In Dr. Michael R. Mitchell’s short article entitled “Sources and Forms of a Message,” he presents four sources a person could draw from to create a track for discipleship. First, Mitchell speaks of “tradition” which would equate to the Word of God for a community of Christians. Second, the teacher must draw from observing the person’s life. Third, he or she must draw from their own personal experience with the Lord; and, fourth, they must seek direct help from the Holy Spirit. The purpose of this paper is to provide instruction on how a disciple-maker must carefully draw from these four sources as they lay out a curriculum for discipleship and to justify a church’s careful use of published curricular resources.
THE WORD OF GOD
The primary source for all discipleship material must be the Word of God with specific emphasis upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Bible is a very large book; it is not practical to direct the convert just to the Bible. He or she needs to study, above all else, the life and teaching ministry of Christ as revealed in the gospels, Acts, and the apostolic epistles to the early church. Acts 2:42 provides the standard—the apostle’s teaching. The disciple-maker must follow Paul’s example and begin with a commitment to initially impart nothing above or beyond “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2: 2). Without an understanding of the person of Christ as both God and Man, the believer cannot fully appreciate the power of God available to him through the gospel. Without an understanding of the three messianic offices—prophet (teacher), priest (Savior), and King (Lord)— which Christ came to fulfill, the new convert will not know the depth to which his relationship with Christ can grow through the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:17; 2 Pet. 1:8, 3:18). If one does not understand that Christ came as the final revelation of God—one may continue to chase after other prophets, visions, or additional revelations. If the new covert does not understand Christ’s high priestly work of mediation and advocating, he may be overcome with depression or despair at his inability to gain the victory over sin. Or if he does not understand Christ is Lord, he may be too quick to ignore Christ’s prophetic work in his life.
Second, the more the disciple-maker knows of his convert’s past and current struggles, the more he will be able to customize the discipleship program to meet the present day needs of the convert. Paul modeled this idea by writing thirteen different letters to speak to the needs of his converts and the churches he was overseeing in a unique and special way. The manner in which one would disciple a convert from Catholicism and Mormonism should not be identical. Each of these converts would bring with them a variety of “raw ‘stuff’ that [needs] to be refined and cultured.” The more the disciple-maker is able to observe of the new convert, the greater the potential effectiveness of the discipleship process.
Third, the disciple-maker brings with himself some amount of life experience to share with the pupil. These life experiences are unique to the teacher and provide illustrations and supplementary information to enhance the learning experience. The teacher will be able to recall previous ways truth was opened up to them and replicate that for others. In 2 Peter 1:18, Peter’s eyewitness account of God revealing the power of His Son in a unique way led him to powerfully communicate that they had not followed “cunningly devised stories” (2 Peter 1:20-21). An example of how God answered the prayers of the disciple-maker may boost the recipient’s confidence and understanding of prayer. Or, an example of the struggle a disciple-maker went through in following the Lord in believer’s baptism may serve as an encouragement to get baptized.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
Finally, the fourth source of direction for discipleship materials and curriculum must be the Holy Spirit (in a guarded way). In so much as the canon is closed, the disciple-maker does not look to the Spirit’s role in discipleship in the same way Peter, Paul, or holy men of old were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Instead of inspiration, the disciple-maker needs illumination and wisdom. Illumination “is not a giving of new revelation, but a work within us that enables us to grasp and to love the revelation that is there before us in the biblical text as heard and read.” Every convert is different one from another. Therefore, illumination and wisdom are needed to make the most of a curriculum or passage of Scripture in the life of the convert.
PUBLISHED CURRICULAR RESOURCES
For nearly all believers, the idea of discipling another convert is such an overwhelmingly daunting undertaking that the vast majority of Christians never attempt such a task. Questions like: where to begin, what to cover, which Scriptures to use and other good questions can all be answered through a published curriculum. However, extreme caution must be exercised when using published curricular resources for several reasons: First, the curriculum cannot be a replacement for the Word of God. The young convert must be reading his or her own Bible—the goal of all discipleship is to get the student able to hear from God through His Word (that is Prophet, Jesus). Second, the curriculum cannot be a replacement for the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Again, the objective of discipleship is to get the convert to hear from God-the Holy Spirit through His Word. He or she must grow in their faith, and the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to create faith in the life of the believer (Ro. 10). Moreover, it is impossible to create enough different resources to account for all the different types of converts coming to Christianity; therefore, the curriculum cannot be a substitute for the teacher who individually intercedes for wisdom to disciple this unique convert into the local body of Christ and the Word of God with all the life experience he brings with him Finally, the curriculum must be centered on Christ, His gospel and His Word as the absolute truth for mankind. Anything less is unacceptable.