While it’s a common term and mission, discipleship as we know it in America’s church is dead. So dead that many believe that few are even being taught rightly by the scripture much less being brought into the Kingdom of God. Having a limited amount of time and a limited amount of webspace, there is no way one could attempt to revise and restore the biblical idea of discipleship, though many have tried. So, as a mark on the starting line, I hope to list a few things on my heart for the sake of future direction and discussion.
Discipleship is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the full and final revelation of God to man and in His ministry one can find the reality of what Jesus did and thus create a theology of growing others “to” the faith and “in” the faith. Jesus selected His disciples specifically, then He lived with them and taught them to invest in others for the sake of the kingdom. As they invested, they preached, proclaimed the good news of Christ and saw God save many through the hearing of the Word. (Rom 10:17) These who came to know God through Jesus Christ became part of the body, that is the church. The local church was governed by the Word of God through the apostles who “appointed elders (pastors) in every city to put in order what remained.” The flock was taught to “do the work of the ministry” to each other and teach others to do the same in the power and for the sake of the person of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Nothing else.
Discipleship is evangelism.
“Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” This is a familiar song in the hearts of the church, but ever so often she refuses to hear this portion but rather hears the “Go ye into all the nations…” While the church is to go, what it DOES as it goes is to teach the Gospel of Jesus as God plants the church and saves people by grace through faith. So, reaching people is teaching people, these things are not divided but one in the same. Any attempt to make “reaching” apart from rightly dividing the word of God is another gospel and as Paul states, “no gospel at all.”
Discipleship is what the church does, period.
So the church hears, believes, trusts, hopes, lives, loves and learns at the feet of her savior, the living Word of God that became flesh and dwelt among us. So, the church is to hear the word, do the word, know the word, love the word, live the word, teach the word and all for the sake of the praise of the glorious grace of God in Christ. So, when the church thinks that “discipleship” is apart from the word, then she has forsaken her first love and must “do the things that she did before” so her Lord will not remove her lampstand (influence) from the world. The church around the globe is hard at work teaching people to understand and teach others the bible, but for some strange reason, the dominant church in the USA seems to have given way to personal growth, personal esteem, personal influence, personal ministry and personal preference instead of powerful purpose found only in God’s word. Just imagine, a people so hungry for power and never finding it because the grace of God (the power of God) is nowhere to be found because it is only given through the hearing and teaching of the word of God… Grace be with you.
Discipleship is personal, intimate and individual.
Widget companies can go the way of the assembly line just fine with identical outcomes having only a small margin of error. But when it comes to people, each one is unique and unable to be stamped as a cookie on a sheet. So why does so many congregations pour countless individuals into the same pot and then ask the question, “how can we get people to love the Lord and be committed?” They cannot be committed to the Christ they have never heard and they will not hear unless someone preaches to them and then they will not encounter the Christ-filled life without the church continually living together in the pursuit of God’s grace through His word. So, mass making of strong believers is like mass making of a bag of toenails. It’s gross and worthless. The preaching and the preacher should enable the body to do the work of the ministry while each one models unique but personal discipleship. There is no other way.
Discipleship is carried through teaching what accords with sound doctrine.
In the end the body of Christ will prevail as the holy and pure bride prepared for her groom. Until then she is to press and lean by faith alone on the promises of God through Jesus Christ who fully furnished and finished redemption by justifying a people for Himself through His blood having taken their guilt and debt and paid it in full. It is finished! So, let the church lives as the body of the Christ who bought her by growing as disciples who prove their adoptions as sons and daughters through the sacrifice of their living for the sake of glory that comes from God, not man.
The church will live eternally and she will do eternally what Christ has saved her to do because she no longer lives as her own but it is Christ who lives within her. Therefore, the perpetuity of sound disciples will make more and nothing will make this happen apart from the power of God the Holy Spirit through the simple and wonderful teaching of God’s word, not to the masses, but to the few who teaches the few who teaches the few.
For His Glory by His Grace,
Pastor James Tippins