Growth Through Developing Disciples
By Roy T. Edgemon
Mrs. Reed was a widow. A faithful member of a church of 150 members, she had frequently attended the Sunday morning services for many years. However, she never became involved in any training program designed specifically to teach Christian theology, Baptist doctrine, Christian ethics, Christian history, or church polity and organization. She never participated in any training offered by the church.
One day two members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult stopped by Mrs. Reed’s house for a friendly visit. Just before leaving, one of the visitors raised a question about a basic doctrine of the Christian faith. A seed of doubt was sown. The visitors returned each week. Within six weeks Mrs. Reed began attending services at the nearby Kingdom Hall. She never came back to the Baptist church.
On the other hand, Bob and Fran joined the Young Adult training group of the same church immediately following Bob’s conversion. A veteran of Vietnam, Bob became a Christian in his mid-twenties. Fran was a Christian but had been inactive in church for several years.
Not only did Bob and Fran find warmth and acceptance in their training group, but they also experienced Christian growth as they participated in the training sessions. They soon joined the choir. Bob became a member of the property and space committee and made use of his plumbing skills. Within six months Bob volunteered to be study leader for a unit of study in the training group. He and Fran began taking part in the visitation ministry of the church.
Bob and Fran continued to grow. Two years later Bob became teacher of the Young Adult Sunday School class. With the encouragement of their pastor, Bob began building a small library of commentaries and Bible reference books. Fran was a faithful worker in Vacation Bible School each summer.
Four years after Bob’s conversion, they moved to another community forty miles away and joined a church of approximately thirty-five members. They went to work immediately. They were instrumental in helping the church to begin a training program. Bob was soon ordained a deacon. He and Fran were dependable leaders in the church.
Mrs. Reed and Bob and Fran illustrate the need for every church, regardless of size, to have a strong training program and to equip every believer for Christian service. Christians must be taught the basic doctrines of our faith. They must know what they believe and why they believe it. Only a strong foundation in Baptist doctrine can prevent a person from being confused by other teachings. Christians must also be equipped for service. Each believer has a contribution to make to the life and work of the church, and proper training helps him to exercise his gifts and abilities effectively.
Discipleship and training are inseparable. Discipleship is the Christian’s lifelong commitment to the person, teachings, and spirit of Jesus Christ. It involves putting into practice all that Christ commanded us to do. Discipleship is not optional. It is ordered for every person who believes in Jesus. Each Christian is to be involved in lifelong learning, growth in Christ-likeness, application of biblical truth, sharing the faith, and responsible church membership. Therefore, training is no more optional than discipleship. It is imperative. Church Training exists to help Christians in this process of growth. This is the job of Church Training helping Christians grow.
The ultimate goal of Christian growth is a mature person brought to “Christ’s full stature” (Eph. 4:13, GNB), reflecting the nature of Christ (Gal. 4:19), and guided by the Spirit who enables us to live out the demands of agape love (1 John 3:23,4:21). Such an exalted goal may belong to the future, but each believer should be making progress toward it now.
The biblical mandate is clear. We begin the Christian life as babes (I Corinthians 3:1-2), but we must grow beyond that point or be guilty of immaturities that damage the fellowship and influence of the church (I Corinthians 2:10-13; 3:3-4; Hebrews 5:12-13). Healthy infants grow through proper nourishment, and a recurring appetite ensures steady advancement in biblical knowledge and kingdom righteousness (I Peter 2:2-3; Matthew 5:3, 6). The Christian is like an athlete in training for a contest, like a raw recruit undergoing discipline and training so that he will be an effective soldier (II Timothy 2:3-5). He is a disciple (learner) who is in the process of becoming like his Master (Luke 6:40).
Recognizing that growth is essential for every Christian and that Church Training exists to help Christians grow, what can you as pastor do to build and strengthen the training program of your church? Five basic steps will enable you to help your church grow through developing disciples.
Recognize What Training Can Do for Your Church
The first step is easy: Simply realize that a program of training is essential and that it will help you and your church in a number of ways. Training will benefit the individual; it will strengthen the entire church; and it will make your job as pastor easier.
