Posts tagged # discipleship
Physical presence allows Paul and Timothy — and you and me — to strengthen and establish, encourage and exhort in ways we cannot through media, however advanced that media may be. Paul made the extraordinary effort to be with his fellow believers because he knew the extraordinary potential of being face to face.
—Marshall Segal, “I Long to See You: What Apple Will Never Replace” (Jan 10, 2018)
[A]fter a few decades of experiments and tests, we can say that online education appears to be a spiritually healthy way to train men and women for ministry.
—John Dyer, “Does Face-to-Face Education Damage Seminary Students?” (Jan 13, 2018)
First, a well-meaning jab: it’s not research but Scripture which reveals “truths” about discipleship. Second, a self-deprecating one: it’s easy to post about research anyway when it reinforces your views!
The article linked below is a summary of findings by LifeWay Research about discipleship. It’s succinct and pointed. Here’s my summary of it’s summary: Disciples grow by intentionally engaging with Scripture together.
I’ve put the headings here, but the article has a punchy C.S. Lewis quote and explanations for each point that should also be read.
- Discipleship is intentional.
- Reading the Bible matters more than anything else.
- The discipline of Bible engagement impacts every other discipline.
- Groups matter. A lot.
- There is a deep connection between discipleship and evangelism.
“Faith, hope, love” is a basic part of gospel teaching and disciple-making.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel… (Col. 1:3–5)
Consider the example of Colossians 1:3–8. The Colossian letter is quite generic. It was intended for a wide audience (see 4:16). The Apostle Paul hadn’t planted or visited the church in Colossae. He wasn’t addressing a person or an urgent problem, but was encouraging believers with a pattern of teaching similar to that in his letter to the Ephesians. What Paul emphasizes in Colossians can be seen as “majors” for our own general teaching and mission.
Immediately after the letter’s greetings, Paul brings attention to the Colossians’ faith, hope and love (verses 3 through 8 form one sentence in Greek). He also did this for the believers in Thessalonica (see 1 Thess. 1:3). The display of faith, hope and love in the lives of believers is what he and his disciple accompanying him, Timothy, were listening for in a report (“since we heard of…,” v. 4; “from the day we heard this,” v. 9). And it’s the basis of their thanks to God (v. 3).
The Colossian believers heard of “faith, hope, love” before, when the gospel came to them (v. 5, 7). “Faith in Christ Jesus,” “love for all the saints,” and “hope laid up in heaven” aren’t the gospel — Paul reminds them of the gospel next (vv. 15–23) — but they flow directly from it and are in his preaching of it. They’re marks of gospel understanding and growth in Christ.
Paul doesn’t introduce faith, hope, and love in the letter as advanced theological education. In fact, this teaching came earlier through Epaphras, which tells us that “faith, hope, love” is an apostolic pattern of teaching. Either it preceded Paul, Timothy and Epaphras and they were taught it, or a revelation proceeded from Paul to his companions and then to the Colossians. It’s meant to be passed on. Look for it in the apostles’ teaching.
Faith in Christ, hope in heaven and love for God’s people are basic to a disciple, and pursuing these in another person’s life is basic to disciple-making. In Colossians, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to highlight faith, hope, and love first. He uses them in the letter as an outline for his teaching and a basis for his commands. Evidence of faith, hope and love is how Paul could know and celebrate that the gospel “is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world” (vv. 5–6)!
[O]bedience based discipleship stresses the importance of teaching people to obey the Bible, rather than simply teaching people Bible content.
There are two features about this emphasis on obedience as the basis of discipleship that need to be noted. First, they privilege the commands of Jesus over the rest of the New Testament. … However, it is not essential to the concept of obedience-based discipleship, and others who share this methodology do not share this prioritization of the actual words of Jesus over the writings of the apostles. Second, [George] Patterson and [Richard] Scroggins [an early example of obedience-based discipleship comes from their book, Church Multiplication Guide] stress obedience alongside and even above theological knowledge. … ¶ The foci are clear. Bible doctrine is “heavy,” and it can be dangerous. “Simple, loving, childlike obedience” is the goal of both discipleship and leadership training.
[I]t is one thing to say that biblical discipleship should issue in obedience, and another thing altogether to make obedience the basis of discipleship. It is also one thing to say that knowledge without obedience is dangerous, and another thing to set obedience above knowledge or at odds with it. This was certainly not the pattern of the apostles. ¶ The letters of the New Testament were part of the apostolic missionary method.
