TAMPA, FLORIDA. Tomorrow, I get speak to 5000 church planters and church plant advocates about discipleship at Exponential East in Tampa. Thank you Dave Ferguson for the invitation, and thank you for equipping and empowering church planters. As soon as my Tuesday afternoon session is over, I will drive directly to the airport to catch my flight to the Middle East where I will catch up with our Every Nation Asia Leadership Team who are doing a seven day Israel study tour.
Here’s a 500-word summary of what I say every time I get a chance to talk about church-based discipleship.
Most Christians agree that discipleship is important, even essential for Christian maturity; few understand biblical principles and even fewer apply a biblical process when it comes to discipleship. Biblical discipleship principles are universal and timeless, and they enabled the church I helped start in 1984 in Manila, Philippines to experience thirty-one consecutive years of growth.
For those interested in numbers, our most important growth number is 10,411. That’s the number of people leading small discipleship groups each week in Metro Manila.
Discipleship isn’t complicated, but it is often difficult. The difficulty lies in applying four biblical principles to each specific context. Simply put, here’s how anyone and everyone can make disciples.
1. Engage Culture and Community. When Jesus told His original twelve to go and make disciples, they did not interpret His command to mean, “Find people who are already following me and help them become better followers.” They interpreted his “great commission” to mean that they should go and find people who were not yet followers and help them know and follow Jesus. Evangelism and discipleship were not two separate departments in their church. Rather, evangelism was the beginning of the discipleship process. Today many people see discipleship as a program to help church members become better church members. As long as the evangelism department does the outreach and the discipleship department does the discipleship, both will be ineffective. The starting line of the disciple-making process must be evangelism that engages our community and culture.
2. Establish Spiritual Foundations. If we want our disciples to survive the storms of life, we must help them establish strong and deep biblical foundations. This essential groundwork includes repentance, faith, water baptism, the Holy Spirit, and church community.
3. Equip Believers to Minister. We hear the phrase all the time: Every member a minister. Yet often, because of our performance-driven culture, we have little tolerance for the messiness of the equipping process. We do church as if only professional preachers are qualified to do ministry. Yet the biblical job description for professional ministers is to equip the “non-pros” for ministry, then get out of their way.
4. Empower Disciples to Make Disciples. Jesus expected all of His original disciples to make disciples. He empowered them, knowing they would make mistakes. Too often we act like only full-time pastors or people who have been believers forever can make disciples. But we must not forget it is progress, not perfection, that qualifies one to disciple others. Because Jesus expects all His disciples to make disciples, we must not only equip them, we must also empower them.
Conclusion. Two thousand years ago, discipleship was so simple that a carpenter explained it to uneducated fishermen in one sentence: “Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people”. Those simple fishermen followed, fished and changed their world. If modern discipleship is confusing or complicated, it is because we have strayed from biblical principles and the simple biblical process that Jesus lived and taught His disciples.