I’ve discovered a new passion: discipleship. I know this seems a bit trivial, or maybe a bit cliché, because anyone can say “I am passionate about discipleship.” For the past year or so, I have not had discipleship escape my thoughts. I have not been able to get away from it. Recently I’ve written on “What Discipleship Is” and “What Discipleship is Not” and never written on why there is a necessity for discipleship.
For this post, I want to examine three reasons for the necessity of discipleship in your local church.
1) Discipleship is Biblical
It is critical to note this point of reference before anything else. When we talk about ministry in our local churches, we cannot bring anything to the table apart from the Word of God. Without Christ as supreme, the Word of God, and prayer, our ministries in our local churches are worthless. When the Word of God and prayer are absent in our ministries, so is Christ. And when we study the word “disciple” in the Scriptures, we see ministry is more about disciples than it is about anything else. We live in an age that is the post-1980’s youth group movement age (catchy, right?).
In the 1970’s through the 1990’s there were many churches who brought on full-time youth pastors to pastor their children. Up until this point (besides YFC, YoungLife, and Awana in the 1930’s and 1940’s), there had been very few youth pastors actually on paid staff at churches. When churches brought on full-time youth pastors, their youth group started to separate themselves from the congregation as a whole. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious effort to do so, but it was nevertheless a product of this movement. This movement is now known as the “old paradigm” of youth ministry or more popularly known as the “One-eared Mickey Mouse.” This movement brought about a separation between the young and the old and it has brought some dissonance in the church since.
However, there is a new paradigm for youth ministry and its basis is discipleship. Richard Ross has a great “new paradigm” for youth ministry that reintegrates students back to the congregation in your church. I won’t get into the details of this new paradigm, however, it is necessary to mention that discipleship is Ross’ ministerial forefront. The only ministry to meld your church together is discipleship.
When Jesus gave his last command to the disciples in Matthew 28, he never told them to go and make “Christians.” He never said to go and make “converts.” Jesus commanded his disciples to go and make more disciples. It must also be noted that the word Christian only occurs 3 times in the entire Bible and two of those could be taken in a negative connotation. However, the word disciple is written 269 times in the Scriptures.
What is a disciple? In the Greek, the literal definition of the word μαθητής (disciple), according the Lexham Bible Dictionary, is
“..a student, pupil, or learner.”
Discipleship is biblical for a few reasons:
- It was Jesus’ method of ministry. He gravitated to the small group of “the twelve” and the even smaller group of “the three” – Peter, James, and John.
- Jesus calls His people to a daily commitment of learning and knowing Him.
- Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples in the same way He made disciples out of them.
- The church of Jerusalem used small “house groups” to do ministry. They were a church of over 10,000 people who met in people’s houses because they were so large.
- Paul, I’m convinced, was making his own disciples out of young men like Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Mark, Barnabas, and others.
Discipleship is the biblical basis for the ministry of our local churches.
2) Discipleship Works
Discipleship is not a hard concept to grasp. There is no “special formula” or anything of the sort that needs to be added to discipleship. There is biblical principles that can outline your method of discipleship. Here are a few:
- The ultimate goal of discipleship is to obey the commands of Christ so much that He conforms us to Himself (Romans 8:29, John 15:5).
- The bulk of discipleship is simply by intentionally passing on generational faith to the next generation (2 Timothy 1:5).
- The aim of discipleship is growth in Christ through community with other believers (Acts 2:42).
- Paul used his discipleship to carry on his ministry (2 Timothy 2:2).
We see that discipleship is ultimately growth in Christ through fellowship with other believers that results in the service of God’s people in His Church. The aforementioned list is not exclusive, but gives an adequate description of discipleship. What we can bring forth from these points is that discipleship should not be complicated. Notice I did not mention that discipleship was easy. Discipleship is difficult, but necessary and it works.
3) Discipleship is Mandatory
I’ve found a new love for the book of 2 Timothy. During my daily Bible reading and walk with Christ, I’ve started to read a pastoral epistle. I do this for a couple of reasons: 1) I never want to forget my calling in life (2 Timothy 1:6), and 2) reading a pastoral epistle gives me hope that I can be myself and still impact my community for Christ. When I read 2 Timothy, we see Paul passing the cloak on ministry to Timothy and Paul giving Timothy some exhortations for taking the reigns of this ministry. One of those commands is to “rekindle the gift of God that is in you.” I’m convinced that Paul’s ministry was a ministry of discipleship. Also, I believe this is further proved by Paul’s command for the apostles and teachers to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” in Ephesians 4:11.
I also see Paul’s ministry of discipleship in the entire book of 2 Timothy:
- 1:13 – “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
- 2:2 – “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
- 2:14 – “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to fight about words. This is useless and leads to the ruin of those who listen.”
- 3:10-11 – “But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, 11 along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured—and yet the Lord rescued me from them all.”
- 3:14 – “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed.”
- 4:2 – “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.”
Look at all of these commands from Paul to Timothy and see how many of them deal with personal matters of what Paul has done through ministry and what Timothy has seen Paul do in his ministry. Notice how many times we see the words “that you have heard from me” or “what you have learned” in these passages of Scripture. Or simply notice that all of these Scriptures are imperatives or commands. Paul was intentional about discipleship because it works.
We all have ways in which we can methodize ministry. There are hundreds of resources written on how to “Keep up with the Joneses” in your ministry. If Paul were here, I believe he would tell us to forget all that and go make disciples. In all the time I’ve been in or around ministry, I’ve rarely heard of salvations from the activities and events of the church’s youth group. I have nothing against them and I believe they have a place in ministry, but they do not, or cannot, produce spiritually healthy people. Answer this question:
What comes out of a tube of toothpaste when you squeeze it?
The short answer is toothpaste. However, the ultimate answer is whatever is inside the tube. If we only hold events and activities in our ministries, we will create people who long for the next big activity. If we create a small group ministry in our church but leave out prayer, Bible study, and accountability, we will create a ministry of fellowship that will die once people are bored with it. If our goal is to reach our community, we must make discipleship a ministry priority. If our aim is to please Christ, we must obey his command:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations”
Matthew 28:19, CSB