Three things may be observed from the apostolic letters of the New Testament. First, theological knowledge was given as the basis for practical obedience. It is particularly true in the letters of Paul that he often begins with an extended discourse on gospel theology, and then transitions with the word “therefore” into the practical sections of his letters. Clearly, the truth about God and his gospel is the essential foundation for Christian obedience. Paul does not simply issues orders to be obeyed. He explains the theological truth that motivates and enables obedience before he exhorts people to that obedience. This is a crucial difference between legalism and Christian discipleship. The biblical pattern puts knowing (the message of the gospel, and the larger biblical theology that stands behind it and around it) and being (being a new creation in Christ, in union with him and indwelt by his Holy Spirit) as the necessary foundations for doing, not as secondary or extraneous to it. ¶ Second, the apostolic letters of the New Testament present deep theology to ordinary Christians, many of whom were recent converts. … To regard the great theological themes of the Bible as unnecessary for new believers is to disregard what the Holy Spirit, through the apostles, thought essential for the new believers of the early church. ¶ Third, the vast majority of the obedience enjoined by the New Testament is altogether mundane in nature. There is actually very little about evangelism and church planting, and a great deal about ordinary life. … Based on who God is and what he has done for us in Christ, discipleship must lay the same emphases as the New Testament on godly living in every area of life.
So what should we think of obedience-based discipleship? First of all, biblical discipleship should most certainly teach and expect obedience. … However, obedience is not the basis for discipleship, nor does it stand alone as the main aspect of discipleship. The basis of discipleship is the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ… ¶ Biblical discipleship therefore involves knowing, being and doing in an inseparable union.
Before maturing disciples, we must teach the gospel in its fullness. A kingdom gospel will produce kingdom citizens.
Recite the Great Commission and you may learn something about yourself. Go on and try to say Jesus’ last command in Matthew 28:18–20 for yourself. Don’t skip this part. I’ll do it too. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus is Lord! Good start. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations….” Now we’ve got down the main command. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit….” Our allegiance is to God who is three-in-one. “Teaching them…” Go on…
Wait… teaching them what?
I often hear one of two omissions when someone reaches this point in these verses. Some people, even New Testament scholars and missiologists, have said, “teaching them all that I have commanded you,” and forgot, “to obey,” or, “to observe.” And some, missions practitioners and church planters included, have said, “teaching them to obey what I have commanded you” or just, “teaching them to obey,” and left out, “all,” or, “everything that I have commanded you.”
You might dismiss the omissions as accidents, but these have been published. No doubt, many, including you, get it right or catch the error and give Jesus’ correct statement: “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
We speed through the Great Commission (not to mention other familiar Scriptures) and don’t give it a second thought. But we need to give it a second thought. What we omit betrays a misunderstanding of Christ’s commission to us.
We omit certain words to emphasize others. Which words do you tend to leave out of the Great Commission? Which words do you emphasize? I’m not just asking about the omissions in our memories, but the omissions in our strategies, efforts and teachings. These omissions and emphases steer missionaries and theologians — and those we disciple.
We will make healthy disciples neither through knowledge nor obedience alone. We must hear and teach God’s Word and do it in a way that leads disciples to obey it, even obey through suffering (Heb. 5:8) and to the point of death (Phil. 2:8). We must give disciples not some of Jesus’ commands, as if this commission to make disciples were Jesus’ first or only command, but “the whole counsel” (Acts 20:27). We are not faithful to the Lord if we emphasize education or multiplication at the cost of the other.
Does obedience or knowledge take precedence over the other? Is it a balance between two opposing objectives? The relation of obedience and knowledge deserves it’s own study. For now it is enough to say that in Matthew 28:20 we have one objective, nothing less: to teach disciples to obey all that Jesus commanded.
We are not commissioned to knowledge-based nor obedience-based discipleship — though we labor for the fruit of knowledge and obedience. It will always be inadequate to base our discipleship on anything other than Jesus himself, “the founder and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). We should seek, like Paul, “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations for the sake of his name” (Rom. 1:5, 16:26). This obedience is based on Jesus, from beginning to end, from the faith in his “all authority,” through the speaking of his “commands” in love, to the hope of his ongoing presence: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We bring about obedience by aiming for the faith, hope and love that are in Christ Jesus.
“Faith, Hope, Love” is the outline of our discipleship process. We implemented “Faith, Hope, Love” when we were using the practical three-thirds plan of T4T (“Training for Trainers”) by Ying Kai and Steve Smith. Although “Faith, Hope, Love” looks like T4T, we wanted our training to align more closely with Scripture. We were also informed by The Universal Disciple Pattern by Thom Wolf, who introduced us to the idea that faith, hope and love can be a part of a framework for discipleship. You could say that we mashed-up one “fruitful” and one “faithful” idea.
Faith, Hope, Love is based on a pattern the apostles used (see Rom. 5:1–5; 1 Cor. 13:13; 1 Thess. 1:3, 5:8; Col. 1:3–6; Heb. 10:19–24). It’s a summary of Christian health, a paradigm that helps us to evaluate and encourage the growth of the gospel. Faith, hope, and love are the biblical measures of missions.
