Edward F. Lundwall Jr.
The Disciples' Fellowship – How?
Six implementations of Jesus’ command to “make disciples” can be identified and practically applied in a small group called “the disciple’s fellowship.”
1. The authority of the Greek New Testament should be restored as part of the study of God’s Word. There are many hidden spiritual keys to be found by looking into the basic meaning of Greek words in the New Testament. This is needed to put conviction into the practice of disciple making. The only place that making disciples is commanded is Matthew 28:16—20 (mistranslated in the KJV). However, when John 20:21 and 4:1, 2 are examined carefully, it is easily seen that Christ included New Testament disciple making as a part of following His example. Disciple-making characterized his ministry.
2. A strong desire to pursue a personal relationship with Christ must be the motivation for practicing disciple. In John 8:31, Jesus states, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Jesus is laying out the test of real faith as the continued living practice and proof of one’s being his disciple. The word “indeed,” found in some translations, means exactly what it indicates, putting into daily practice the teachings modeled by Jesus…showing them in deeds. Proof of discipleship is a changed life brought about by effective listening (John 10:27; Mat. 7:24).
Jesus’ teachings were designed to be fully understood only by committed disciples, (Mat. 13:10--17; 7:24; John 6:15 – 69). Also, in Mat. 11: 28--30, Jesus invites the follower to learn of him involved in a "yoke" relationship. Being “yoked” in the New Testament use of the word yoke speaks of commitment to be a disciple or practicing, producing learner. Just as a young untrained ox was yoked to a mature trained one in order to learn how to do its work, Hebrews 5:12—14, indicates being yoked with Christ will bring about a fully practiced and reproductive life.
3. Each member of a disciples fellowship small group must have a deep sense that they are not their own, but have been bought with a price through Christ’s death on the Cross, and so now belong only to Him. This is the motivational foundation; commitment to discipleship consists of willful faith and worship accepted by Jesus and recognized by others. The man born blind and healed by Jesus was recognized by Jesus for his faith and by others for his loyalty and testimony to the one who healed him (John 9). A person cannot become what he does not set his heart and will to become. Although there are differing levels of discipleship, (referencing to my book, The Six Levels of Discipleship), this is where it must start.
4. Within a small group context, the seven relationships found in the early, simple New Testament church can be more easily applied and practiced. The first is developing Christ-like personal relationships (1 Thess. 2:7-11; Heb. 13: 7, 17), and serving one another in love (Acts 6). Another is the format of questioning and answering to increase understanding as exemplified between Jesus and his disciples (Acts 2). An imperative practice is the encouragement of each other by sharing testimonies of God’s workings and blessings (Mat. 28:20). Worshipful and focused prayer can be shared and practiced in the small group, consistent with their level of spiritual maturity and centered on their personal concerns (Acts 4, 6, 12 and 13). Developing a desire to serve others, called “missions” (Acts 9 and 10) and to reach others, called “evangelism” (Acts 13 and 14). Lastly, the humble explanation of God’s Word by those more thoroughly versed and experienced in practicing it to those less knowledgeable, or new in their faith (1 Cor. 14:24-26, 29-33; Heb. 10: 24, 25).
5. Development of good teaching practices that focused on the learners’ spiritual maturity level and needs can be practiced in smaller groups. John 21:15-17, shows Jesus doing just this with Peter after his three denials, and in John 16:12, He said, “ I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The disciples' fellowship setting enables teaching situations that allow for the variance between each member’s learning styles and spiritual stages (Heb. 5: 12-6:1; 1 Cor. 2:14; 3:1-2).
6. By applying 1Timothy 2:2 to the structure of the Disciples' Fellowship, growth of each participant can be assured. Paul exhorts Timothy to be a pastor after Paul’s example for teaching and directing the learning activity, have an assistant pastor who assists and observes the disciple’s progress and help to coach them as they seek to practice what they have learned, and works with the new comers who accept the teaching and shepherding of the disciple fellowship pastor, assistant pastor (Timothy), and the encouragement of the present practicing faithful members of the fellowship.
Related reading: The Disciples' Fellowship - Why?