Why Is Discipleship Lacking?
We were called to make disciples, but there seems to be a discipleship deficit in many churches. And it isn’t for lack of conversation and resources.
Leaders are asking questions like, “What should we do?” and “How should we do it?” They want to know the best ways to turn this discipleship deficit into the kind of robust discipleship that will matter along the way.
The Internet is full of discipleship models—some good, and some not so good. But what can we learn about discipleship from the Scriptures? In this series of articles, we are looking at four discipleship principles found in the Bible.
Maturity is a goal for disciples.
God wants you and your church on a clear path toward spiritual growth.
God involves us in our own growth, as well as our church’s growth.
God calls you and your church to be spiritual leaders.
I Know . . . I Know . . .
As we start, let me just say what we all know: only God can truly grow anything. God doesn’t need anyone to do anything for him, or for anyone else. He is quite capable of doing everything that needs to be done all by himself.
We cannot grow ourselves or anyone else. We cannot do what only God can do. Only God can grow us individually, and only Christ can grow His Church. Jesus said, “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18, HCSB).
And the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (v. 7).
So as we move forward, it is understood that God causes growth.
How can I suggest, then, that a key biblical principle for discipleship is that God involves us in our own spiritual growth, as well as that of our church?
Because God chooses to use us, and that makes our involvement important.
Why God Involves Us
Even though we know that only God can make a tree, the first job God gave to man was to tend a garden. Adam took care of trees, and he took care of himself as he took care of the trees.
He didn’t replace God. God used him in the process.
God gives work to us not because he needs the help, but because we need to be developed. When he calls us to invest in our discipleship process he is fulfilling his promise in Romans 8:29, "For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers."
He created humans in his image, and he wants us to join him in his work in order that he can shape us into his image, so he brings us into various aspects of his mission.
Paul explained that when we become new creations in Christ, we are drafted into service. We go out on God’s behalf and offer reconciliation to the people in our lives. We don’t replace Christ, but we do join him in the grand plan of redemption.
On multiple occasions Jesus challenged the faith development of his disciples. As they followed him, he instructed them. There was much he did on his own. But as time went on, he expected them to step out in faith and believe with more consistency. He expected them to step out of boats with greater confidence.
He commissioned them to go out, show compassion, teach others, and perform miracles. When they failed, he didn’t take blame for not growing them. He called them out for not faithfully becoming who they were called to be.
How God Involves You in Your Growth
When we talk about God involving us in the process of our own spiritual development and the development of those around us, we must start in the right place. Our posture is important.
When we are surrendered to God’s hand and will, we are in a posture that accepts intentional spiritual change. God opposes the proud, but will exalt the humble. When we are submissive to the Lord, he involves us in a work that is much greater than any we could accomplish on our own. Our surrender opens up the door of opportunity.
Philippians 2:12–13 says, “So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out his good pleasure.”
It doesn't say work on your own salvation. It doesn't say work for your salvation. But, we do work out God's gift of salvation.
Those who obey God will grow in maturity over time. Spiritual growth does not suddenly show up in a gift box one day. Like slowly walking into a lake, God leads us into a deeper experience. This is the journey of faith. We grow as we walk.
We walk by opening the Scriptures, engaging in prayer, and focusing on spiritual disciplines. That's one was we work out our own salvation.
How God Involves You in the Growth of Others
Discipleship is not just a solo effort—though it takes personal action and engagement in spiritual disciplines. Discipleship is a group sport—best done in community!
God has given various gifts to the Church. Each person has something to offer and offering that is part of their growth and discipleship. Paul was constantly telling the early believers that the health of the whole body is impacted by how each one uses their God-given gifts.
There are no Lone Ranger Christians. (And even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.) We are responsible for and to each other. It has been said that the gift God gave you is not for you. Instead, it is to be shared with others.
When we truly believe that our actions will impact the spiritual development of others, it will change the way we live. We are responsible before God to be involved in discipleship—ours and others. Gifting brings even greater responsibility.
Jesus commissioned his disciples to go out and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them.
That's personal and communal.
Maybe baptism is a good example—it is both personal and communal, but it first is about Jesus.
Baptism recognizes the work of redemption that can only come by God—it is a symbol of Christ's redemptive work. Then, it is a personal profession of faith by the individual. Finally, it is a community experience.
Baptism is a picture of Jesus' work, a step for the believer, and a part of the community. That's why baptism is a first step of discipleship.
We are responsible to be involved in our discipleship and to make disciples wherever we go.
That's how discipleship works.