Training helps each individual. Training grounds the church member in Baptist doctrine. Mrs. Reed would not have been susceptible to false teaching had she been grounded in what Baptists believe.
Training helps the church member to grow in all areas of discipleship. It guides persons in a planned process of personal growth. Support and a sense of belonging are provided.
Training enables the church member to apply the gospel. All church members should behave like Christians in all areas of their lives. In home life, in business, in social life, in politics everywhere the church member should be an example of how a Christian ought to live. Training helps each Christian live his faith.
Training helps each church member to discover God’s will for his life. It helps each church member to discover his spiritual gifts and to develop his gifts and abilitis. Involvement in a training group equips a person and develops his skills in witnessing, worshiping, and ministering.
Training strengthens the church.–Training makes the church strong doctrinally. A church whose members have strong doctrinal convictions is a strong church. A church whose members do not know Baptist doctrine is weak and may be easily swayed or con-fused by strong opinions that do not agree with Baptist beliefs.
There are many Baptists who are doctrinally ignorant and do not know what Baptists believe. The poorly grounded church member, devoid of a confident faith, falls victim to doctrinal heresies (Ephesians 4:14). He reflects emotional immaturity and is fractious, divisive, and unloving (I Corinthians 1:10-11; Ephesians 4:22, 26, 29, 31).
A rural church of three hundred members neglected training. The church divided over a doctrinal issue and split. Almost half of the congregation left, taking with them most of the key leaders, and formed a non-Southern Baptist church. The conflict left the remaining members drained and discouraged.
Ours is a day of conflicting ideologies. Church members are buffeted by many different religious beliefs and cults. They need doctrinal stamina and stability. They need to be able to stand firm and not be swayed by false teachings. A thorough grounding in the faith is essential. Training provides this grounding.
Training provides an informed membership. Presnall Wood, editor of the Texas Baptist Standard, wrote: There is a constant flow of people into our church membership who do not have an adequate understanding of the history, mission, and message of Southern Baptists. A sense of ethics and knowledge of church polity and organization seem to go begging.” Training corrects this problem.
A study was made in one church to determine how much exposure active Sunday School members had to the Church Training content areas of Baptist doctrine, Christian ethics, Christian history, and church polity and organization. Results revealed that in one year, the typical member had been exposed to 43 hours of Bible teaching in Sunday School, 3.4 hours of Bible doctrine, and 3.2 hours of Christian ethics. There had been no exposure at all to Christian history or to church polity and organization. This lack of training stunts growth and spawns many problems within the church.
Training produces participating church members. Most churches have members who function more as spectators than as active participants. A training program motivates and helps persons to take part in the total life and work of the church. Participation sets the tone for worship and ministry and creates enthusiasm and joy.
Training increases the church’s evangelistic thrust. Training equips Christians to be witnesses for Christ. A study of the book of Acts reveals that new converts were added to the church because Christians were witnessing. If new converts are not being brought in, then most likely Christians are not witnessing. Training develops and sharpens one’s ability to share his faith.
Churches in America today have failed to follow the New Testament pattern in at least one point. Today most churches are characterized by a “come to church” emphasis. Attending church services and special meetings can become an end within itself. Often little attention is given to Christians’ sharing their faith where they work and in their communities. This is not the biblical pattern.
New Testament churches were characterized by a dynamic witness in the world. The church gathered as a body to worship and to be strengthened in order to go into the world with a witness.
The difference a training program can make in a church is pictured on page 58.
In the annual Convention sermon in 1978, Jesse Fletcher, president of Hardin-Simmons University, attributed the decline in baptisms the previous year to a crisis in discipleship, not evangelism.2 He was refer-ring to one of the greatest weaknesses of our churches the failure to develop disciples. Training can overcome this weakness. Children and youth in Church Training Bible drills learn first of all the Scripture passages concerning the plan of salvation. Per-sons learn to give their personal testimonies and gain confidence in sharing with and relating to others. Training materials are available to equip youth and adults to witness effectively.
