Is Discipleship the Totality of All Your Church Does in Ministry?

Eric Geiger continues his 2013 Discipleship Interview Series with Trevin Wax below. Trevin serves as the managing editor of The Gospel Project and is a prolific blogger.

Discipleship is such a broad term, often a junk-drawer term that has been used to describe many things. How do you define it?

For a lot of church leaders, discipleship is the follow-up to evangelism. That is, evangelism is entering into the church through faith in the gospel, and then discipleship takes you to the next level. Biblically, I don’t think we can separate the two. Discipleship in the Scriptures is about learning to follow Jesus in light of who He is and what He has done, and then making other disciples who follow Jesus as well. We’re not just called to be “disciples,” but to be “disciple-making disciples.”

There are elements of discipleship that need to be stressed today, as they were stressed in Jesus’ teaching. For example, in many of His parables, the portrait of a disciple is one who joyfully renounces some of the most precious things in this world for the sake of the kingdom – a treasure more precious than anything else. There’s a picture of joyful sacrifice at the heart of discipleship.

We also see a number of examples in the Gospels where discipleship could be defined as “knowing what time it is.” In other words, living on earth as citizens of heaven, looking at the world in light of the coming Day of Judgment and bringing our lives in line with that reality.

How do you articulate the holy tension in God’s role in transformation and the believer’s role?

I don’t believe we should look at transformation as if it were a “tension.” Rather, God is working in us and through us to accomplish His good purposes for us and for the world. It’s not “Let go, and let God,” because the Bible clearly teaches we are to put forth effort in our spiritual growth. And yet, the message isn’t “Just try harder” either, because the Bible clearly teaches that our efforts are Spirit-driven. I think we get off track in this area when we make conceive of Christian obedience more in terms of “life for God” than in terms of “life with God.” Put another way, it’s our life with God that undergirds and empowers anything we do for God. Obedience takes place within the context of relationship.

Do you see distinction between personal discipleship (a believer on his own) and corporate discipleship (a believer does in the community)?

I wouldn’t call it a distinction, but different elements of the same thing. We tend to stress personal discipleship today – the image of a Christian on their knees in private prayer or reading the Bible quietly in the morning. Private prayer and Bible reading are important elements to our growth, of course, but let’s not underestimate the power of growth within the Christian community. Loving one another. bearing with one another. Forgiving one another. Serving one another. Witnessing with one another to the lost. Singing together. Etc. There are many “one-another” passages in the Bible. Growing spiritually means fulfilling those passages. Without the Christian community, how are we able to obey King Jesus in this area?

In your mind, is discipleship one aspect of church ministry or the totality of all a church does?

It is the totality of all a church does. The formation of disciple-making disciples should be at the heart of everything we do. Discipleship is not implementing a program, but imitating the Savior who empowers us by His Spirit to engage others with the gospel.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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