Why focus on Discipling?
The purpose of this article is twofold: first, we seek to explain why we focus on discipling, as a local church; second, we aim to present pillars of our discipling approach.
Discipling to Love God by Obeying Jesus
Out of love for God and care for people, with an attitude of humility, patience and encouragement, we aim to keep discipleship central in the local church. In light of Great Commission (Mat 28:19-20), and with possible exceptions, we strive to train each member of our local church to engage a few people (e.g. one or two), on a regular basis (e.g. every other week), in a discipling relationship (Mat 28:19-20). Those relationships provide a more intimate context to care for one another spiritually in the church (Mar 9:2, Ac 9:25, Col 1:28, 2 Tim 2:2).
We humbly acknowledge that alternatives to our discipling methods may be used. Ultimately, faithful obedience to the Great Commission is most important. We use our discipling methods prayerfully, with the hope of increased fruitfulness, since we know that Christian discipling is a demanding holistic endeavor. Additionally, since the Great Commission is inherently simple and multiplicative, we encourage every disciple to examine to what extent our discipling methods can be replicated by disciples, with assistance from the Holy.
Discipling to Bear Spiritual Fruit
Jn 15:5 reveals that Jesus was intentional with respect to His choice of disciples (twelve diverse people willing to follow Him) and purpose in discipleship (bearing much lasting fruit). Consequently, we promote discipling relationships seeking the bearing of spiritual fruit (Gal 5:22-23) and pruning of the fruit of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21) in the life of the discipled.
This focus on bearing spiritual fruit leads us to use, as primary tools in discipling relationships, the Bible and prayer, even though other ancillary books may be employed. We encourage people to engage in discipling conversations which lead both to heart-level sharing and prayer linked with Gal 5:22-23.
Discipling to Share the Good News
Discipleship we promote includes evangelism (sharing the biblical Good News of Jesus) and flows out of love for both God and others. Such discipleship is based on authentic personal relationship with Christ. Such discipleship is God-empowered, other-oriented, self-giving and courageous, seeking not its own gain, but petitioning God that His will be done in the life of each discipled person i.e., that the person grow in grace and virtue to the full measure of the stature of Christ (Eph 4:13). We promote love-driven prayerful Christian discipleship seeking that Christ be formed in the heart of each discipling and discipled person. Those who are parents, among our members, are encouraged and assisted to disciple their children. Each member is encouraged to be discipled or to disciple another member.
Discipling to Bring Glory to Jesus
The Great Commission is itself part of Christ's vision for the local church, to savor God and train ambassadors of Jesus who care for people from all nations. These ambassadors are Jesus' disciples, that is people who have received, from Jesus, the gift of discipleship. Discipleship is the privilege and responsibility to show off the glory of Christ, in all aspects of one's life. To reflect Christ's manifold glory, Jesus' disciples follow their Master, as kids follow the Sun to reflect its light with their watches. The process of helping someone discover, track and reflect Christ's glory is also known as discipling. Consequently, the proposed plan may be described as a tool to help people discover, track and reflect the glory of Jesus Christ, in all aspects of their lives.
