO's and programs that will train and develop people. It is basic biblical boot-camp called discipleship.


30 Days of Thanksgiving

I am thankful for God's provision when it is absolutely needed. I thank God for supplying the funds supernaturally for the repair of our car. Thank You Lord!

Happy Birthday (235 yrs old) to the United States Marine Corps! The Marine Corps was born November 10, 1775 in Tuns Tavern, Philadelphia, PA. Captain Samuel Nicholas formed two battalions of Continental Marines for naval infantry.


Seams Inspired said...

Great post, Gregg! While I agree with what you say, I have a question for you. In this contemporary world, how do you reach those who believe the message of Christ is, hmmm...un-contemporary (or old/outdated)?

As someone who did not grow up in an evangelical environment, I'm interested in how to implement discipleship in my own life, as well as my children's lives. We're in the middle of a 'church search.' Please keep us in prayer that God will lead us where He wants us to grow in Him. Happy Wednesday! :o)

Greg Smith said...

Well said! No short cuts, no magic method... all about us investing ourselves in others. May the HS enable us to recognize a "Timothy" when we are granted one and to make him (her) our priority...


Hello Brother Gregg

I've been involved in evangelism and discipleship for over 30 years. I Often have discipled several small groups per year using E&D material from John MacArthur's church. At the end of any given year maybe 3 or 4 out of 40 to 50 would become productive church members and Christians who could stand on their own two feet in our evil society.

Many times I felt like I was wasting my time trying to disciple professors of Christ (unbelievers) and not processors. I finally came to the conclusion a few years ago that discipleship may not be my gift or the way I was taught to lead people to Christ was faulty. Probably a little bit of both??


Natalie said...

Hi Gregg
I praise the LORD for your insight and wisdom - I am in the process of using a simple structure to Make Disciples with 2 groups, which teaches all 4 of the elements you speak of. Engaging the disciple in Scripture, being our authority (read, understand and memorise) and then pray. However we teach to "obey" what God's Word has said to them by asking thinking questions on how to live to please God from what He has said in His Word, and who could they share with.

I am very interested in The "Old Geezer's" comments on after many faithful years of attempting to make disciples, believed that it may not be his gift or faulty teaching on how to lead.

"Old Geezer" I would like to believe that Jesus gave that Matt 28:18-20 commandment to all of us, and would be so grateful to learn from your experience as to what teaching would have given you more confidence in Disciple Making?

Gregg, perhaps you have some insight here

If you are willing, please email me on


Natalie said...

Thanks Gregg for that insightful response to Old Geezer.

Yes! Praise God for 3 or 4 more mature Christians because of Old Geezers love for them. Now just imagine if each of those were able to pour their lives into one other person to make disciples for Jesus, who in turn do the same, and so God's Kingdom on earth continues to grow the maths and let the multiplication begin....
Praying Old Geezer will we overwhelmed when he gets to heaven and sees what Our LORD did with his mustard seed of faith.

Anonymous said...

AMEN!! Wonderful post brother Gregg! Your first 4 points are so foundational in providing the impetus for new believers to pass the baton. When the church is merely pacifying worldly desires what is there worth sharing anyway? May we return to true Biblical discipleship.


Kansas Bob said...

I like the 4 basics Gregg. Sadly many churches see discipleship as a program rather than an organic means of growth. Consequentially these churches take the relational aspects out of discipleship and revert to classroom style of preaching and teaching. Jesus did it right when he discipled and mentored in a purposeful and relational way.