What comes to your mind when you hear the word discipleship? I am sure that there are many different images that pop into the minds of those considering this thought. Perhaps there are some who envisage a Buddhist monk with his disciples in the mountains alone. Or, there may be some that think of a cult, where the leader is surrounded by her faithful devotees. Whatever picture comes to your mind, it is important that we consider this question in light of the church.
God has called, equipped, and empowered His children to carry out the Great Commission. This mission entails the church going and making disciples. That is, after all, the last command of Jesus before His ascension. “Go therefore,” he said, “and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:18, ESV)
As we consider the health of the church, discipleship and growth are part of the purpose of the church. Mark Dever gives us the importance of this to the health of the church when he writes, “A healthy church is characterized by a serious concern for spiritual growth on the part of its members. In a healthy church, people want to get better at following Jesus Christ.”
Unfortunately, many churches have forsaken this key aspect of their existence in favor of programs, or shows, and many other issues. If we are to be a healthy church, we need to focus on discipleship. That means people coming and growing. Dever writes, “In the New Testament we find the idea of a growth that involves not just more people but people who are growing up, maturing, and deepening in the faith.” He cites Ephesians 4:15-16, where Paul writes, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (ESV)
As all want our churches to grow, but as we seek numerical growth we must work and pray for spiritual growth. This does not happen because of one pastor (the Scriptures actually teach that each church should be led by multiple pastors, or, elders, but that will come at another time), it happens because the church works toward that purpose. Notice Paul’s words, “we are to grow up in every way….by every joint….when each part is working properly…” These are not statements referring to one individual. They are collective terms. This brings up several questions we should all consider:
· Am I helping others grow?
· Am I consistently attending and pouring into others’ lives?
· Am I open to correction and rebuke when necessary?
· What gifts has the Lord blessed me with to build His church?
There are many more questions we could ask, but spend time thinking and praying through them. It will help the church, fulfill the commandments of Jesus, and help us all grow.
Dever also provides what he terms “A biblical practice of growth.” His list includes the following: expositional preaching, biblical theology, a biblical understanding of the gospel, a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of church membership, a biblical understanding of church discipline, and a biblical understanding of church leadership. Since we have already discussed many of these before, I will not reiterate them.
However, I hope that you can see how each one is like a piece of the puzzle. They are all necessary for the church to be healthy, and they are all interconnected and mutually dependent. How can we hope to work on all of these simultaneously?
I would venture to work as a physician. They do not tell a patient with multiple areas of concern to start everything at once. They begin with one thing and then move on from there. That is good advice for us in the church context. While all of these are important and necessary, it is too overwhelming for us to do all of them at once. I suggest that you pick one that you would like to focus on personally, and then the Lord will work as He sees fit.
Let us grow, and seek to grow, for the rest of our lives, all for the glory of God!