Training conserves the results of evangelism. Pastors often decry the fact that churches “lose members out the back door as fast as they come in the front door.” Proper training helps close the back door. Many new converts do not receive adequate training and therefore become stunted Christians. Many drop out of church and become inactive. An adequate program of new convert follow-up and training helps the new Christian to grow and become a responsible church member.
Training helps the church “be the church” in the world. Not only does training increase the church’s evangelistic thrust, but it also increases the church’s impact on the community and world in all areas of concern. A church can only function as the salt of the earth and the light of the world as members are equipped. Committed Christians can bring a biblical perspective to bear on social concerns and ethical is-sues as their Christian values are strengthened and as they live their faith in the society about them.
Training strengthens the church in stewardship. Church members who are active in the church’s training program are better stewards in every area of their lives than are those who are not active in the training program. Training develops good stewards of time, talents, and material possessions.
One pastor reported that the young people in his church who surrendered to full-time Christian service have almost without exception been those active in Church Training. A study of the giving record of the same pastor’s church revealed that the per capita giving of Church Training members was more than double that of persons not members of a training group.
Training provides the church with trained leaders. Bob and Fran attribute their ability to assume leadership roles to the growth they experienced in their training group. Leadership training has been referred to as a “chief secret of growing churches. Every church faces the perennial problem of finding a sufficient number of trained leaders. This problem is especially acute in a small church. Many times a few overworked persons hold several leadership positions because not enough leaders are available.
Training equips leaders and potential leaders for service. Church Training provides Equipping Center modules, or courses of study, in many areas of leadership. These courses enable a church to train its members for leadership roles. A church with a strong training program will have trained people ready to fill places of service.
Training strengthens the missionary vision of the church. Training in the biblical basis of missions opens the eyes of church members to the challenge and man-date of missions in the Bible. A strong training pro-gram helps members understand and appreciate the Cooperative Program as a channel and opportunity through which Southern Baptists carry out the Great Commission.
Training cultivates church fellowship. The Sunday evening worship service is strengthened by a training program. Whereas the main benefit of a training pro-gram is the building of Christian disciples, a secondary benefit is the strengthening of the Sunday night worship service. Church members in the training program have a greater feeling of involvement in the Sunday evening service.
Training helps you as pastor. A strong training program will bring you personal fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment. You will know that you are doing your main task of equipping believers and building up the body of Christ. Every pastor experiences joy as he sees those to whom he ministers grow and develop as Christians.
Church Training multiplies your ministry. Results are greater if you train ten persons to minister than if you attempt to do the work of ten persons yourself. As trained Christians become involved in the work of ministry, more people are reached.
Church Training makes your job as pastor easier. The modern-day pastor is faced with unrealistic demands on his time. Many congregations expect their pastor to do all the work of ministry in the community, including visiting the sick, counseling, witnessing, and calling on prospective members.
In churches of fewer than three hundred members, 51 percent of the pastors are employed at a secular job; in addition to serving as pastor. Usually he is the only staff member of the church. These facts often make the problem of demands on the pastor’s time more acute in small churches than in large churches.
It is not the biblical pattern for the pastor to do everything. Every Christian has gifts and abilities and is to be involved in Christian service. The pastor is to equip believers for their ministry. A training program helps the pastor in this equipping ministry.
Realize That You Are the Key
You as pastor are the key to your church’s having a strong training program that builds disciples. You are the spark plug. Your job is to nourish, encourage, motivate, challenge, inspire, and lead your people to develop as disciples.
Strong pastoral leadership is needed for a church to grow, both in number and in internal development. This truth is referred to as a basic church growth principle and is reflected by most writers in the field of church growth. The importance of the pastor to the growth and development of the church cannot be overemphasized. In fact, the church often takes on the basic attributes and attitudes of the pastor. This is both frightening and encouraging. As the pastor goes, so goes the church.
A study conducted by the Home Mission Board of the 425 fastest growing churches in the Southern Baptist Convention isolated the pastor as a key factor in quantitative church growth.’ Qualitative growth is also dependent on the pastor. A study of growth factors in Church Training programs of Southern Baptist churches revealed that the pastor is the most significant factor to growth. He is the most influential person in the success or failure of a training program, and he is the person who establishes the direction of the program.
