Where Did It All Start?
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’” (Matthew 28:18–20 NIV). The Greek word μαθητής (mathetes—disciple, student) appears between 260 and 296 times in Scripture, depending on the version of the Bible you read. It appears only in the Gospels and the book of Acts.1 However, we see the servant and master relationship throughout all of Scripture.
Why is the word disciple used in Scripture so many times, but only in the New Testament? I believe the Old Testament tells of the fall of man and the struggle of humanity to return to a relationship with God. This testament foretells the promise of one who would bring us to that relationship. The Gospels proclaim the birth of that promise, His life, death, and resurrection. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus. “…whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life” (1 John 1:1 NLT). The book of Acts shares the fulfillment of the command given by Jesus to His followers to go and make disciples. We see the acts of the apostles and work of the Holy Spirit in the early church as “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47 NIV).
Jesus’ disciples, through discipleship, believed that He was the promised Savior of the world. In John 17, Jesus’ prayer to His Father gives us insight into what His followers believed and what they would do after he was gone. What they believed: “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me” (John 17:7, 8 NIV). What they would do: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20 NIV).
Along with the command of Jesus to “go and make disciples,” He also commanded them to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49 NIV). From the day of Pentecost onward, the apostles began to preach and teach (evangelism and discipleship) about who the promised Messiah indeed was, Jesus of Nazareth. The Holy Spirit baptized them with new power to witness and to make disciples.
A Biblical Model for Discipleship
Acts 2:42–46 reveals the fruits of Pentecost. By the Holy Spirit, a method for growth was produced in the lives of the new believers through devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, devoting themselves to fellowship, devoting themselves to the breaking of bread, and devoting themselves to prayer. They saw many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
The “acts” of the early church can be seen within these five discipleship principles: (1) Teaching God’s Word (learning); (2) Fellowship of believers (relationship with humanity); (3) Serving humanity (loving God through service), (4) Worshipping God (acknowledging His character and acts); and (5) Prayer (relationship with God through communication). Among most models of discipleship today, these principles exist in some form.
Current Models of Discipleship
Today, there are many different models for discipling new and mature believers. Discipleship should be a lifelong quest for every follower of Jesus. Leaders should approach choosing a model for discipleship with a scope of eternity in mind. Here are just a few of the current models being used across the kingdom of God today:
IMB (International Mission Board)—In the IMB model, discipleship occurs through one-on-one or small group mentoring in the context of a local church. The organization helps the local church create activities designed to develop or deepen habits of obedience in a Christian life. Disciples walk through the entire New Testament and learn to see life in the light of the Gospel. The International Mission Board gives eight categories of Discipleship.
Being a Disciple: Being a disciple includes personal holiness, living a life pleasing to God, abiding in Christ, developing godly character, demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit, and using spiritual gifts to edify others.
Spiritual Disciplines: Spiritual disciplines help us focus upward, outward, and inward and include prayer, Bible reading and study, confession of sins to one another; regular repentance, etc.
Healthy Relationships: Healthy relationships include living wise, loving, and godly lives within our family, church, work, and world. The “one another” passages in the New Testament instructs us in how to relate to others in a way that pleases God.
Making Disciples: Making disciples includes being a faithful disciple oneself who also practices evangelism (announcing the good news of the Gospel), discipleship (intentionally seeking the spiritual good of another), modeling, teaching, training, loving, listening, and encouraging disciples to make more disciples.
Teaching/Explaining the Word Simply: Explaining the Word simply includes understanding and explaining the big story, and key teachings of each New Testament. The IBM model shares a simple approach that emphasizes transformation as well as information for the believer.
The Local Church’s Role: The local church’s role in being and making disciples includes understanding what makes a healthy church and what Scripture says about the life and practice in every context.
All Peoples: Growing disciples are challenged to have an eye or awareness for the nations and aim at being and making disciples among all peoples.
Deep Discipleship (Youth Ministry Curriculum)—LeaderTreks has created a new strategy: Deep Discipleship. It focuses on eight roots of Discipleship found in Scripture.
RESCUE: What is God’s core plan for salvation?
KNOWLEDGE: Who is this God we serve?
KINGDOM: What does a life of discipleship look like?
OUTREACH: What is God’s purpose for us as disciples?
APOLOGETICS: How do disciples communicate God’s truth in a world that hates God?
WORSHIP: How do disciples interact with God once they start following him?
COMMUNITY: What does it mean to be a part of God’s family?
IDENTITY: At the most basic level, who are we as human beings, children of God, and disciples of Christ?
The Navigators—The Navigators is focused on developing disciples person-by-person-by-person and encouraging spiritual growth across life stages. Through Life-to-Life relationships, The Navigators discipleship ministry fulfills the message of 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV): “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” The Navigators have upheld the mission, “To know Christ, make Him known, and help others do the same.
Campus Crusade for Christ—CRU states that: “Discipleship is spending time with someone regularly talking about God, the Bible, and daily life. They recognize five areas of discipleship: (1) Spiritual growth; (2) Life and relationships; (3) Bible studies; (4) Share the Gospel; and (5) Help others grow. Whether you’re just getting started or looking to go deeper with your disciple, they have resources with tips to live out faith in a way that effectively multiplies the Kingdom.”
The Gospel Coalition—The Gospel Coalition, from Pastor Mark Dever’s, shares a four-step approach to lifelong discipleship:
TEACH: At its core, discipling is teaching. We teach with words. We teach what Jesus taught His disciples and all the words of the Bible.
CORRECT: Sometimes discipling requires you to warn others about the choices they’re making. People grow when you teach them general truths; yes, but also when you correct their particular errors.
MODEL: Ultimately, discipling involves living out the whole Christian life before others. Jesus is the ultimate example (1 Peter 2:21).
LOVE: Discipling is a form of mutual love. Yes, there’s something of a teacher-student relationship, but there will also be peer-to-peer mutual love.
How about you?
These are just a few of the current models being used in the kingdom of God today. What method of discipleship are you currently using? Take an inventory of your personal life and ministry. Pastor, leader, do you have a plan for discipling those God has given you oversight? How about you as an individual? Have you led someone to Jesus and left them to find their way or have you traveled with them, showing them the way? Remember the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him’ (Acts 8: 29–31 NIV).
Discipleship is necessary. Discipleship is love. Discipleship is eternal.
Author: kirk Rising
1 Matt Slick, “How many times do various words appear in the Bible?” Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, https://carm.org/how-manytimes-do-various-words-appear-in-the-bible (accessed February 6, 2020).
2 “Deepen Discipleship,” 2020 IMB/Courses, https://imb.pathwright.com/ library/deepen-discipleship-055f43a0/about/ (Accessed February 6, 2020).
3 Doug Franklin, “The 8 Roots of Discipleship,” LeaderTreks Youth Ministry, https://www.leadertreks.org/eight-roots-discipleship/, (accessed November 20, 2014).
4 Navigators, “About,” The Navigators, 2020, https://www.navigators.org/ about/, (accessed February 6, 2020).
5 Cru, “Help Others Grow,” Cru.com, https://www.cru.org/us/en/train-andgrow/help-others-grow.html (accessed February 6, 2020).
6 Mark Dever, Content adapted from Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus, Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/ article/4-ways-to-make-disciples/.