Lesson 12 The Discipling Of The Church

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).

If the whole world repented of sins, believed in the Lord Jesus, was baptized and even added to the church, but then stopped with this, the full commission of Christ would still be unmet. How could such a statement be made? Because we would have halted short of the Lord’s command to make them all into His disciples, and teach them to observe or obey all that He commanded.

The faithful proclamation of the Gospel message is only the beginning of a process. Professions or decisions for Christ are not the final goal. Even when baptized and added to the church, converts often remain spectators rather than ministers of Christ. This leaves believers in a state of infancy or retarded development. The fact that so many churches have been described as a sea of mediocrity and carnality as to spiritual life is because of lack of development. This was the condition of the Corinthians (1 Cor 3:1-3) as well as some among the Jewish converts (Heb. 5:12-14). Often believers have heard clear challenges to live a life of victory and fruitfulness but have neglected to respond. They lag behind in their path to a higher calling in life and neglect to grow. Their numbers are great enough so that they dictate the spiritual tone and lifestyle of those churches. Their lives do not conform to the will of the Lord. They may persecute or criticize those who seek to arouse them to greater progress.

The Apostle Paul caught the true vision of God’s purpose for us to admonish every man and teach every man, with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ (Col. 1:28). The most common invitation of the Lord Jesus to His audience was “Follow Me.” It was a life to be lived on earth, not a ticket to Heaven. It is God’s will that His people be part of a congregation of obedient disciples or true followers. Discipling is an activity to be carried on within the local church.

If it is God’s will for the church to devote its energies to making genuine disciples, then what is the plan to achieve this? What is the degree of the commitment of the leaders to this idea? Are any of the leaders willing to be personally involved? These questions deserve consideration.

What Is A Disciple?

The meaning of the word disciple is learner. In practical usage it had the clear idea of one who followed a certain teacher. Such learners listened, imitated and obeyed their chosen leader. They helped spread his teachings. No person would be considered a disciple who only mentally agreed with some of his teacher’s ideas, but failed to practice them.

The word was not unique to the followers of Jesus. There were those who claimed to be Moses’ disciples (John 9:28) or John the Baptist’s disciples (Matt. 9:14). The fact that they made the claim did not mean that it was true. With reference to Christ, disciple was another word for those who believed in Him (Acts 6:1-2). However, the Lord noted those who were disciples indeed, or true disciples (John 8:31). This meant that they lived up to their name. The Scripture tells of those who claimed to be disciples but turned away (John 6:66). Although the word is used of believers generally, true or false, and of the twelve apostles, this discussion is about genuine disciples. That is what the Lord had in mind when he addressed the multitudes and invited them to follow Him (Luke 14:25-26).

When we invite people to follow the Lord Jesus we should call them to a path of discipleship. Such a life is voluntary. We should not pressure anyone, just as the Lord did not attempt to coerce people. In the light of Matthew 28:20 we should do more than invite people to know about the Lord, or even just to know the Lord. We should invite them, as He did, to observe or obey all that He commanded. Ideally the church should be a fellowship of disciples, not a warehouse of listeners or service attenders. Our purpose is to see spectators transformed into holy, devoted worshipers who are walking and working together with Christ (2 Cor. 6:1).

Requirements For Development Of Disciples

Doctrine can be taught to groups, but discipling must be done one-on-one. The two aspects can be separated functionally, but both really should occur at the same time. Discipling requires response or action, while doctrinal teaching often takes place in general groups where this does not happen. It is possible to teach the basic principles that are necessary for making disciples in a few hours. However, it is difficult to establish these principles in people’s lives without much personal attention over an extended period of time. Good discipling is a slow work. When it is not done to a high standard of quality, it produces poor results. Here are some important factors.

1. What The Discipler Should Be

We must be developed in our own character before we have anything worthwhile to share with others. Jesus must be our Lord. We must be subject to Him in every area of our lives, without any conscious reservations. We are not speaking about human perfection, but about true sincerity and an evident progress in our Christian walk.

In doctrinal knowledge and fundamental practices we should have:

A. A good understanding of the Gospel, and the ability to explain it to others.

B. An ability to give a clear testimony; and to live the life which corresponds to our profession of being a follower of the Lord Jesus.

C. A consistent devotional time with God. This includes effective personal application of the Word and a systematic prayer life.

