The early churches made disciples, and in turn, they went out and made more disciples. The church needs to return to biblical discipleship.
- What is the purpose for discipleship?
- What is discipleship and how does it work?
- What discipleship is not
- “Ain’t nobody goin’ babysit you”
- Escaping the 20/80 rule of church life
- The lack of discipleship
- The goal of discipleship:
- The characteristics of a godly discipler:
- Abusive disciplers and “spiritual coverings”
- Misconceptions about disciplers
Please note (updated December 5th, 2018):
I was wrong about people who are called “disciplers.” I wrote this article in ignorance not knowing the true role of pastors (having not studied it yet) while blindly accepting the duties most mainstream pastors perform today as correct.
It is because so many so-called pastors today are not doing what they are assigned to do that “discipleship ministries” were created to care for new converts; a work really assigned to pastors.
Therefore, a discipler is really a pastor who trains up disciples of Jesus Christ. Technically, we’re all disciples, but pastors were raised to help the new convert grow.
The great commission was given to the Apostles and they made disciples. Out of those disciples, God brought forth pastors and pastors disciple the flock to maturity (along with the rest of the five-fold offices).
So, when you read discipler in this article, exchange it for pastor. In this article I mentioned how the gift of teaching wasn’t required for a discipler, but scripture is clear that pastors must be able to teach.
Disciplers, or better labeled “pastors,” are also mentors, coaches, and councilors. Therefore, not every saint should be taking on the tasks of a discipler (which is really a pastor) without being assigned this office by Jesus.
However, in light of the fact we don’t have many true pastors today, what is a brother or sister to do with someone they’ve led to Christ? They have to teach them the best they can according to the instruction of the Bible and do the work of a pastor until true pastors are available.
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20)
Some of Jesus’ last words were to make disciples and teach these disciples to do everything he commanded. It was evident that his disciples obeyed Jesus because we have the New Testament which records everything he commanded.
The Apostles formed churches by making disciples. Every new believer was discipled, and in turn, went out and made more disciples. But somewhere in between then and now, the American church has forgot what a disciple is, how to make a disciple, and what discipleship involves.
How to make a disciple: Simply go out and preach the entire gospel message. When men confess and repent of their sins; and decide to follow Christ, they have become a disciple. It is now the Church’s job to disciple them.
What is a disciple? The Strong’s Greek Concordance (G3100) defines it this way: From G3101; intransitively to become a pupil; transitively to disciple, that is, enroll as scholar:—be disciple, instruct, teach. In other words: A disciple is a pupil, a person – someone you are to teach and instruct. A “discipler” is someone who does the teaching and instructing.
What makes a good disciple?
- He is more than a student – rather, an apprentice.
- New and spiritually hungry wanting to serve Jesus.
- Has godly convictions and is repentant.
- Teachable / dependable and committed to his own spiritual growth.
- Humble and able to be held accountable.
- He is willing to give up all, deny himself and follow Christ.
What is the purpose for discipleship?
We shouldn’t expect the new believer to understand much about the Christian walk. He has been re-birthed and become a child of God. Children need guidance, protection and supervision. What God requires is not works, but faith and an interior change of the heart. But it is only natural for new believers to be mainly concerned with doing the right things, which means their focus is on external behavior (works).
New believers understand the foundational doctrine of salvation, but now they need to build on that truth, but how do they do that? Is it reasonable to simply tell them to go to church, pray and read the Bible, and expect them to effectively grow to spiritual maturity? Now that the person has been reconciled to God and has entered into spiritual things and a spiritual family, how do they begin to understand spiritual things and relate to a spiritual God? They must be taught.
How do we learn a life style? We learn from seeing others. When I was younger, I seen how my parents interacted with each other and the people around them, and that’s how I started to interact with others. That’s how it is with new Christians, they need to see how the “grown ups” do it first. God created us as social beings, and that’s what we do, we learn from each other. Therefore, mature believers are to teach them how to follow Jesus as he instructed.
New believer, old believer. It doesn’t matter if the person just got baptized or has been attending church for 10 years – anyone can be a disciple. Maturity isn’t measured by age in the Kingdom of God, it’s measured by faith and obedience.
What is discipleship and how does it work?
Discipleship is the spiritual parenting and teaching of a new believer, as outlined in Matthew 28:19-20 and 1 Thessalonians. Let’s look at how Paul and his faithful, mature, brothers and sisters discipled in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2:
3 For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. 4 But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.
Paul’s motives were pure, he was approved by God and taught and encouraged the disciples out of his love for God – not to please men.
5 For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.
Paul didn’t try to get rich by teaching messages that would flatter and persuade the people to pay him (like some preachers do today) – Paul recognized the sin of covetousness.
7 But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
The highlighted text says it all: they cherished, and nursed them like a mother. They showed deep affection for them; and shared and opened their lives to these people – they were transparent.
