Discipleship Follow-Up by Rocky Fleming
“The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” Acts 11:22-26 (ESV)
I think there is a major dot to connect to the example we read in the above passage. It is the apparent need to disciple a follower of Christ. It is plainly seen that this is what Barnabas did when he brought Paul to join him for a year in Antioch to teach the new believers. These believers were not neglected by simply adding them to the church roster to show the great things being done at the church in Antioch. No. They were discipled. They were deepened in their faith and knowledge of God and His word by Barnabas and Paul’s discipleship efforts. Then these believers became reproducers. As was true then, not only do we need to disciple a new convert, we need to also include those converts who are years in their Christian journey, for the churches are filled with believers who have never been discipled.
If I have any negative appraisal of the western church model that has formed over the last years, it is the big push for growth and prosperity, while absolutely neglecting the discipling of believers. Unless we are teaching believers how to self-feed on God’s word, and showing them how to have an intimate, abiding relationship with Christ through His Holy Spirit, we miss the truth of what authentic discipleship is. It stands to reason that the term disciple and what it represents must be defined by Christ to clearly describe one. His definition will include a denial of self and His preeminence in our life. Jesus will define it by a love/heart connection with Him, where true biblical transformation occurs in our life. We will see the fruit of His Spirit showing through our lives from this place of intimacy with Him, and we will see a humility in disciple making efforts that stands in stark contrast to the false teachers who misrepresent the Gospel with their ego driven methods.
A disciple of Christ is concerned about how his life is lived for Christ’s glory, not for his own prominence or celebrity. A true disciple will join Jesus’ commandment to go and make disciples, for that is what a disciple of Christ does. We make other disciples. And yet, rarely do I see this being emphasized in most churches. This must change in our churches if we are to impact the rapidly developing needs of the people in our world around us. We must get all hands-on deck with understanding what is at stake, and how to make a difference.
There are rare churches that are being raised up, and they have hearts for discipling their members. But, like I said, they are rare right now. What I see in these discipleship congregations is vibrancy, impactful members who live their faith out to their world around them and take the church outside the four walls. I see pastors who understand their mission and who are very effective as disciple makers. They are effective for they are leading the effort in reproducing disciple makers, and it this dynamic that creates impassioned leaders who join the pastor and the mission of their church to make more disciples. This is where their growth is. It is not a mile wide and an inch deep. It is deep, and it grows wide from this foundation. I believe this is the church model that Jesus started and when we go back to it, we see His anointing on our efforts.
Jesus said for us to pray for “laborers.” A laborer is able to reproduce after his or herself. In other words, he or she raises up other laborers who join in the disciple making process. This is the church growth dynamic that Jesus taught that will morph into a spiritual tsunami to reach people who want to know the Jesus we serve, and this need is great right now. Just look around and you will see it.
The church model Jesus gave to us conflicts with easy believe-ism and the representation of a form of the gospel that is about wealth, prosperity, and a low commitment to be His disciple. It is time that requires the stark truth of what it means to follow Christ, for a day is coming that will test our resolve to stand with Him. When our prosperity and comforts are removed, shallow believe-ism and low- bar commitment to Christ will not stand. The discipleship of members in our churches and those not affiliated with churches is needed as never before. In fact, I believe Jesus’ call to make disciples is as strong now as it was when He first said it.