This process reminds us to build up each other in these three major areas. We spend a third of each discipleship meeting focused on love for God and one another; a third on faith in learning God’s Word; and a third on hope in preparing to obey. This pattern can be followed in thirty minutes or three hours, in a one-on-one setting or large church gathering.
Faith, Hope, Love activities. These three outline Christian growth in general and so guide our discipleship meetings in particular. Here are activities we have used to build up faith, hope and love.
- Worshiping God
- Thanking God
- Listening to one another
- Caring for one another’s needs
- Reporting and being accountable
- Inviting and welcoming others
- Preaching and hearing God’s Word
- Reviewing and retelling God’s Word
- Studying God’s Word
- Believing God’s Word
- Singing God’s Word
- Sharing God’s Word
- Casting vision
- Blessing and warning
- Applying God’s Word and planning obedience
- Equipping and practicing to disciple others
- Committing and commissioning
The order of activities may not matter and they can weave together (as seen in the overlap of faith, hope and love in some epistles). Various people can facilitate activities and discover or apply their spiritual gifts. When we meet, we put Love first because it’s the greatest (1 Cor. 13:13) and it builds on the Faith and Hope of the previous meeting in terms of review, accountability and care (see figure below). It happens that much of what we do first, in Love, looks back and last, in Hope, looks ahead.
Faith, Hope, Love movement. The discipleship process links together meetings and supports obedience. We meet to hear the Word (Faith), prepare to obey (Hope), and check in (Love) when we meet again.
Besides encouraging spiritual growth, Faith, Hope, Love is also a diagnostic tool to evaluate it (as seen especially in 1 and 2 Thess.). This is another good reason we put Love first. We listen to others in love and discern which Scripture we need to teach or re-teach in Faith. As an example, if we listen and learn that believers are not sharing the gospel, we know to teach Scripture that builds faith, before commanding obedience; if they are not serving their families, we know to build love; if they are intimidated by persecution or temptation, we know to build hope. We know this because of how the apostles address problems in the New Testament. You can know a tree by its fruit; you can grow a tree by its root.
We aim to build faith, hope and Love with God’s Word in cooperation with his Spirit. The Faith, Hope, Love process does not replace good teaching and Bible study. We use the process early on with a set of Bible stories or lessons about the gospel and God’s kingdom. Then we continue with it as we study Mark, Acts, Ephesians and beyond. It makes obedience-based discipleship more healthy by strengthening the roots of obedience, and Bible studies and story sets more healthy by putting the products to work and cultivating the fruits of obedience.
The Faith, Hope, Love discipleship process is a simple (not easy) plan to equip believers for ministry. It works when we plan on God’s Spirit to work according to his Word. We have seen disciples grow and multiply, across languages and cultures. Notably, the disciples are themselves changed and have caused others to take notice. Personally, it’s helped my own growth in Christ and in ministry to others in many discipleship contexts: in Bible studies and Sunday school classes, as an outline for prayer and songs for worship, in conversations and letter writing, and in personal and family devotions.
In short, we meet regularly and be accountable to each other for what God taught us in his Word. We look for obedience that is grounded in faith, filled with love and inspired by hope. We celebrate when this happens and patiently warn, encourage and help each other when it doesn’t (1 Thess. 5:12). We model this process to equip others to make disciples. We aim to fulfill Jesus’ command together to, “Go… make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).
The road of “ascents” is one of discipleship. It is an uphill road, but one that we are given special strength to walk. Even Jesus “learned obedience” uphill (Heb. 5:8), as He ascended not only to Jerusalem, but to Calvary and then to Heaven. That is the way: conversion, the cross, then glory. Keep your way according to Jesus’ path; you will persevere. Today, use all the resources Jesus used: the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, prayer, and the community of believers. Be rid of all that hinders. And when you wander or slip, remember… oh, remember! that Jesus has already succeeded and ascended in your place. By grace, through faith, your way is secured. Read Psalms 129 and persevere.
Be sure you have a special time with the Lord today, in personal prayer, in the Scriptures, and in worship. Then you are walking!
The Lord is righteous and has cut us free,
A song of ascents.
1 They have greatly oppressed me from my youth—
let Israel say—
2 they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
but they have not gained the victory over me.
3 Plowmen have plowed my back
and made their furrows long.
4 But the LORD is righteous;
he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.
5 May all who hate Zion
be turned back in shame.
6 May they be like grass on the roof,
which withers before it can grow;
7 with it the reaper cannot fill his hands,
nor the one who gathers fill his arms.
8 May those who pass by not say,
“The blessing of the LORD be upon you;
we bless you in the name of the LORD.”