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The Lost Art of Discipling

The Second article in a series on Discipling in the Local Church
by Dudley Foord

Interact Magazine 1990

Volume 1 Number 3

1. Disciples Needed, Not Only Converts

Our churches are full of Christians but few real disciples! Are you pleased with this painfully true but accurate assessment of our churches? Christ’s commission is to ‘make disciples…..teaching them to obey everything …’ we are not to be content to see a person become a Christian. Our objective now is to help this new Christian progress to the point where he is a faithful, mature, dedicated and growing disciples who will reproduce this pattern in another new Christian and then in another and so on.

2. Inadequate Views Popular Today

The term ‘follow up’ coveys a beneficial but inadequate notion of discipleship. It is normal today to provide some initial basic Bible studies for a new convert. These help him get started in Christian growth. The hope is that attendance at church or some fellowship group will continue the process.

Whilst these efforts are praiseworthy they are inadequate in terms of disciple building. Many Christian workers do not know what else to do and therefore this inadequate concept of discipling must be corrected. By contrast, a disciple-building ministry should extend over a longer period as the discipler regularly meets with the small group of key disciples (and also individually) covering prescribed materials and goals.

Making disciples takes time. At least a year’s continuing relationship of encouragement and shepherding is necessary, preferably longer. It cannot be achieved through a series of lectures and a training seminar, nor can it be done by reading a book. Furthermore, it cannot be rushed. One feature of our culture is our ability and desire to mass produce. We mass produce everything – cars, appliances and household gadgets. Disciples are made but not mass produced. Each one is moulded and fashioned individually by the Word and Spirit of God as the disciples sensitively and lovingly establishes a on-going relationship with the disciple. Example and modelling are crucial in this process.

3. The New Testament Approach to Disciple Making

Today the church operates so that the work load on the Minister continually increases, which limits the church’s ministry and harms the Pastor. In the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus spent most of His ministry with the small band of twelve. He selected these men and spent three years developing and equipping them for ministry. He gave these twelve the responsibility to preach and teach as He was doing. As the crowds continued to grow He selected and trained seventy more. Jesus was establishing the biblical method of building the church through the building of disciples.

Paul instructed Timothy, ‘the things you have heard me say…..entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.’ (2 Timothy 2:2) We observe that four spiritual generations are mentioned in this statement: Paul, Timothy, Timothy’s disciples and their disciples. Teaching people to teach what they have learned is the principle of multiplication. It is not just teaching them to evangelise. The exception that each disciple will be able to reproduce in another what he has learned and practiced establishes a new dynamic in the discipling process. No lesson is learned by simply reproducing it on paper. It is considered to be learned when the disciple’s mindset and lifestyle are firmly reproduced in another disciple.

Any wise leader will likewise concentrate his time with a small group of committed Christians, twelve probably being the maximum number for effective discipling. The fewer, the better. Concentrating on a ‘few’ at depth, so that they in turn will be able to do the same with others, is in the long run far more effective than the much more effective than the much more superficial teaching of a larger group.

Most people blossom when given encouragement, training and responsibilities. Unless key leaders in a congregation are selected and trained to minister as disciple-makers, the expansion and growth of the local church will cease. No matter how dynamic the Pastor, no matter how financially stable and well organised a local church, expansion will not continue if Christians are not trained to minister. By this means the Christian is to move on from being a disciple to being a disciple-maker. This was the method of Jesus and the Apostles.

4. Strategy for Our Churches

To recover this ‘lost art of disciple-making’ in a local church calls for the adoption of a strategy that entails being God’s co-workers to achieve His goals.

The local church is the most obvious place to begin by developing a practical strategy. Always start small. The Pastor is the key to establishing this discipling ministry. If the ‘under-shepherd’ does not follow the Chief-Shepherd, how will the flock by led? Unless the Pastor has the vision and courage to initiate a change in this direction, nothing will happen. He should, therefore, prayerfully select a small group of key Christians and set before them the vision and the cost required. Those who respond positively should be gathered to meet regularly and be personally discipled by the Pastor as Jesus did.

Three preliminary steps are envisaged:

Step 1

The Pastor needs to catch the vision of the importance of this discipling ministry. It is an essential aspect of the ministry in a local church. He must give a lead.

Step 2

This ‘vision’ gives rise to the formulation of a practical strategy as to how this is to be implemented in the life of the local church.

Step 3

Now specific goals are stated. Such a goal could be to select, say, eight key Christians (or couples) with a view to being part of a discipleship training group to met regularly with him over a twelve month period. the various books on Discipleship have well documented training objectives for such a group.

In all this the Pastor essentially ministers encouragement to his disciples. His ultimate goal in making disciples is to ‘present every man mature in Christ’ (Colossians 1:28). 

Rev Dudley Foord is an Anglican minister engaged in a church planting and establishing ministry in South West Sydney and is also a parish consultant for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Department of Evangelism.

© Rev Dudley Foord (1 November 1990)

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