Posted on April 13, 2016.
By Pastor Skylar Spradlin
In the previous three installments of this series we have examined the importance of making biblical disciples, we have looked at what a biblical disciple is not, and we’ve looked at what is a biblical disciple. We still have one crucial issue to examine when discussing a subject as this. In this final installment we must examine how to make biblical disciples. However, I will not spend the time laying out specific methods on making disciples. This is an important point that must be made; when it comes to making disciples, methodology is not the most important part. Quite frankly, there are many adequate and biblical methods out there to mirror. It must also be said that there is no cookie cutter version of discipleship that must be practiced by every church. Most of us know that some methods do not work in some places although they may work very well in other places. The culture of your church, size of your church, region your church is located in, and community is all different and therefore methods must be changed and adapted. If that is even slightly true, then we could spend myriads of time walking through methods. That is not what we must give our attention to primarily.
Now, before someone accuses me of opening the flood gates on methodology and ignoring biblical parameters I will say that, while method can be different, the biblical principles spelled out in Scripture and discussed in our previous blogs must be adhered to. A variety of possible methods does not mean ignoring biblical guidelines and instructions or goals. Truth be told, there are many unbiblical methods of discipleship floating around the church today. I will not go in to them all here because that would not further our purpose or produce much fruit at this time (perhaps a later time would benefit this subject more). However, I do hope that the principle laid out here will eliminate those unbiblical “ideas” within us and instead refocus us to what is most important.
The Goal of Discipleship
Back to how I began this blog, I will not begin to lay out specific methods for discipleship here because methods are not the most important thing about making disciples. As strange as that might sound to some, it is a clear point to be made. The most important thing for the church in making disciples is our heart behind the process and the goal for the end. Not only is our heart important as disciple makers, but the heart of the one being discipled is most important.
Two things must be remembered in discipleship. First, we must remember that those who are being made into faithful, biblical disciples are real people. That means there will be real sin that is involved. Real complexities, real heartache, real issues are always part of discipleship because discipleship is about real people. Thus, discipleship, by its nature, can be messy and difficult. There is a tendency to succumb to the temptation to think of the real people in the discipleship process as goals and numbers instead of seeing them as they are, sinners who have just been made alive and need to learn everything anew. Part of the language of how we speak of discipleship lends our fallen minds to think this way. We hear the term “make” and we begin to enter in to production mode or efficiency mode which quickly leads us to forget about the people we disciple and to start focusing on the results. After all, we are a result driven culture and the church has become a result driven church; a poison within our midst and thinking.
Second, we must remember that the instructions given by Jesus in Matthew 28 are primarily a matter of the heart. Baptism and growing in adherence to the Lord’s teaching (i.e. Scripture) is something that must first take place internally before it ever manifests itself externally in a genuine way. If we get that understanding backwards we become Pharisees and coat ourselves in nothing more than soul condemning self-righteousness. Thus, when Christ speaks of baptism and of growing in the Word of God He lays out the assumption of a changed and a changing heart. The regenerated heart and the heart undergoing sanctification is the only heart that can be baptized and that will grow in God’s Word.
Putting It All Together
What does this mean? Why is it important to point out and why should we remember this when it comes to discipleship? How does this understanding help the church make disciples? I would answer these questions like this: we must be careful of thinking that we can “do” a program that will make vast quantities of ready-made disciples. I say this because I fear that, while programs certainly do benefit and many methods are worthy, we have slipped into an unforeseen problem with our vast array of methods and programs of creating good volunteers or good “products” of our churches and not biblical disciples. We have become guilty of raising up people who know what we expect in church, know how we do things in church, are faithful to help us carry out our programs in church, but are blind to the general mission of Christ. Our programs and our ready-made mentality have made for good church goers who are not as committed to Christ as they are to our church. How sad is the reality that there are people who know our church functions better than they know Jesus? How sad is it that people are actually more committed to the bride of Christ than to Christ Himself? How terrifying is it that we are making good followers of us and not disciples of Jesus?
Now, lest someone think I am another young radical harping on programs let me say that I am not. I am expressing a fear from an unforeseen by-product of our programming. This misconception of discipleship, this false reality of discipleship, this destructive delusion is evident throughout a majority of churches and church circles. When we examine the landscape of our churches the reality is that we find people who are willing to die for the traditions of their church, but unwilling to live a life for Christ distinct from the world. We find people so totally committed to how they do church and not so committed to walking with Christ in everyday life. This is a sad and devastating trend. As a result, we must conclude, the overall approach and practice of discipleship is lacking in our churches or, worse, forgotten and neglected all together.
What if we came to grips with the thought that discipleship is hard work, messy, and slow? What if discipleship wasn’t a process that could be completed on this side of heaven? What if discipleship in our churches required slow growth, painstaking hours of investment in people’s life, and a dealing with sin and growth in God’s Word that required intimacy in relationship? Would we have many churches sign-up for this? The reality is, this is what biblical discipleship requires. A coming along side real people and seeking to encourage their growth in Christ from the heart. It is a bearing your heart to see the growth in another’s heart. Isn’t this what Christ was getting at with His sermon on the mount? Our God is a God who is concerned with the heart of a person. Therefore, our God is a God who wants discipleship to take place in the heart that then manifests itself externally in a sincere fashion.
When I first started this blog series on discipleship I highlighted some things that I had witnessed in other people and other churches. Things like faithful members of a church splitting and making very poor and ungodly decisions. I asked how that was possible IF we were making biblical disciples as the church. The answer to that questions is that we haven’t been making biblical disciples and that people, who were the leaders of their churches, can make poor decisions and choices that are unbiblical because they have not been discipled from the heart. They have set in all the programs and gone through all the church functions, but when pressed, when squeezed, when left on their own to make their own decisions we saw that what came out of their hearts was pure immaturity in Christ. They were found to be babes in the faith who did not know how to let their faith inform every area of their lives. They were “good church members,” but bad disciples.
Now don’t mistake what I am saying here. This is not a cop out or an excuse for them. People who have not grown in their faith are held responsible for that and have to answer for that. But, church life in recent decades has been so much about church attendance and involvement that discipleship is now a rarity. It is something uncommon in the church today. Just maybe we have averted the focus of the church to attendance and not to discipleship from the heart. The church herself must pick up these pieces and begin the work. Church attendance is good, involvement is good, both of those are even necessary, but they are not to replace the process of biblical discipleship where we spend the hard time encouraging genuine growth in Christ among one another. May we now change course and raise up biblical disciples from the heart who are publicly committed to honoring Christ as they are growing in His Word consistently.