Discipling in God’s Grand Story
Helpful it is to bear in mind that biblical discipling does not come in a vacuum, but in a glorious context of affection, relation, transformation and sacrifice for the redemption of people from every nation. God so loved people who had sinned against Him that He sent Jesus into the world so that Christ would: enter into a heart-to-heart relationship with sinners from Israel; call them to turn from their sins to Him; invite them to trust in Him; transform their hearts of stone to hearts of flesh which genuinely love God; sacrifice himself for others' relationship with God; and send people who follow Him to call others from every nation to follow the Risen Lord, out of love for God. To follow Jesus is to walk in His footsteps, to live according to the pattern of Christ to make disciples. In other words, to follow Jesus is to live according to Christ's model of affection, relation, transformation and sacrifice for redemption. While disciplers are unable to transform disciples, the former have the responsibility to train the latter, i.e. to work the soil of disciples' minds, water the plants of disciples' words, actions and omissions, and marvel at God's powerful act of causing spiritual growth in the life of disciples. By God's powerful grace, this amazing discipling pattern of Jesus saves sinners from their warranted eternal suffering in hell and grants them the glorious privilege of living with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forever. Discipling is a gift from God to participate with God in the realization of His glorious plan of gathering people from every ethnic group to celebrate never-ending and full life with God, by God's grace through faith in Christ Jesus the Lord. Christ's character is most beautiful (He is the faithful reflection of God's perfection). Therefore, to be His disciple is to seek, wholeheartedly, to reflect Christ's beauty, out of love for God. Correspondingly, to make a disciple of Christ is to help someone reflect the beauty of Christ. Such endeavor brings glory to God and allows disciplers to participate in God's initial end for the creation of humanity: humans have been created in God's image and to make disciples of Jesus is to join God in experiencing the joy of loving others sacrificially in order to bring about Christ's faithful image of God in their life, one degree of glory at a time. In light of such momentous end, let us now consider a proposed discipling plan.
Discipling Approach Pillars
Developed along three dimensions, namely prayerful Bible meditation, heart-to-heart spiritual care conversations and coaching disciples to disciple others, our discipling approach attempts to reflect both the Gospel of Jesus Christ and emphases of the Great Commission. Since, it can be easy, when describing an approach, to get lost in the trees and miss the forest, the following should be reiterated: the three main ideas of our approach to discipling are prayerful meditation through the Bible, regular heart-to-heart spiritual care conversations and coaching disciples to disciple others, in order to learn how to follow Jesus and make other disciples.
Discipling Pillar: Prayerful meditation through the Bible
An important aspect of obeying the Great Commission consists in guiding a disciple through prayerful Bible meditation, in order to communicate all that Jesus has commanded in God's written word. One way to implement this, is to have each discipler call a disciple to meditate on the Bible, chapter by chapter, through a period of about a year.
Such journey through the Bible may require modification of a disciple's Bible reading pattern, for the corresponding period, in order to be able to help future disciples to read through the Bible and meditate on it. Various online resources enable people to listen to the Bible (esvbible.org, enseignemoi.com/bible/audio), chapter by chapter. Some disciples may be helped in their Bible reading if they simultaneously listen to the Bible. Listening, on average, to three chapters a day, six days a week, enables one to read through the Bible in a year. Listening to one Bible chapter each day, six days a week, might be more suitable to disciple children, over a three-year cycle.
Disciples are encouraged to keep a journal in which they mark down Bible verses which strike them most and, in which, they specify how they plan to obey these Bible verses. Some disciples may choose to acquire a printed copy of the Bible with margin space sufficient to take notes; printed copies allow disciples to use highlighting pens in order to identify verses which catch the disciples' attention. Children disciples may be encouraged to draw a picture representing something which caught their attention; with maturity keywords and references to specific Bible verses may be added to drawings. Striking Bible verses may be used as basis of focused prayer. A list of local church members may also be used to help disciples remember others in prayer (a promise the disciples might have made when formally joining their local church).
Discipling Pillar: Heart-to-heart spiritual care conversations
Caring for disciples, spiritually, is another important aspect of obeying the Great Commission. One may implement this aspect by scheduling, every other week, an hour-and-half-long heart-to-heart conversation through which each disciple opens his or her heart to a discipler: to help the discipler witness how God has worked in the disciple's heart; and to help the discipler use the Bible in order to encourage, console and urge the disciple to follow Christ (1 Thes 2:7-12). In the context of such heart-to-heart conversations, the discipler may also use Gospel-focused discipling themes to teach the disciple how to obey crucial commands of Jesus. (Examples of such themes are included in Appendix I.)
Once a disciple has shown faithfulness, availability and teachability through perseverance in meeting regularly, the disciple may be challenged to disciple another person. After about a year of discipling, a discipler who has, by God's grace, passed on the Gospel and the Great Commission to a discipler, may seek maintain a reduced involvement in the life of disciples he or she has walked with, in order to make other disciplers.