D. Effective dealings with temptation.

E. “Sharing” our faith (witnessing) regularly.

F. An active fellowship in a local church.

G. An ability to work with other believers in harmony (teamwork).

H. Freedom from serious character defects which would impair our service or relationships with others.

2. What The Disciple Should Be

It is important that we pray before agreeing to disciple anyone (Luke 6:12-13). Any person that we choose ought to have a sincere desire to grow in their Christian life and service. He should be faithful (dependable), available (time for regular meetings) and teachable (eager to learn whatever we have to share). There is no inferiority involved in learning anything another person can teach us that is profitable. Some other considerations are :

A. One should be yielded without any reservation, to the Lordship of Christ.

B. One should give a clear testimony, with assurance of salvation, that is consistent with his spiritual life.

C. One should be at a reasonable level of spiritual maturity.

D. One should demonstrate an ability to work in harmony with others.

E. One must be willing to pay the price to grow.

F. One should be willing to help others in the discipling process.

How To Work Effectively At Making Disciples

Disciples are not made by books, manuals, training materials, or courses of study. They are made by other disciples, sharing life to life, what they have learned in the School of God. Discipleship development goes beyond the stage of helping a new believer grow at the initial stage of spiritual life, although beginning principles can be learned here. It is more than remedial Christianity for those already stumbling in their walk, although such help may be needed. It does not have social fellowship or counseling as its primary goal. It is a series of serious meetings by serious people seeking to become disciple makers and reproducers for Christ. All Christians are “born to reproduce,” as was so eloquently stated by Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, an organization which has devoted itself to this ministry for many years. However, not all Christians want to pay the price of becoming a disciple indeed, or a true disciple (John 8:31). The spiritually eager, those Christians who are ready to give 100%, are the people we need to locate and help grow in this ministry.

How can we implement this goal in a practical way in our assembly? There is no single way, but we can describe an example of how this ministry can function. It must be more than a mechanical duplication of certain steps.

If at all possible, start with the elders or other leaders, or at least gain their full support. This is something that can only function within a church that has agreed on this ministry as an essential mission. They can meet as a group at first, possibly early in the morning. The leaders, and those who follow, must be committed to mutual accountability and continuous spiritual growth. The plan is not to do a book study from the Bible, nor to have generalized spiritual talk. It is about fundamental factors in spiritual growth. The session is to follow up each person’s own personal time with God in the Word. Each participant should be committed to daily prayer, study, and personal application of Scripture. They should come to the session ready to share from the insight and application which they have received from the Lord that very day.

It should be the goal of the initial core group to expand the chain of contacts to other serious believers, both men and women, so that disciple-making permeates the body. The greatest problem in achieving this goal is that of wise selection and effective training. Meetings which are not high quality or life-changing in character do not reproduce what we seek. The believer who is eager to grow, sacrificial in attitude towards others, as well as devoted to Christ, is the one we seek. Personal appearance, affluence, status, or mere verbal assent to high goals may lead us down the wrong trail in the selection process.

1. The Word as Communication from God. Each person shares from the passage they have studied earlier. They read the text, with perhaps a brief comment. They point out the spiritual principle that is evident contextually. They then make a personal application that God has laid on their heart. Avoid the trap of generalized comment or agreement. Make it personal, with a corresponding commitment to take action. This will give evidence as to whether a person is genuinely hearing the Word of God speaking to him or her. This is essential for spiritual growth. It is developed by practice and by listening to godly people making applications for their lives. It is an example of “iron sharpening iron” (Prov. 27:17).

2. Prayer as an Instrument of Spiritual Warfare. If the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (fleshly) (2 Cor. 10:4), what are they? Certainly our weapons include the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). But they also include the amazing privilege of taking our burdens and intercessions to the Lord, knowing that He hears us (1 John 5:15). Effectual prayer does much good (Jas. 5:16b). We should pray aloud together, after reviewing written and oral requests. This draws the participants together in spiritual fellowship. That is one value of exchanging prayer requests. You learn to pray by praying.

3. Witnessing as a Way of Life. We should add the names of unsaved contacts to our prayers lists and prayerfully seek their salvation. This helps our accountability in regular witnessing as we talk about what has been happening in this area. Disciple-making must include witnessing if it is to be realistic and well rounded. It is highly desirable to go together in witnessing opportunities or evangelistic visitation.

4. Sharing from Personal Life and Ministry. We develop deeper levels of fellowship by sharing (in strictest confidence) personal struggles and challenges. We are “REAL” to others when we admit to needs, and seek prayer in these areas. This is a natural outgrowth of sharing what God is saying to us from His Word. An important adjunct to this sharing is to make a written list of personal goals, along specific steps which we plan to take in reaching those goals. This ought to include at least one character goal (diligence, steadfastness, courage), one ministry goal (improved devotional life, witnessing effectiveness, worship), and one personal goal (relationships, finances, etc). These should be written out, and a copy given to the person to whom we have made ourselves accountable. All of this process is voluntary.

