Some Keys to Developing a Discipleship Culture

by Scott Laird

I heard the phrase “cut flower culture” years ago and its image still resonates. Cut flowers are beautiful, they smell good, provide color to our homes, and sometimes get a husband out of trouble. The problem is cut flowers are separated off from their roots and life itself. Many of the roots of spirituality have been cut away from our culture today. Parts of our culture may still look good but are disconnected from the source of life.

Churches can be “a cut flower” people. We look good and, in many ways, outshine the culture around us. However, are we the people of Psalm 1 who have sunk our roots deep in God and his living water? Are we the disciples of Jesus Christ who have an unrivaled love, an unceasing dying, and an unconditional surrender to our Lord, Luke 14:25-33?

I became a Christian at the age of twenty while attending a state university. Many Churches of Christ campus ministries in the late 70’s had a strong emphasis on discipleship. I was blessed to begin my walk with Christ as a disciple. I also witnessed some of the bad practices under the umbrella of discipleship. Discipling became a scary concept to many churches because of the abusive examples. However, the concept of being a disciple of Jesus is deeply rooted within the text of the New Testament and a similar concept is reflected in the Old Testament. Consider that the New Testament uses a form of the word disciple over 250 times, most in reference to followers of Jesus, while using the word Christian only three times.

If we are to return to a biblical model of discipleship what are some keys?

  • Let us return to calling each other disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • Unpack the biblical definition of disciple. It is much more than a term to be used as identification. It is learning to surrender each part of our life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one we follow. We are called to look like him.
  • Discern an individual of spiritual influence who lives as a disciple and has a heart to make other disciples. Disciple making, especially helping others mature in Christ, can easily take a back seat to programs. An individual devoted to the work of disciple making is essential in keeping a church on track.
  • Make sure the elders and ministers are on board as disciples of Jesus and are ready to fully support a biblical discipleship model. This may take some time, but it is better to have a unified leadership concerning discipleship than experience friction and conflict within leadership later.
  • Recognize discipleship is not a quick process. Helping to develop disciples of Jesus is a lifetime adventure.
    • Start before someone is immersed into Christ. Jesus called us to disciple the nations, Matt. 28:18-20. Jesus called people to count the cost of following him, Luke 14:25-33. Have those prebaptism discussions about what it practically means to follow Jesus.
    • With a new convert, discipleship will involve the basics. These basics are best taught in a one-on-one setting with an older disciple. Consider these fundamentals; Jesus is Lord, fellowship with other disciples, bible study, prayer, and understanding grace. The 3,000 baptized in Acts 2 are people who recognized and responded to the truth that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ,” Acts 2:36. Then Acts 2:42 reveals some next steps, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” This is a great model for new disciples.
    • As time progresses in a disciple’s life there is a good chance another individual will need to help with discipleship, rather than the one who equipped the new disciple in faith fundamentals. Jesus called those he wanted, Mark 3:13. This step in a maturing disciple is best fulfilled through a connection with someone where there is a mutual desire to work together, Acts 16:1-3.
    • Discerning the “good works God has prepared in advance for us to do,” Eph. 2:10, is a tough transition in the discipleship process and my conviction is it takes the working of the Holy Spirit through the body of Christ. Too often we have preset programs we want people to fill but have not let the disciple, with guidance from other believers, discover, embrace, and use their gifts. A helpful process for this journey is a yearlong journey with a small group of other trusted disciples where each disciple develops their life narrative and shares that with their group. Robert Clinton’s “Leadership Emergence Theory” has proven to be a good foundation as disciples learn to exegete their lives. Out of this deep work God often reveals giftedness and ministries that are unique to each disciple.
    • Throughout this process, disciples of Jesus are called to make other disciples. It is not required to have everything together before one begins to disciple others in Christ. What is needed is a life being transformed by the power of God and a willingness to share what has been discovered on this journey with Christ. Paul put it this way, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” 1 Cor. 11:1.
    • Leaders of churches need to think in terms of four spiritual generations. 2 Timothy 2:2 begins with Paul, who exhorts Timothy, and is concerned about the reliable men who will teach others. Paul considered four spiritual generations. It will require this long-term vision for discipleship to purposefully influence future generations.
    • Throughout this entire process trust that God is at work, “your labor in the Lord is not in vain,” 1 Cor. 15:58. Disciple making is both frustrating and extremely rewarding. Those making disciples must first be disciples of Jesus, abiding in the vine and, by God’s power, bearing much fruit.

May these thoughts help us begin to embed a culture of discipleship into the churches we bless. As we embrace Jesus’ call to discipleship, we will remain rooted in God himself. We will experience a fulfilling life in Christ, not the temporary beauty of being “cut flowers.”

Grace and peace to all. Scott Laird

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