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Monday, October 7, 2013

How to Build a Disciple-Making Church

Edward F. Lundwall, Jr.

Getting Started

The general goal of this curriculum outline is to begin maturing certain members as a core group for developing a disciple-making ministry in the local church. The basic reference, besides the Scriptures, is "A Manual for Developing Leaders for Disciples Fellowships" by E. F. Lundwall, Jr. Here are the questions it seeks to answer:

Is there a need for comprehensive discipleship in the Local Church?

Should training disciples be a life style for the local church?

Can church members develop as mature believers without a comprehensive disciple-making ministry?

What is the evidence that it is God’s will that disciple-making should be a comprehensive ministry?

Can it be done without overwhelming the senior pastor?

What role must the senior pastor play?

Developing the Vision – Part I

"Where there is no vision, the people perish: . . ."  Proverbs 29:18 KJV

"But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples; the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few."  Matthew 9:36–37 KJV

Vision 1

Visualize the local church as God’s primary base of operations.

"I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth;" 1 Timothy 3:15 NKJV

The church’s functional importance emanates from God’s design for it to be ". . . the pillar and ground of the truth." For where God dwells, the truth is present for He is the truth. Further, it is only when He is honored as Lord by faith that believers can access his truth. When Christ’s Lordship characterizes church life, the positive side of truth be can manifested. Then it is manifested not only on earth, but also in the heavenlies (Ephesians 3:10). The Church will then prepare itself and its members for spiritual warfare that cannot be avoided (Ephesians 6:10–20; Titus 1:9). God’s truth is the weapon that Christ’s soldiers must use (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5). Therefore, as hard as traditional habits are to change, they must be changed or altered, if the Church is to operate as a fruitful branch for her Lord and Head.

The scriptural design for the Church is to develop to be and operate as a self edifying organism (Ephesians 4:11–16). For this to be a possible, the Lord gives spiritually gifted and mature men to make it function. The Lord’s plan is for the mature to make and mature disciples. Without discipling the church will not, as a way of life, reproduce its leadership. The Lord has promised His enabling presence to accomplish this discipling stewardship (Matt 28:19–20).

The design is that believers are to be in partnership (the sense of the Greek word for fellowship) with the Lord (1 John 1:3). With any partnership both must do their part, and the Lord never fails.

Vision 2

Be convinced that foundation discipleship is the will of God.

To accomplishment the building of a disciple-making church, its leadership must be persuaded that it is the will of God. In the inescapable spiritual warfare between tradition and "bringing every thought into obedience to Christ," (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5) only that which is conviction will endure the conflict (Matt 13:3–23).

The Lord commanded us to follow his example of ministry (John 20:21). Disciple making was a notable part of His ministry: "When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)" (John 4:1, 2 KJV). The Lord’s instruction to new believers was to prove the reality of their relationship by being His "disciples indeed." "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31–32 KJV). At an appointed time and place, the Lord Jesus cited His complete authority as the context of His command to make disciples to the end of the age (Matt 28:16–20), an emphasis found in the original Greek text and some modern translations.

The Greek word for “disciple” has the sense of being an apprentice. As an apprentice of whatever trade, philosophy or skill works with his teacher until he had mastered the skill or knowledge of his teacher. Then he would become an agent for his master, or a representative of his master’s expertise.

God’s design for Israel was that through their obedience to Him through His Law that the Gentiles would be influenced to know Him. "For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." (Acts 13:47 KJV compare Isa 49:6). This is why the Pharisees called themselves disciples of Moses (John 9:28; Matt 23:15). In the Great Commission, the Lord commanded his remaining eleven apprentices to train other disciples by teaching them his Word and thereby making and maturing disciples unto the end of this age (Matt 28:16–20). The Apostle Paul made this the point of his final instruction to Timothy: "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 2:2, 3 NASU).

The goal is ambitious, but commanded. Perhaps none of us, after the Apostles, have ever come to this level of understanding. As disciples this should be the goal of our self concept. As such, we can learn a competent level of Scripture knowledge to edify the Church (2 Timothy 2:2), protect it from satanic error (Acts 20:26–30) and have the approval of God (2 Timothy 2:15). This was the beginning and still is the foundation of the church---being maturing disciples ourselves and training other as well. It is the will of God. By embracing our Lord’s command (Matt 28:16–20), those that we minister to will think of themselves as disciples. They will adopt a disciple’s self concept so that their life style will grow to be that of New Testament disciples.

Vision 3

Remember that making disciples is a measurable attitude and ministry.

There are at least two popular false views of being a disciple. Neither of these are tied to the etymological development and use of the Greek word. Some think that anyone who professes faith is a disciple. With this understanding, being a disciple has no inherent motivation to progress in spiritual life; one is either a believer or not. The Lord Jesus said that a true or committed disciple is one who sets his mind to letting the ministry of God’s Word make him free from the domination of sin (John 8:31–36). Others believe that a disciple is a super Christian. This view of being a disciple also defeats progress for most people. If being a disciple is being a super Christian, most would feel that there is no use in trying, for this goal is beyond their ability. A brief study of the Gospels show that the original disciples were sometimes nominal, and other times, displayed various levels of spiritual maturity.

From the etymology of the Greek word for disciple, it appears to simply mean “a learner from a teacher.” However, in the New Testament, six progressive levels of being a disciple are presented:

The first level is being a curious disciple, just wanting to investigate spiritual life and the Person of Christ. They start on their terms (John 6:22–64), but must learn and embrace Christ’s terms of relationship (John 1:14–51).

The second level of being a disciple is being a convinced disciple. They become convinced that Jesus is the Christ and God’s Savior for human beings (John 8:30). Remember, however, the Lord Jesus said that they must continue in the ministry of His Word until they become freed from the ignorance of sin and its domination to be accepted by Him to be His "disciples indeed" (John 8:31–36).

The third level of being a disciple is to be committed to Him by faith to experience new life from Him. They must take up a disciple’s cross to experience deliverance from the old sinful and mortal life and gain the life principle and life style that comes from Him in spiritual rebirth (Luke 9:23–25; Romans 6:11, 13, 16; Galatians 2:20). The grammatical relationship between "baptizing them into the Name" shows that baptism is the confessional point of beginning of a committed disciple or "my disciples indeed." Baptism symbolizes the ending of an old status of being just a child of sinful Adam to being a child of God by union with the Lord Jesus (Romans 6:1–16).

The fourth level of spiritual life as a disciple is that of being a reproductive disciple. The Lord Jesus said to his twelve apprentices that they must abide in Him to be abundantly fruitful (John 15:1–8).

The fifth level of spiritual life as a disciple is that of being a leadership disciple. This is a status of being called to shepherd God’s people (Acts 1:1–26; 20:28–31).

The sixth level as a disciple is in special ministries, such as being a missionary (Acts 9:36; 13:1–5).

With this progressive understanding of discipleship, a ministry can be built that harmonizes with the particulars in the many passages that speak about disciples. For greater detail, when desired, see my booklet Making Disciples on Six Levels, or the section in my manual, A Manual For Training Leaders For Disciple Fellowships In The Local Church. (See “Publications in the index of Distinctive Discipleship.)

Vision 4

Develop a fellowship group intent on being Level 6 disciples.

From the earliest history of Christian apprenticeship, the believers worked with a teacher in group relationships. This was the model set by the Lord Jesus as he worked with the Twelve; He used groups to minister to individuals according to their various needs.

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