5. Memorization of Scripture. This can be very helpful in the mutual accountability between the two persons. Begin with a simple series of gospel verses which are useful in witnessing. Then add key verses which relate to major areas of our walk with God.

The goal of the entire program goes beyond that of helping another believer grow spiritually. It has in view the time when this person will take up the same ministry with another person so as to become a fellow helper in disciple-making. We can continue together as long as growth is evident. We should disengage from these meetings, as gracefully as possible, when it is evident that this growth is not occurring. We are not abandoning them. We are simply recognizing that our meetings have not been sufficiently helpful to justify their continuance. Perhaps they can be resumed at some future date, or another person can do a better job.

We do not claim that the men whom Paul discipled (Timothy, Silas, and others) followed the exact plan as outlined above. However, they surely involved many of the same elements. Paul was a spiritual parent to many, as both a father (1 Thess. 2:11) and a nursing mother (1 Thess. 2:7). Obviously he wanted to see them strong in the Word, in prayer, and in continuous growth as disciples.

As this work is diligently carried forward and spreads throughout the church, it will have a profound effect upon corporate spiritual life. It will insure practical assistance for those who sincerely want to be growing disciples and are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve this.

Hindrances To Making Disciples

Unfortunately, not every discipling relationship leads to a successful outcome. The problem may be either with the discipler or the disciple.

1. Problems For The Discipler

A. A lack of faithfulness in prayer and preparation for your meetings.

B. A lack of sincere personal interest, so the person feels like a project or assignment. A lack of time and availability for the person may be a part of the discipling failure.

C. Breakdown or flaws in your own life are evident, to a discouraging degree. If you become close friends, they may detect unacceptable inconsistency in your life.

D. You may be too demanding without sensitivity to the learner’s weaknesses or struggles.

2. Problems For The Disciple

A. They are not sufficiently committed to the Lord or to the process.

B. They are not listening, not following through, on agreed assignments. Undisciplined life or consistent tardiness is the norm.

C. Excuses, blame-shifting, dwelling on past failures are used to justify lack of progress.

D. There is talk about problems without action taken to correct them.

E. There is failure to obey in areas of which they are well aware.

F. Self-centeredness, rather than being others-directed and Christ-centered is very apparent.

G. Laziness or unwillingness to make needed efforts to improve is evident.

H. There are wrong motives for wanting to meet, such as: to socialize, to be seen by others as spiritual, to advance in visible areas of service, to just get attention from the discipler.

Conclusion And Application

It is well to remember that sincere praise, more often than criticism, should be given the one being discipled. It is necessary to give affirmative Biblical and practical help to establish good patterns. The standard must always be God’s Word, not your personal opinion. Use the Word frequently. Express love consistently. Listen carefully. Keep your own word in the smallest matter. Above all, be as much like the Lord Jesus as you can, by the enablement of His Spirit. Bear in mind His example in the training of the Twelve.

Discipling is a spiritual endeavor of the highest importance. It deserves our best efforts. Primarily, we can only see others change through prayer, not methods. The rewards of success are enormous, to the church and to the individual for eternity. There is a high personal price paid for doing it well, and it sometimes seems discouraging. However, your labor is far better directed on one disciple than in seemingly endless time spent with many unproductive and unresponsive people. It is a labor to which the Lord Jesus gave a substantial priority in His life. It is worth your time. It is vitally important to the church’s spiritual growth.

Lesson 12 The Discipling Of The Church

1. From the following verses, what is a genuine disciple, according to the Master?

Luke 6:40

Luke 14:26

Luke 14:27

Luke 14:33

John 8:31

John 13:34,35

2. How do the examples of the builder and the king in Luke 14:28-32 help us to understand what it means to forsake all?

3. What is the difference between teaching them all things and teaching them to observe all things (NIV, “to obey everything”)? (Matt. 28:20) What could be done to improve this in your fellowship? {pb102

4. Read Colossians 1:28,29. According to these Scriptures, what is the goal of disciple-making, and how should we accomplish it?

5. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-7. What was the Apostle Paul’s teaching method? What was the response of his hearers?

6. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:7,8. What kind of relationship should a discipler have to a learner?

7. How would you evaluate your own readiness to be a committed disciple of the Lord, and to be committed to learning how to live from a disciple whose life you admire in the church?

8. Is there anything in this lesson that you do not understand?