It is spiritually profitable for disciples to always have a Christian brother or sister, with whom they have regular heart-to-heart spiritual care conversations (e.g. every other week). Such conversations enable healthy Christian accountability, encouragement, consolation and urging to live in a way honoring to Christ (1 Thes 2:12). Elders are mandated by God to exercise spiritual oversight over the members of a local church (Ac 20:28, Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 3:1-2, Tit 1:7, 1 Pet 5:2). These members should therefore always be open to their elders for spiritual oversight (Heb 13:17). Nevertheless, elders cannot closely disciple all members of a moderately large congregation (Ex 18). Consequently, it is profitable for most Christians to have an accountability partner who is not an elder. Following Titus 2, males (respectively females) should seek Christian accountability with mature males (respectively females).
In some cases, a few Christian males and females may form a partnership to disciple a group of people with whom they serve regularly (e.g. in a context of a ministry team), for a season of life (spanning multiple years). Such an approach might be profitable, because people who serve together likely see another regularly.
Discipling Pillar: Coaching disciples to disciple others
Teaching disciples how to make other disciples and assisting the former in discipling the latter is an integral aspect of obeying the Great Commission. Such coaching ought to address issues such as: praying through the selection of potential disciples; approaching Christians vs. non-Christians for discipleship; managing discipling time; dealing with fluctuating interest in discipleship; encouraging repentance and faith; being flexible with methods and anchored in biblical principles; resisting the temptation to disciple too many people; praying through the decision of involving others in discipling someone; fostering unity while discouraging cliques among disciples; and discussing Gospel-focused discipling themes (see Appendix); and learning to release and send disciples. It is a privilege to train and send disciples of Jesus so that they disciple others.
The combination of systematic reading through the Bible, heart-to-heart spiritual accountability, discussion of Gospel-focused discipling themes and coaching through the making of other disciples is intended to obey Jesus' Great Commission. May God use these or similar acts of obedience to produce spiritual health and growth, over years, in the life of both disciplers and disciples.
Additional discipling themes (see Appendix) may used to aid application of Jesus’ commands to various aspects of life e.g., marriage biblical counseling, training for missions, and training for church planting.
Appendix: Gospel-focused discipling themes
The following themes may be discussed to disciple people seeking either to know more about the Christian faith or to follow Jesus Christ as disciple. The themes may also be used as framework for marriage discipling (biblical counseling). Section A includes fundamental discipling themes, while Section B includes themes geared towards more experienced disciplers.
A. Fundamental Discipling Themes
1. Love God, because His utmost loving glory warrants everyone's finest love.
(Ps 115:1, Isa 42:8-11; Mat 6:9, 22:36-38, 1 Cor 10:31, Eph 1:6,12,14)
2. Love people whose communion with God needs to be established or restored.
(Jer 31:1, Mat 22:39, Rom 3:10, Rom 6:23, 2 Pet 3:9, Jn 3:16, Eph 2:1-2, 4)
3. Choose to rescue those you can, from hampered communion with God.
(Eph 1:5, Rom 8:30; 1 Thes 2:8)
4. Enter other's worlds.
(Jn 1:9, 1 Tim 1:15)
5. Disciple others (i.e. lay down your life to teach disciples to follow Jesus, in practice, out of love for Him).
(Isa 53:3-10, Mat 5:17, 28:20, Jn 13:1, Rom 5:8, Eph 5:25-33; Mar 8:34, 1 Jn 3:16, 1 Thes 2:8,9)
5.1. Disciple: Call people to become disciples of Jesus (i.e. people who follow Him to contemplate and reflect His beauty).
(Rom 8:30, Mat 8:22, 9:9, 19:21; 1 Thes 2:8,12)
5.2. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to live for Jesus (vs. self).
(1 Cor 6:19-20, 2 Cor 5:14-15, Phil 2:1-3, Col 3:12-17)
5.3. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to depend on God through Bible meditation, prayer and fasting.
