The Art of Discipleship: Training New Converts
Simply put, a disciple is a learner, a pupil. As Strong’s concordance states, the word “mathetes” means “one who follows one’s teaching.” This is why some Bible versions will translate what is known as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 as “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (KJV) while others say “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (NIV). The same root word for disciple is used in verb form in Matthew 28:19.
The word used for the discipler in the Scripture is “didaskalos” meaning a teacher. According to Matthew 28:20, the discipler is to be “teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.”
Simply put, a discipler is to teach the sheep to follow Jesus, not himself/herself. Even when Paul told the Corinthians to follow his example, it was as he followed “the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
This point must be grasped by anyone in a discipleship ministry. Too often this kind of shepherding has come under scrutiny because a discipler did not understand his role and became too much of an authority in the person’s life.
Authority belongs to and comes from Christ through His Word. In the verse preceding the command to go and make disciples, Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Notice He did not say it has been given to those who do the discipling. The authority with which Jesus sent out the twelve in Luke 9 was “to drive out all demons and to cure diseases.” When it came to people, they were to “preach.” In preaching they were giving forth the Word of God. The ultimate is that everything will be brought under subjection to God through Christ (1 Cor. 15:25-28). Why would we therefore seek to bring people into subjection to us in the way we disciple them? Our role, even that which is in an area of responsibility of looking after the welfare of others, is not for us to “lord it over” but to help them come under His Lordship (Mk. 10:42-44). Jesus exercised His authority through servanthood. Why would we disciple using control tactics?
Being true to the original language, a discipler is a teacher. The authority of a teacher is only found in the Word of God, not in oneself (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The role of a discipler is therefore to teach people to become obedient to the Word. Scripture is that which brings people into subjection to Christ, not us. We do not have that kind of power. As 1 Corinthians 3:7 says, “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
To seek to make people followers of ourselves or anyone else but Christ is to bring nothing but trouble. — “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task” (1 Cor. 3:3-6).
In discipling others, we are therefore not asking people to commit to a program or to another person but to Jesus Christ. The goal is that people yield absolute submission to Him, not to us. We are simply guides, facilitators, models, and motivators. As 1 Corinthians 3 suggests, we simply provide the conditions conducive to growth. It is about Him, not us! We are only instruments … servants following the Chief Shepherd to help others do the same. To put ourselves in any higher of a position divides the body which is what happened in the Corinthian church. There can only be one Head of the body, Christ Jesus.
Whose Responsibility is Discipleship?
Some people will be more gifted for it like those with the spiritual gift of pastor or perhaps exhortation. Some people will be more impassioned toward it. But we are still all to disciple (Matt. 28:19-20). We can begin where we are. There are many venues.
Parents can disciple their own children.
Question: How are you supposed to work to provide for your children, take care of the home, run kids to all their activities, and teach them besides all this?
Pastors and elders can disciple members of the Body.
Question: Doesn’t preparing sermons and overseeing the ministry take up all your time, leaving little room for discipleship?
People in a small group or men’s or women’s ministries can disciple their own peer. Workers in children’s or youth ministry can disciple those younger than themselves.
Question: When are you to fit this in when you barely have time for your own family?
Teachers of Sunday School or other Bible classes can disciple their students.
Question: How much should be expected of you? Isn’t teaching a lesson enough?
I obviously can’t answer all the particulars of questions that arise out of your situation but I can give a few broad suggestions:
1. Understand the priority of discipleship. When something is important to us, we usually find or make the time for it. It’s about teaching others to follow the Chief Shepherd. Are our many activities more important than that?
2. Use everyday life, teachable moments. Discipleship is about sharing the Word with people but also praying for them, encouraging them, being an example for them, and spurring them on which does not require a formal meeting but can be done in any setting.
3. Utilize a network of people and opportunities to help you. Don’t think that you can do it all but certainly do what you can do. Networking is not about relieving you of the responsibility to disciple but rather of helping you do it better.
The above article, ‘The Art of Discipleship: Training New Converts’ is written by Jacob Myers. The article was excerpted from: www.mintools.com web site. May 2013.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.