However, one must exercise caution at this point. It is easy to look to large churches and outstanding pastors as models and attempt to duplicate what they are doing. Each pastor, as well as each individual church, has a unique personality; and techniques used by one church may not always be transplanted successfully to another situation. Demographic, geographic, economic, and cultural factors must be taken into consideration.
The pastor of a small church in a town of one thousand wanted to build a church building capable of handling one thousand persons. Yet the reality of all the factors in his particular situation indicated the church would reach in the neighborhood of thirty-five to sixty people.
A basic guideline in leadership and management is to build on strengths, not weaknesses. This guideline will facilitate the building of your training program. The strengths of your church in general, the strengths of your volunteer training leaders, and your own personal strengths should be taken into consideration.
The small church usually has a number of discernible strengths. These have been identified as: (1) intimacy of members (everyone knows one another), family atmosphere, sense of belonging; (2) strong fellowship and emotional warmth; (3) concern with spiritual qualities, character, doctrine; (4) flexibility and ease of adaptation; (5) fast communication and mobilization; (6) high level of participation and involvement; and (7) closeness to community (usually has an identifiable community). Of course, each individual church has its own set of strengths; and you have to determine what these are for your church.
A leader in the field of church growth writes: “It is my conviction that when a church discovers its personality; that is, its strengths and weaknesses, and builds upon its strengths, it is a stronger church. As a person is weaker when he endeavors to imitate some-one else rather than be himself, so a church is weaker if it endeavors to adopt and adapt success programs of other churches programs which are not its own.” A careful study of the strong points of your church will enable you to build your training program in a way to make optimum use of those strengths.
Strong pastoral leadership is not to be equated with autocratic leadership and being a dictator. There is a difference in speaking with conviction and authority and being authoritarian. In the Home Mission Board study of the 425 fastest growing churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, a survey of laypersons in these churches revealed that only 19.5 percent viewed their pastor as authoritarian. The five characteristics most often cited by lay persons as being descriptive of their pastor were: “(1) Bible believing, evangelistic, (2) strong counselor `pastor’ type (‘shepherd of the flock’), (3) strong leader, (4) accessible and warmly human; and (5) delegates authority and responsibility.
Jesus, rather than some successful pastor, is the model for every pastor who wants to see his people grow and develop as Christian disciples. A study of Jesus’ ministry reveals that the model for leadership is servant hood. Leadership in the first century Greco-Roman world was of a pyramidal structure with the emperor at the top and other rulers in descending order. Referring to this structure, Jesus said: “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-28, NIV).
The ministry of Jesus exemplified what he taught. The greatest lesson ever given on leadership was the evening of the Last Supper when Jesus girded himself with a towel and stooped and washed the feet of his disciples.
Leadership in the Christian context is not what one does so much as what one is. Gaines Dobbins has clearly defined the Christian distinctive: “Leadership is not getting above others in prestige and power. It is servantship getting down under the load of human need to bear it sacrificially and redemptively. ”
This concept of leadership has several implications for your work in developing disciples. It does not mean that you are a weak leader with no authority. It does not mean that you refuse to be an aggressive leader who challenges and mobilizes the church in its training program.
The servanthood concept of leadership means that you are among, not over your people. You are to give yourself to build others as disciples. Your method of leadership is to provide an example. As you become a model of what others ought to be and do, you bear powerful authority. 15 Jesus said, “Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, NIV).
In addition to the Bible, numerous resources are available to help you in understanding the ministry of Jesus as a model. A. B. Bruce’s The Training of the Twelve, first published in 1871, remains a classic study of how Jesus developed disciples. The Equipping of Disciples, edited by John Hendrix and Lloyd House-holder, is a contemporary study of discipleship development. It deals with the relationship between Jesus and the disciples as well as various influences from the behavioral sciences.
