Growing Into Discipleship


Biblical discipleship cannot be reduced to a program or a process. It is the growing presence of Christ's spirit in the heart of a believer.

There Is No Maturity without Ministry

For the follower of Christ, ministry is never optional—it is a calling for all believers, not merely a subset of “professionals.” Laypeople bypass abundant ministry opportunities when they stumble over the assumption that if they cannot teach or preach, they are limited to vicarious ministry through their financial support of those who can. This spectator mentality causes people to overlook the God-given circumstances and abilities with they have been entrusted. All believers can be involved in some aspect of discipleship, even if this is limited to their families. No arena is insignificant, since reward is based on faithfulness to opportunity rather than the size of our ministry. We stunt our growth when we fail to serve others with eternal values at heart.

Discipleship Is More than a Program

Programmatic and curriculum-based approaches to discipleship have their place, but a biblical vision of nurturing ministry involves the whole person. Discipleship is more than a cognitive dump; teaching and training are important components, but they should be imparted in a context of personal association and community. What we are often speaks louder than what we say. Thus, there is no substitute for the relational dimension of inviting people to be with us (Mark 3:14) in a variety of settings so that nurturing becomes incarnational and multidimensional. This requires a greater commitment of time and effort, but spiritual reproduction through personal transformation is the most effective and full-orbed way.

Alluding to his relational ministry of discipleship, Paul used the metaphor of formative growth: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). Biblical discipleship cannot be reduced to a program or even to a process; rather, it is also the growing presence of the Holy Spirit with-in a believer.

Discipleship Requires a Servant Attitude

“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29-30). When disciplers slip into an authoritarian role or see themselves as spiritual gurus, they miss the whole spirit of being a friend of the bridegroom. John the Baptist did not call attention to himself but to Jesus, the bridegroom.

Because he stood and heard Jesus and rejoiced in His voice, he could delight in being His attendant and in his calling as a servant of those who were invited to the wedding. Jesus told His disciples, “when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Luke 17:10). When we cultivate the attitude of a servant, we discern that Jesus attributes our sacrificial service for the benefit of others as service to Him (“To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40).

Spiritual Friendship Is a Component of Discipleship

Just as Paul and Silas imparted their own lives to the people they served in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12), we must make ourselves personally available and transparent to the people we disciple. Spiritual friendship is founded on a mutuality that exists for the purpose of helping each other grow in grace and character. (This is not the same as spiritual direction or mentoring; we will look at these in the section on corporate spirituality.) While our Lord commands us to love all, we can befriend only a few. This dimension of holy friendship makes discipleship a two-way street where the discipler and the disciple both give and receive. Spiritual friendship moves beyond the level of personal gratification to the cultivation of Christlike virtue (2 Peter 1:5-9) and requires a deliberate intention to be open to one another and to God’s formative purposes. Praying for one another and with one another is an essential part of this mutual relationship.

Effective Discipleship Requires More than One Method

When it comes to spiritual nurturing, one size does not fit all. There is a tendency in discipleship ministries to turn models and methods into masters. The assumption here is that if a method works well for some, it must be appropriate for all. As a result, people whose temperaments do not resonate with the proffered method may conclude that there is something deficient in their spiritual commitment.

This misguided tendency toward homogeneity can reduce discipleship to a cloning process: “When you’ve completed our program, you’ll look like this.” When the rich diversity of personal temperaments and cultural factors is not taken into account (see Appendix A of Conformed to His Image, “The Need for Diversity”), discipleship becomes program-driven rather than person-specific.

A teaching or training method that inspires one person may be unrealistic and inappropriate for another. Disciplers who fail to grasp this can create expectations that inevitably lead some people to a sense of inadequacy and frustration. Avariety of tools are needed, and this is why there is a multiplicity of discipleship ministries and approaches. Some are more programmatic, and others are more relational; some stress the cognitive, and others stress the affective or the volitional. Just as God created the cosmos as a unity out of profound diversity, so the body of Christ is a unity-in-diversity.

Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth

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