Views of Discipleship

By now it should be understood that disciples make disciples. Although it is a highly personal interaction, the church as a whole participates in the process. The term church refers to the assembly of believers and is only used twice by Jesus in the gospels but then is seen often in the book of Acts, Paul’s letters, and in Revelations. Jesus’ reference to it in Matthew 16:18 is in the future tense yet he is implying that he will use his disciples for its inception. After the Day of Pentecost we see the church’s humble beginnings (Acts 2:42-47) and it spreads like a wildfire.

Dempsey says it clearly, “The church must be in the absolute middle of God’s global plan of making disciples.” It must be in the heart of the pastor, the center of it’s purpose, and in forefront of every believer’s mind. We, the church, are the habitation of God with Christ as our head (Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 1:18), his Word as our foundation (Ephesians 2:20), and the Holy Spirit as our source (Acts 1:8). As the church we are to evangelize (Mark 16:15-20), worship God (John 4:23-24), and build up the church through discipleship (Matthew 28:19, Ephesians 4:11-16).

The church is comprised of people sometimes referred to as saints. They are the ones who have placed their faith in the grace of God for salvation. Through repentance, a turning away from their former life of sin, they have embraced a new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and have received the inward witness of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16) as well as the outward witness of a life of holiness (Ephesians 4:24). It is now the responsibility of these saints to do the work of the ministry.

The pastors are those who oversee or shepherd the church (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-4). Shepherds in biblical days had to move large flocks from one feeding ground to the next while protecting them from animals, thieves, and themselves. “The term, ‘shepherd’ or ‘pastor,’ is used of guiding and governing and not merely instructing.”[1] Shepherd actually became a term regularly used to refer to a leader or ruler. “Of the 12 times the word is used in the NT as a metaphor for ‘leader,’ it is translated as ‘pastor’ only in Ephesians 4:11.”[2] Pastors lead, guide, teach, and protect the believers of their church so that they can become all that God designed them to be, and so they can accomplish their work of evangelizing the word and discipling believers.

As Pastors are bringing the believers to maturity by helping them to discover and develop their gifts, the byproduct is the raising up of leaders who will then develop more leaders. As Dempsey defines, “Christian leadership is the process of influencing individuals to follow God’s plan for their lives and become all they can be for Christ and His mission.”[3] Leaders desire to use their influence to rally and move groups and individuals forward in their faith, as well as helping to move the church further in its mission.

Disciples are ones who take the teaching of Christ and attempt to emulate them in their own life. One of the obvious things Jesus focused on in his three and half years of ministry was that of making disciples. Since Jesus made disciples it is only logical that believers do the same. “At the heart of our mission is the reproduction in others of what Jesus has produced in us: faith, obedience, growth, authority, compassion, love, and a bold, truthful message as his witnesses. They were learners commanded to produce more learners.”[4] Discipleship is not a program to be completed but a lifestyle to be lived. The author of Hebrews reminds us, we “share in the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1). Discipleship is not a curriculum or class (although it should include both at times), but a life-long process of submission and obedience. Therefore, the believers need to embed themselves into the local church and engage their passion and purpose with the vision of the local body of believers.

Read the next in this series of articles called The Vehicles of Discipleship.

[1] Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 350.

[2] Walter Elwell and Barry Beitzel, Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1618.

[3] Rod Dempsey and David Earley, Disciple Making Is (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2013), ch. 20.

[4] Stuart K. Weber, Holman New Testament Commentary, vol. 1, Matthew, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 484.

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