Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What is a disciple?

A few days ago, I posted comments about the importance for the local church to make disciples through building disciples. Ok, so what is a disciple anyway? A disciple is one who follows the teachings of their master. From a New Testament perspective that would mean one who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. What is clear from Scripture is that a disciple of Christ involves more than just being someone who believes in Christ’s teachings, but rather one who lives a life that is fully devoted to living out those teachings. That means a disciple of Jesus can be defined by one whose life reflects what Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their book Breaking the Missional Code refer to as the “inner disciplines of spiritual living and the outer disciplines of missional living.” It is the combining of these two that constitutes a disciple of Jesus.

In Jesus’ work in making disciples, He worked to make not just shallow followers but committed believers in Him and His cause. Luke 6:40 makes clear that Jesus’ purpose was to make “fully trained” disciples and by that He meant they were to be like their “teacher.” The Greek word used here is the participle form of the verb katartiz┼Ź meaning to put into proper condition and was used elsewhere in the New Testament to mean “to make complete.” The entire process of making a disciple involves building a complete person who is a mature believer.

The focus is on transformation and this is exactly what Jesus did to the lives of His disciples. His goal was to teach them how to grow to the point they could imitate their master and live a life that points others to Him. And He didn’t simply tell them they needed to grow themselves. He sat with them and poured His truth into them and demonstrated how to touch the lives of non-believers. This, in turn, is what the disciples did for others.

To live as a complete disciple also means to live as an apologetic disciple. An apologetic disciple is one who lives in such a way that the truth of the Christian faith is clearly demonstrated in every aspect of his or her life. This is exactly what Jesus instructed His disciples to do. It is also what they and the other leaders of the early church practiced. Both Peter (1 Pet. 3:15-16) and Jude (Jude 3) gave instructions to live as apologetic disciples. It is by living an apologetic life that the Great Commission is achieved.

Today’s church must change its focus from simply attempting to make disciples by focusing only on the number of professions of faith to an approach that is directed towards building genuine apologetic disciples. This is the only way it can be successful in fulfilling the Great Commission and at the same time keep itself doctrinally pure in today’s culture.

Disciple making requires disciple building and disciple building means building apologetic disciples. Building apologetic disciples requires more than a cursory teaching; it requires submission to the master and living out a life that demonstrates the Christian faith in every aspect of life. To build such disciples requires a deep commitment to an integrated, systematic approach to education by the local church. Unless this happens, Christ-followers will have a hard time meeting the challenges to the Christian faith presented by other "truth venders" who compete for the heart and minds of people in today's culture.

Dr. Richard Tompkins

Friday, August 1, 2008

Where Did All the Disciples Go?

Not long ago I met with a group of college students to teach about cults. This was the third time I had been asked to meet with the group. It amazes me how much fun it can be to teach people who really want to learn something. At the end of the session I was taken back by a question from one of the students (Austin). He asked me: “Why doesn’t the church teach us as much about the Christian faith as the cults teach their people?” I have to admit, for a moment I was stumped. But then it dawned on me – Austin, disguised as a question, had made a profoundly true statement. You see, many churches today are minimizing an investment in the future of Christ’s kingdom because they are not investing in disciple building.

It is sad but true. We’ve forgotten the simple truth that it is very difficult to make disciples of the people within this world unless we are building disciples within the church. It is impossible to separate disciple making from disciple building because you can’t separate evangelism from discipleship. A close examination of Matthew 28:19-20 makes this clear. This is more important today than it has been in the past 50 years because culture is farther away from the church than it has ever been.

The importance of this point can be illustrated by the fact that in modern American culture, discipleship itself must begin prior to conversion. The historical disciple making process is being turned upside down. Today the typical non-churched person often decides to participate in the community of the local church, including serving in the church and even taking part in mission activities, prior to their decision to become a Christ-follower.

This trend, however, represents a major risk to the church and as such reinforces the need for disciple building. Since many new non-churched people today come to the church from a radically different worldview and seek to participate in its ministries prior to believing, the danger exists for degradation of the Christian worldview. Therefore, it’s important for the church to return to intentionally and systematically building disciples.

So here’s the truth: most Christ-followers deep down really want to grow in their faith and they are searching for ways to make their faith more alive, but they won’t be able to do so inside the church until the church commits itself to growing them into disciples. Unless the church does so, there will be people like Austin who will search out other sources for the information they need to answer their faith questions. Unfortunately, these sources are becoming increasingly non-Christian and sadly, many people will either miss the kingdom of Christ or live a shallow spiritual life void of the richness that comes only from a life of sitting at the feet of the Master.

Dr. Richard Tompkins