A Google search of discipleship materials available to the church is overwhelming. Clearly the church is hungry for anything that can be marketed as “proven successful.” According to Barna, even though the resources now may be better than any time in the past, the results are pitiful at best. Baptists, Methodists, Assembly of God and others have all created a variety of curriculums that focus on doctrine or spiritual disciples or spiritual gifts or a combination of all three. Curriculums vary tremendously from DVD series, lecture series, small group discussion programs, and teacher-pupil methods. The purpose of this short paper is to articulate and evaluate what is available for discipleship and indicate what a pastor should use.
The huge array of choices for discipleship programs available for purchase through the Internet eliminates any excuses for not having resources available for church members to disciple new converts. Moreover, conferences full of vendors are held all over the world trying to market their resources with glossy-color photos, bright colors and huge selections of curriculum. Of the choices, a DVD series is probably the worst choice. First, the pastor (or disciple-maker) who purchases a DVD series or curriculum series will not facilitate the series with the same passion he would if he had prepared the lessons himself—passion is important in discipleship. Second, pastors must remember that resources that discipled converts well in Miami, Florida may not work quite as well in Boise, Idaho. While the biblical truths will remain the same, the articulation and application of those truths in a culture that is remarkably different may need to be different. Third, in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, by John MacArthur, S. Lance Quinn emphasizes that preaching or teaching is not sufficient to make disciples. He says, “[Discipleship] finds its real fruition across the entire spectrum of the shepherd’s work: feeding, leading, cleaning, bandaging, protecting, nurturing, and every other aspect of a tender shepherd’s loving care. This is the process of discipling.” The guy on the DVD will have a hard time doing what Quinn insists is necessary for spiritual formation in the life of the disciple. There is no digital substitute for the disciple-maker.
All programs that work well have one thing in common, they have a teacher behind them that is utterly committed to the truth and wants to see that truth applied in the life of the disciple. The Lord Jesus modeled this perfectly in the embryonic church, and the apostles followed His lead. Jesus is the Truth, and they preached Him. Passing the responsibility to disciple a convert to a man or woman on a plastic disc or an author of a book was not an option. For eighteen plus centuries, it is fair to say, discipleship consisted of a man (or woman), a convert(s) and the Word of God. That model is biblical and still must be the foundation to all discipleship regardless of the supplementary materials used. Nothing can replace a passionate disciple-maker who earnestly desires to see Christ formed in the life of his converts.
Curriculum choices must be carefully evaluated against two criteria: first, the Word of God; and second, the church’s doctrine. A curriculum produced by an Arminian Charismatic fellowship will not work for a Reformed Baptist. However, the more the curriculum focuses on the person and work of Christ, the more effective it will be. Jesus said if the church would lift Him up He would draw people to Himself (John 12:32). Converts need to be using their Bibles throughout the lessons. The curriculum must cause them to read and articulate an understanding and application of truth. The “so what?” question must be asked over and over.
THE LEADER MUST LEAD
Barna’s research in Growing True Disciples clearly demonstrates that if a discipleship culture is going to develop in a church, the Senior Pastor has to be the champion of this cause. Barna believes the senior pastor must be “an irrepressible advocate of discipleship” and should create a “hybrid model” of discipleship from the best of all other sources for his church. No one is going to say it the way he wants it said, and he will not be near as passionate about something created by someone he has not met in Miami, Florida when his ministry is in Boise, Idaho. In Miami, Florida, the Baptist pastor is receiving former Catholics into the church; and in Boise, Idaho, the Baptist preacher is hoping that Mormons are being reached with the true gospel. The pastor does not have to start from scratch; two or three good discipleship curriculums should be purchased and then church specific discipleship courses must be developed.
In Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren uses a baseball diamond to communicate the need for a series of training experiences in order to grow a convert into a disciple-maker. From the pulpit, the convert must be continually challenged to grow and the church must have a plan. Nothing beats one-on-one mentorship, but this may not always be possible. Those apt to teach must be involved in teaching with a passion. Perhaps a simple new convert course, followed by a church membership and then an advanced discipleship course would be sufficient initially. Then additional courses in stewardship, parenting, apologetics etc. can supplement the best expository preaching the preacher can produce. The church must track converts moving through these gates and continue to improve its culture of discipleship until it sees converts becoming disciple-makers. Finally, when the church assaults the very gates of hell with a combined, synchronized discipleship effort, it can expect spiritual assault proportional to the manner in which it is pursuing authentic discipleship.
Barna, George. Growing True Disciples. Colorado Spring, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2001.
Barna, George. The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What they Believe and Why They Matter. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009.
MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005.
Warren, Rick. Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.