(Ps 119, Jn 15:1-11, Mat 6:9-18, 9:14-15)
5.4. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to repent towards Jesus, from the works of the flesh.
(Mat 3:8, Rom 6:19, 7:18,24, 8:11, Gal 5:16-21, 2 Tim 2:24-26)
5.5. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to seek the fruit of the Spirit.
(Jn 15:5, Gal 5:22-26, 1 Cor 14:1)
5.6. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to joyfully suffer with Jesus, for the good of others.
(Luk 6:40, Jn 16:32-33, 1 Pet 3:7-17, Jam 1:2-4, Eph 6:10-20)
5.7. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to be baptized into a local body of Christ, and how to live accordingly.
(Mat 28:19, Ac 2:38-41, 8:36-38, 9:18, 18:8, 19:4-5, 22:16, Rom 6:3-4, Gal 3:27, Col 2:12, 1 Pe 3:21)
5.8. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to commune with Jesus and His followers, through the Lord's Supper.
(Luke 22:14-20, 1 Cor 10:16,21, 11:22-34)
5.9. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to both select and persevere in prayer for a local church they will attend regularly.
(Isa 55:10-11, Ac 12:24; Tit 2:1-10; Rom. 3:21-26, 5:12-2, 1 Cor 15:1-5; Acts 2:14-41, 3:12-26, 13:16-49, 17:22-31; Mat 16:16-19, 18:17-19, 1 Cor 5:12-13, 2 Cor 2:6; Mat 18:15-17, 1 Cor 5:1-13, 2 Cor 2:6, 2 Thes 3:6-15, Eph 4:11-32, Phil 2:1-18; 1 Cor 4:16, 11:1, Phil 4:9, Heb 13:7; 1 Tim 3:1-7, Tit 1:5-9, Ac 14:23, 20:17, 1 Tim 4:14, 5:17, Jam 5:14)
5.10. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to share the Gospel, out of love, with neighbors who need to be reconciled to God.
(Mat 4:23, 9:35, 24:14, Mar 16:15)
5.11. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to disciple people who are from various nations and want to follow Jesus.
(Mat 28:20; 2 Tim 2:2)
5.12. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to serve, in Jesus' name, people in need, in areas other than discipling, in official and unofficial local church ministries).
(Mat 5:16, 25:31-46, Rom 12:8, Ja 1:27)
5.13. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to handle, in the local church, inter-personal conflicts and sins affecting the witness to Christ.
(Mat 18:15-35, 1 Cor 6:1-8, 1 Pe 3:8-16)
5.14. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to obey Jesus' Great Commission by participating in church planting or reviving.
(Mat 28:20, Mark 16:15-18, Ac 1:8, 2:41, 47, 14:21-25, 17:34, 18:7-8, 19:8-10,20, 20:20, Matthew 16:18, Acts 2:41, 47,
Romans 15:17-22, 1 Cor. 3:5-15, 1 Thess 1:8)
5.15. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to keep in mind, in a healthy way, the reality of God's final judgment and the internal damnation of non-rescued souls.
(Mat 16:18, 22:13, 23:33, Heb 9:27, 2 Pe 2:4, Jude 24-25, Rev 20:7-15, 21:8)
5.16. Disciple: Teach disciples why it is important and how to both nurture and protect hope in God, longing for Christ's return, and thirst for eternal communion with God and the universal Church, in the new Jerusalem.
(1 Thes 5, Rev 21-22)
Marvel at how disciples of Jesus grow in love for God.
B. Additional Discipling Themes
Biblical counsel on marriage preparation
Biblical counsel on divorce
Biblical counsel on remarriage
Biblical counsel on domestic violence
Biblical counsel on eating disorder
Biblical counsel on adoption
Biblical counsel on end-of-life preparation and grieving
Biblical counsel on selecting a new local church
Biblical counsel on same-sex attraction
Biblical counsel on church planting
Biblical counsel on mission preparation
Biblical counsel on immigration status reporting