Lewis Drummond described the pattern set by Jesus in reaching and developing persons:
* “He unreservedly gave of himself. He shared his own personhood on behalf of the needy.”
* “He confronted people with the great issues.”
* “He never compromised the demanding claims of the gospel to win followers.”
* ‘lie had profound respect for human personality. He never bulldozed anyone. He was always patient, understanding, and loving.”
* “He presented the truth uncompromisingly and challenged men to decide then and there.”
* “He had a definite strategy.” He had a planned approach.
* “He did not attempt to do all the work himself. He taught, encouraged, nurtured, and commissioned his disciples.”
* Above all, he was compassionate.
* “He ministered to the whole man.”
* “He saw prayer as the one indispensable exercise in his mission.”
The pastor who looks to Jesus as a model will give priority to his training program. Following the example of Jesus will enable a pastor to build a strong program that in turn builds strong Christians.
Follow Biblical Principles
A church’s training program must be guided by biblical principles. The key concepts of equipping, building, and growing in Ephesians 4 form the biblical foundation out of which come some basic principles for training and developing disciples.
Paul speaks of equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). The word equipping means “to adjust, to put in order, to restore.” It also means “to fully furnish someone or something for some given purpose.” The thrust of the passage is that believers must be outfitted and made ready for Christian service.
A second concept is contained in the construction term building. We are to be involved in building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). Church growth, both quantitative and qualitative, is at the heart of our ministry in the world.
The third concept is found in the verb grow. Paul says we are to grow up into full Christian maturity (Eph. 4:13-16). The goal and standard for this Christian growth is “the full measure of perfection found in Christ” (v. 13, NIV). God does not want us to be as immature babies, but his desire is that we keep growing until we are complete in him (v. 14).
Five biblical principles are basic for the developing of disciples.
The local church is the primary means by which equipping is to take place (Eph. 4:11-13). The body of believers must be kept in focus as the context and means for equipping.17 Salvation is personal but never private. It affects other persons and carries responsibility. A new Christian is to be nurtured into Christian maturity in the church, drawing strength from other Christians as well as contributing to others’ growth. The church is to be a fellowship wherein members grow through loving relationships and mutual encouragement and edification. The church should also supply motivation and spiritual energies for daily living.
Every Christian is a minister (Eph. 4:12). This truth is the heart of the New Testament doctrine of the priesthood of believers. Each believer is to be involved in the work of ministry, using his gifts and abilities.
Every believer must be equipped for Christian service (Eph. 4:11-12,15-16). Christians need an in-depth knowledge of the Word of God. Gifts are to be discovered, developed, and put to use. Skills must be acquired for the Christian to be effective in his ministry.
The pastor’s primary task is the equipping of believers for Christian service (Eph. 4:11-12). The pastor-teacher is God’s gift to the church to prepare the people of God for service.
The misplaced comma in some translations in Ephesians 4:12 that separates “saints” from “for the work of ministry” has led many persons to become dependent on one leader to do the work of ministry. The biblical pattern is for every Christian to be involved in service and for the pastor to be the chief equipper.
The end result of equipping is the growth of the body (Eph. 4:12-16). This growth involves a numerical increase, but it is more than that. It is the growth of each believer and the corporate growth of the church to-ward “the fulness of Christ” (v. 13).
These concepts and principles are the basis of Church Training. Church Training is an extension of the pastor and becomes a primary means for him to accomplish his task of developing disciples.
Start One If You Don’t Have One
No pastor can afford for his church to be without a Church Training program. Beginning an effective training program should be a top priority for every pastor whose church does not already have one.
Steps to follow in beginning a Church Training program are: (1) tell your people about the values of training; (2) take a survey to discover who the prospective members are and what organization is needed for each age group; (3) enlist and train the workers; (4) obtain Church Training literature; and (5) assure a great start with a churchwide fellowship or covered-dish supper. Also, your state Church Training director will be glad to help you in beginning an effective training program.
Strengthen Your Training Program
The Church Training Department of the Sunday School Board provides excellent resources and training approaches to assist you in building a strong training program in your church. The use of these resources and approaches will yield rich dividends.
