The Main Event: Discipleship
The greatest need in the Western church is to put intentional discipleship at the top of its agenda. Wherever discipleship is practiced there will always be converts, there will always be enough leaders and there will always be Christian growth and maturity. This is the Master's Plan
W hat are discipleship-based local churches?
You may already be sold on the concept of discipleship, but what does a discipleship-based church look like? Are there any models in the west where we could see it in action? Is there a curriculum that we should follow or a book that explains a workable procedure? More importantly, does the New Testament give us any clues about how to put discipleship into practice? Did the apostle Paul, or other apostles, use a ‘training track’ to lead people from Christian conversion to spiritual service and maturity?
I suspect that we all find it difficult to answer these questions affirmatively! (No doubt we will hear from those who have begun the transition from program-based churches or cell-based churches to discipleship-based churches – but at the moment we do not know of any we could point others to as an effective model.)
There are quite a few books available which talk of the need for discipleship-based churches and a few which introduce the principles necessary for such churches. These have appeared over the last few years and are an indication that God is waking his church up to this long-neglected practice. But specific materials for churches who want to implement biblical discipleship are more difficult to find. This is where Definitive Discipleship plans to help. We have produced some manuals, DVD’s and a suggested curriculum to help you implement discipleship in your local church.
Is a ‘discipleship curriculum’ or a ‘discipleship training-track’ Biblical?This is a key question! The truth is that there is not a single passage in the New Testament that spells out a comprehensive course of teaching or a complete syllabus for discipleship training. Nevertheless, there are sufficient clues which imply that a structured discipleship was adopted and in use to ensure every believers growth in knowledge, character, skills and spirituality.
Firstly, in Hebrews 6:1-2, there is a clear listHere are six subjects described as ‘elementary teachings’ or ‘milk for spiritual infants.’ These are the kindergarten teachings, the ABC’s of the Christian life that all new believers should be weaned on. Interestingly, these six themes have rarely been on anyone’s discipleship program and most Christian’s in the western church would be unable to articulate them.
‘Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.’ Hebrews 6:1
Paul’s references to ‘the teachings’ which he teaches everywhere:
1 Cor 4:17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
1 Cor 11:2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.
2 Thess 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
2 Tim 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others1 Tim 4:6 If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
2 Thess 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
We can safely conclude that NT ministries had a “body of teachings” which were used to train new believers and build strong churches. These teachings were known, understood and were to be passed on to successive generations of new converts. This was how they practised discipleship.
Why didn’t the Holy Spirit specify a specific training program for all believers?
We cannot deny that there was a body of teachings that Paul applied to the churches he planted and watched over. But why do we not have that list? This would make it very easy for us to apply!
The obvious answer is that the Holy Spirit knows how easily we can become religious and reduce a dynamic and Spirit-inspired list of teachings into a legalistic requirement which excludes seeking God’s guidance and which requires tuning in to our particular age, culture or society.
It has been left to every church leadership team to design their own discipleship program, drawn from the broad array of specific teachings revealed in the New Testament. For example, one church may be in a country which has a rich Christian heritage; another could be in a nation of primarily Buddhists or Muslims; another might be in a post-Christian environment. Each of these would need a discipleship track tailored for their specific needs. There would be ‘core subjects’ which would be common to all but other subjects, specific to each locality.
Definitive Discipleship has majored on a training track that is ideal for post-Christian people, for whom everything has to be explained clearly, in a well-reasoned and progressive manner. It has been tested in UK and in Spain, with encouraging success and lasting benefits.
What material is currently available?
Definitive Discipleship has produced three courses to help churches begin the transition to disciple-based ministry. Training manuals and administrative materials are also available. Each can be used as a stand-alone course and can be adapted to suit your local needs. But our recommendation is to adopt as much as you can and use the courses in a sequential and consecutive way.
The Discovery Course - Complete and published in English and Spanish
The Foundations Course - Complete and published in English
The Freedom Course - Under construction!
The Missional Course - Under construction
We will update details as we have them.