9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.
They didn’t become a burden to their disciples. They didn’t ask for anything in return. They didn’t ask for a “love offering”, as some preachers do.
10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children,
They’re behavior was like Christ’s – blameless and just. No one could find anything on them. And they encouraged and comforted every one of them. I love that part because it shows the individual attention they gave to their disciples. They couldn’t have said that if they didn’t spend time with them individually – this is thee method for discipleship. Without one-on-one time, it really isn’t biblical discipleship.
12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. 13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. – 1 Thessalonians 2:3-13
They taught them how to walk with God and be worthy of God’s call. This means: they were taught to be outstanding followers of Christ and worthy to be associated with the Kingdom of God and his glory.
Paul also said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1 KJV). Discipleship is the following of Christ through someone who follows Christ. Discipleship includes: One-on-one, personal, individualized teaching and bible study. This can be accompanied by corporate teaching, but the one-on-one element must be in place. Disciples of Christ spent time with each and every one:
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28).
Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears (Acts 20:31).
What discipleship is not
Making disciples is not making converts, and then, simply telling them to attend church. That’s like birthing a child and telling him to get his own milk and baby food from the shelves, and feed himself. Certainly Paul and other faithful disciplers did more than this – they were like helpful, loving parents. Too often, we preach the gospel to people without ever bothering to follow up with them. Maybe it’s time to give out your number so they’ll have someone to talk too if they get born again. Let’s stop telling people to find a church – we are the church.
Discipleship is not simply teaching the Word from the pulpit. Biblically, those who made disciples, spent one-on-one time with new believers. In the Church today, leaders think, “when I’m teaching from the pulpit, this is what discipleship is” but this is only one part of it. Biblical discipleship is about interacting with the believer, not a simple class-room course or sermon. Once again, the relationship is like one of a parent and their child.
While class-room teaching, books, audio and video sermons do help, the interaction between teacher and student is small; and the majority of the time, the believer is simply listening. A new believer can only become mature if they are allowed to express and discuss their unique needs and questions; and then receive biblical counsel.
I’ve been in New Member classes and bible studies that allowed Q&A, but it was always limited and many couldn’t get they’re personal questions answered. I know that some questions didn’t get asked because they were just too personal to ask in front of others. Some pastors counsel their members, but there is a time limit, and the pastor may not always be available.
Sermons, classes and materials may look like, or be called “discipleship”, but are not. If only there were mature saints available to answer their questions and sit and spend time with them. Discipleship is one of the major things the Church lacks today – and the reason for so much ignorance and immaturity.
“Ain’t nobody goin’ babysit you”
The above statement is what I heard a Pentecostal pastor say so ignorantly, when I brought up the topic of biblical discipleship. Many pastors think it’s a waste of time. Traditionally, it was never done in their church history, or they believe it’s too time consuming and ineffective. But who are these men to say that Jesus’ methods are ineffective?
The mainstream church’s method, of what they call discipleship, fails because of the lack of interactivity and personalization; and the disorganized way the Christian life is presented. Example: a new Christian gets saved and starts attending Sunday service where the preacher is talking about why people shouldn’t lust. At Wednesday Night Bible Study, the instructor teaches the book of Corinthians.
Abstaining from lust, and the principles in the book of Corinthians are great, but how does that fit together with the believers new found life? – they don’t know. The new believer will usually save the information in a notebook for future reference. The information is out of order and they have no clue as to what the starting or ending point is.
Everyone is at different levels with God. While sermons and bible studies are helpful, they just don’t fit everyone, especially new believers. I hear the opposing pastor saying – “this is where personal bible study comes in – they’ll get the personalized teaching here.” My argument is: how do they understand what they’re studying? Are they really studying, or are they reading? How do they pray for understanding? And where do they begin studying? New believers will still have questions and their spiritual parent should be there to help answer them.
Biblical discipleship starts the believer where they are and doesn’t throw random information at them. Biblical discipleship shows them the starting point, what the goals are, what the hurtles will be and where the finish-line is. Biblical discipleship serves as a map, a guide, support, a progress bar and protection, as the new believer journeys down the narrow road, with Jesus towards Heaven.
Escaping the 20/80 rule of church life
The 20/80 rule is the idea that 20% of people in a typical church do 80% of the work. While I don’t agree that most of the “work” is for the Lord, I do believe, most of these 80% would work if they knew their spiritual gifts, offices, talents and divine purpose from God. (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, and Ephesians 4:11-13)
I’m not saying the other 20% know their purpose and spiritual gifts. The point is: if Christians were biblically discipled, they’d discover their spiritual gifts, and for some, their spiritual offices. Then, everyone would contribute their part, fit together, and operate like the Body was intended – each using their unique talents to the service of others and the Kingdom of God.