Dated, age-graded, quarterly periodicals provide basic, foundational training for every age group: pre-schoolers, children, youth, and adults. These periodicals have four characteristics:
They are Bible centered. Periodicals do not replace the Bible; they serve as a guide to involve the user in a meaningful study of the Scriptures. The Bible serves as the foundation for all Church Training periodicals. Persons using Church Training periodicals receive in-depth training in Baptist doctrine, Christian ethics, Christian history, and church polity and organization.
They are person oriented. Periodicals are designed and written with the needs of persons in mind.
They are practical and lead to action. Persons using periodicals develop their gifts and acquire skills to enable them to minister effectively.
They are sequenced. This means that the units of study are interrelated and build one on the other. The continuous use of any of the periodicals will provide for users’ progressive spiritual development.
Each church must select the periodicals it wishes to use. For example, two adult periodicals are available. A small church with only one adult training group would select the periodical best suited for its needs. A current Church Services and Materials Catalog contains the name and description of each periodical. An examination of this catalog will enable you to select the periodicals you need for each age group in your church. Resource kits are also available to help leaders plan and prepare for effective training sessions.
Equipping Centers provide short-term training opportunities for adults in key areas of discipleship. Equipping Centers are courses of study, called modules, grouped around a subject area. The materials are undated and can be used over and over. Modules, or training courses, are available in six subject areas: Christian doctrine, family life, evangelism and missions, Christian growth, church and community, and leadership.
Equipping Centers provide churches a valuable tool to use in helping Christians grow. Flexible learning settings and approaches offer unprecedented training opportunities for Christians in small churches.
There are many possibilities for study using Equip-ping Center modules. A small group study may be held on Sunday night at the regular Church Training hour. A group may meet in the home of a member once a week for the number of sessions required. A husband and wife may engage in one-to-one study. A small group may meet on Wednesday to study before or after the church prayer meeting, or one person may study on his own at home using the individual study approach.
Baptist Doctrine Study is an annual emphasis where a basic Baptist doctrine is studied in depth. Materials are available for each age group. Churches follow several approaches in conducting this study, including several consecutive nights, each Sunday night for several weeks, and each Wednesday night for several weeks. Some small churches combine age groups for this study, and some churches meet with a neighboring church for a joint study of the doctrine.
Training for new Christians is imperative. The first few weeks of the new convert’s life may be one of the most crucial times of the entire Christian experience. A lifetime of discipleship may depend on what happens in the Christian’s life immediately after his conversion. Resources are available to encourage the new Christian in his growth. Some are included in the resources section at the end of this book; others are listed in the current Church Services and Materials Catalog.
Statistics indicate that in churches of fewer than three hundred members, almost two million resident members are not enrolled in Church Training. How many of these persons are in your church? Enrollment plans can be implemented for a church to use to in-crease the number of persons enrolled and participating in discipleship training. Some small churches-have doubled their Church Training enrollment by using specific plans for growth. Most churches experience about a 20 percent increase in enrollment by using a plan if they have a sustained follow-up. See the re-sources section for helpful materials. The planning actions are readily adaptable by any size church.
Leadership books are available to help all Church Training leaders in planning, conducting, and evaluating a strong training program. There are books for the pastor and general officers and for leaders of the different age divisions. These books are available from Baptist Book Stores.
Building disciples is not easy. Much prayer and hard work are required for the pastor who is committed to equipping believers for Christian service. The job is difficult, but it can be done.
In the final analysis, attitude is a key factor in developing disciples. “As he [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Think big! Dream a dream, and plan a plan. Focus on opportunities rather than problems. Set priorities for your equipping minis-try, and refuse to become sidetracked.
Church Training has been assigned the task of equipping members for discipleship. It is an extension of your ministry in accomplishing this important task. Seek the leadership of the Holy Spirit and plan to pro-vide a strong program of training that will help every member of your church to grow. “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow (1Corinthians 3:6 NIV)
This article Growth through Developing Disciples written by Roy T. Edgemon is excerpted from the book Leading Your Church in Evangelism.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.