By Rachel Hamman
When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, 20, he used four action verbs to emphasize the importance of discipleship:
Jesus’ instructions were simple, but the success of the early church depended on how well the apostles would carry out his commands. In John 17:20, Jesus prayed for his disciples and for those who would believe in him through their words—including us.
The process of discipleship is simple, yet so often misunderstood. To be a disciple simply means to be a follower. To understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Make disciples,” we must follow his example. For Jesus, discipleship required time, energy, commitment, care, and genuine concern for souls. As he walked from village to village, Jesus taught his disciples by example. Jesus’ vocabulary was full of action phrases such as, “deny yourself,” “follow me,” “lose your life,” and “take up your cross.” He never expected more of his followers than he expected of himself. Ultimately Jesus gave his life so that potentially everyone could be saved.
To fulfill the Great Commission, Christians must get the concept that it is their responsibility to make disciples. Winning souls and nurturing new Christians should be the top priority of every congregation. Unfortunately, many Christians do not set aside time in their schedules for evangelism and mentoring new converts. Responding to the need for discipleship, some congregations have developed discipleship programs or ministries.
Be a Disciple—Make a Disciple
At the Church of Christ at Mountain View near Winchester, Virginia, the discipleship mission is, “be a disciple, make a disciple.” CCMV’s method of discipling is one-with-one. A man meets with another man weekly and women meet likewise. People who are hesitant to share in a group setting are more comfortable with this format.
Lessons cover basic topics, such as establishing a daily quiet time with God, the lordship of Christ, developing as a spiritual leader, and sharing one’s faith. CDs of sermons are included with some lessons to reinforce the material. Both the leader and the student are responsible for completing one lesson per week and memorizing at least one Bible verse. The series can be completed within seven months on a regular schedule. The discipleship ministry meets as a group three to four times a year for fellowship, which includes a meal, ministry updates, and a message. Resources for participants are also available at the ministry’s website (beonemakeone.org).
Participants are expected to disciple others after successfully completing the program. On average, the discipleship ministry at CCMV has 20-50 active members. Being part of the CCMV discipleship ministry has helped members grow in the following areas:
• gaining scriptural insights
• spiritual development
• stronger family relationships
• more effectiveness in witnessing
Growing Churches Are Discipling Churches
Laurel Chapel Christian Church in London, Kentucky, has a discipleship ministry called REACH, which is geared toward teens and twenty-somethings. REACH meets three times a week.
At the beginning of each six-month cycle, a syllabus is given out to REACH participants. The group is divided into two teams that compete against each other. Points are awarded for Bible reading, special studies, Scripture memorization, classwork, evangelism, and participation. Points can be deducted for lack of participation. Each team has a leader who is responsible for holding the team accountable. Uncommitted individuals are dismissed from the group. At the end of each cycle, the team and the individual with the most points are rewarded with a prize.
During each cycle, opportunities are presented to the group in the form of events, challenges, or workshops that engage participants physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In addition to the regular worship assemblies, REACH often meets during the week. An effort is made to contact each person in the group on a daily basis. REACH members are consistently challenged to grow in their relationship with Christ.
During meetings, teams are asked to role play in situations where they debate, lead, or comfort. This has proven to be an effective means of teaching discipleship at LCCC. REACH participants are responsible for completing a daily devotional, which they turn in weekly. REACH holds a weekend seminar twice a year. A special speaker is invited to teach discipleship principles. This is done in an interactive environment where the students are able to ask questions and participate.
REACH has proven to be an effective discipleship tool at LCCC. REACH participants comprise over half of the total membership. Twenty-seven members were added by immersion in the previous year.
Commitment to Discipleship Is Paramount
Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has a 21-month comprehensive discipleship program called Thoroughly Equipped. It is designed to teach Christians how to become effective “co-laborers for the advancing work of God’s Kingdom.” The program was started at SCC in 2002 after Kurt Sauder and Eric Schansberg saw the need for developing a strong leadership program for men. The program was expanded to include women in 2005.
Kurt and Eric created Thoroughly Equipped to teach church members how to be leaders. Future leaders are asked to commit to a 10-week study. They can then decide whether they want to finish the 21-month program. Individuals commit to 4-5 hours of study per week, which includes Bible reading, Scripture memorization, and topical studies. A “hunger to walk as Jesus walked” is essential. Men’s and women’s groups meet separately once a week, except during semester breaks. Each group consists of about 12 men or women. Two retreats are built into the series.
The first class at SCC had 19 graduates. Their most recent class had 190 graduates. About 85-90 percent of those who finish the first 10-week session go on to complete the program. Schansberg says being up-front with prospective leaders about the commitment level required in Thoroughly Equipped contributes to the high completion rate. Getting people to take ownership of their commitment is directly related to their success.
Schansberg believes implementing Thoroughly Equipped at SCC has contributed to the spiritual depth of the congregation and has changed the culture there, though he is quick to give credit to the SCC leadership team. More than half of the deacons at SCC have graduated from the discipleship program. Schansberg says the effectiveness of the series is evidenced in the following ways:
• More fathers are reading the Bible with their children
• Marital relationships are improving
• There is greater confidence in evangelizing
Discipleship Is Integral
In each of these discipleship programs or ministries, some level of Scripture memorization is required. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Regardless of the size of the church, discipleship is an integral part of a healthy and growing congregation. Whether the method is one-with-one or a group setting, discipleship must be put into practice to be effective. Discipleship is not a cruise control activity. It is hands-on and real. Jesus practiced discipleship. If we love him, we need to obey his command to go, make, baptize, and teach.
Rachel Hamman is a freelance writer in White Post, Virgina.
How’s Your Church Discipleship?
1. What groups of people is your church particularly well equipped to reach?
2. What ministry (official or unofficial) do you see Christ using powerfully in your congregation?
3. Are many people in your church involved in ministries (in and out of church) that help people know Christ better—or does that seem like a job reserved for leaders?
4. Does your church have vibrant programs that help new believers deepen their faith?