Without discipleship, people won’t know where they fit and continue to waste resources. It is the role of the discipler to help the disciple discover their gifts and talents for the Kingdom of God – this is to be done, carefully, through the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The lack of discipleship
The lack of discipleship is like a father that provides food, clothing and shelter, but doesn’t take the time to nurture his children. Fathers and church leaders fall short in this area all the time – thinking that meeting physical needs is good enough.
The lack of discipleship is like: a tourist without a guide, a game without rules and a swing-set without instructions. Without the manual to the swing-set, you could leave something out, and the children could get hurt. A game without rules is plain chaos, how do you know if you’re winning or losing? And if there’s no guide, how do you make it to your destination?
The lack of discipleship is like a bad child with no home training. His lazy parents didn’t take the time to teach him manners, morals and behavior, so he gets into trouble, hits other kids, is disrespectful, loud, and inconsiderate. This is what I see in many churches today – a bunch of rowdy children who haven’t been taught morals, behavior or manners – in other words: they haven’t been taught the few and basic commandments of Jesus Christ.
The goal of discipleship:
- Help the disciple understand what Christian life is all about.
- Help them to understand Faith; and Love for God and their neighbor.
- Help the disciple understand who God is and how to build the relationship.
- Help the disciple connect with God to heal past wounds.
- Help the disciple understand God’s view of the world and his/her purpose in this world.
- Dependence on the Holy Spirit and independence from the discipler.
- To help the disciple to abide in Christ and be fruitful, and to spiritually reproduce.
- A transformation of the heart, mind and soul (inward) which will display Godly authentic outward behavior.
The characteristics of a godly discipler:
- Must be a follower/disciple of Christ.
- Must be pure, without hidden motives.
- Must not be covetous – after money or the glory of men.
- Must be blameless and just in behavior.
- Must be faithful and committed to their disciple(s).
- Must be available to spend a great deal of time with the disciple.
- Must be compassionate and a thoughtful listener.
- Must respect the personality differences of the disciple.
- Must be honest, supportive and long-suffering.
- Must not take advantage or lord over their disciple.
- Must pray for the disciple.
- Must teach God’s view and not personal convictions and opinions.
- Must be transparent, patient and humble.
- Must be powered by the Holy Spirit.
- Must be a mature saint.
- Must love like Jesus Christ.
Whenever we join a group, whether it be religious, social, or business, we tend to join on the basis of how the members treat us. If we feel welcomed, without any hint of insincerity, we’ll most likely return. It’s hard to trust someone, if they don’t take a genuine interest in you. A discipler must have a genuine interest in the development and growth of the new believer. The discipler must sincerely love the new believer.
Abusive disciplers and “spiritual coverings”
Because immature, corrupt Christians have abused their roles as spiritual fathers or mothers, some have concluded that it is sinful to be discipled by men – “you must get everything from Jesus”, is what I’ve heard. But this is contrary to the Bible. Jesus told us to make disciples and to teach them – they are to follow us as we follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV).
Those who abuse their roles simply aren’t following Christ – they’re in it for everything Paul said he wasn’t. If a discipler isn’t following Christ, according to the Word of God, he is in sin, a deterrent, a terrible example and a stumbling block to God’s children. Jesus warned:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea (Mark 9:42)
Jesus is serious about those who disciple his flock. The role of a discipler is not something to be taken lightly. If you mess with one of his children, be sure there will be hell to pay.
I will agree that because of the level of corruption in the body of Christ, there isn’t many faithful, godly Christians to follow. But in this last hour, new believers, who really have a passion to follow God, get trained by him, directly, because our Father is a loving God who won’t allow his children to be abandoned (Psalms 68:5).
Misconceptions about disciplers
- Disciplers must have the gift of teaching. This isn’t true – there’s no mention in the bible that a mature believer must possess the spiritual gift or office of teaching. This comes from another misunderstanding that discipleship is about strictly teaching.
- Disciplers are mentors. Mentorship is similar to discipleship, but lacks a lot. For one, a mentor is a trusted counselor or teacher – one who advises in specific areas like: job, school, business – they usually focus only on a few areas. Being a disciple requires a deeper level of trust since the discipler addresses deep, tender personal issues like: identity, character, past wounds, personal sins etc. Disciplers will face many more issues that mentors will not – it’s important to understand the difference between the two.
What should disciplers teach? Disciplers must take care not to teach false doctrines, self-centered gospels, traditions of men, but simply the commandments of Jesus Christ in his Word the Bible. Here are a few:
- Love God and everyone else (Matt 22:36-40, 1 Cor 13:1-7)
- Have faith in God for and about everything
- Make disciples
All the above come from my continual studies on discipleship. I hope this helps you understand true discipleship and our call to make disciples and teach them all that our Lord commanded us.