Updated: Nov 17, 2020
When you consider your spiritual growth, which places, people or ministries come to mind as significant for you?
Maybe it was the youth group you attended, the pastor who spoke messages of encouragement and truth, the camp ministry you served at, or the Bible study where you learned to study God’s Word for the first time.
These places and people stick in our minds as landmarks along our spiritual journey.
How about lately? Have you been finding the same opportunities or activities that propel you toward deeper faith?
Published this fall, JT English has written a book titled, “Deep Discipleship: How the Church Can Make Whole Disciples of Christ” addressing the topic of discipleship within the local church, providing us with a context, purpose and practical tips, to equip ministry leaders toward “a philosophy of ministry that will grow and mature deep and holistic disciples.”
He writes, “when we think about discipleship, we are thinking about our ability to be reoriented to God, and we begin to see that God initiates discipleship, that God is the source of discipleship, and that God is the goal of discipleship.”
While it’s target audience seems to be primarily for leaders, I found it is also very applicable for the regular believer, who wants to understand more about the purpose of discipleship, as well as what areas to consider as they seek their own spiritual growth.
The first question to address is: Why
Why is discipleship important in the life of the church?
He writes that, “success in ministry is not found in building programs but in building disciples – disciples who love God with all of their heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27). Christ is the goal, not better or more impressive ministries. He is what we want.” The heart of faith is Jesus, knowing, loving and serving Him more.
Our local churches are the venue through which we equip the believer in knowledge and growth. It can be so easy to point our young people in the direction of bible schools or discipleship programs, but the challenge remains for churches to be this place for both young and old.
Reminding us that “community is indispensable to discipleship, but community is not discipleship” he presents the need for church ministries to be intentional in providing Christian education. Discipleship is learning the way of Jesus, because we are always learners before the Lord.
He points out that, “Jesus is always teaching his disciples that all of life is centered on growing in our love and knowledge of God.” This is meant to create active disciples, not passive ones. The intention isn’t to make us smarter, but holier.
The second question is: What.
What do we do in discipleship?
He presents three comprehensive areas for discipleship:
3. Spiritual habits
This is where we center our teaching and our time, that we become followers of Christ who are not just hear-ers of the Word, but do-ers. We study the Word, we learn core beliefs of Christianity, and we practice habits that put our faith into action.
In the church, we will always have different levels of maturity, and as we learn and grow, we pay attention to each person’s journey and provide opportunities for all. If you want to start exercising, you don’t begin your first day with a 5K run, you start smaller, with intervals of walking and running. Discipleship works the same way. One next step, one piece of learning built upon another, which continues throughout our whole life, as we gain greater understanding and develop new habits in our lives.
The next question is: Where.
Where do we send disciples?
“Christian maturity does not hinder mission; it fuels mission” whether this is within the local church, in community outreach, or global missions, the goal of discipleship is to equip disciple-makers.
The body of Christ has been endowed with gifts and talents, and as we grow as disciples, we learn how to use those gifts to encourage the church.
“When you give people the tools for deep discipleship, they will begin discipling others”
The last question is: How
How do you develop a strategy for making disciples?
The author provides an acronym SPAACE for guiding principles toward deep discipleship.
Structure – have learning goals, communicate clear expectations.
Predictability – if you want people to be involved, it needs to have rhythm and routine.
Accountability – don’t lower expectations, create active learning environments.
Accessibility – discipleship is for everyone, remove obstacles to participation.
Community – there’s are no lone ranger disciples, we learn and grow together.
Excellence – pursue excellence in what we do for the glory of God.
He believes that “the greatest opportunity for the contemporary church is to recapture a radically God-centered vision for discipleship.” We are a part of that, as believers pursuing deeper growth and as local churches, who live and participate in faith communities. Building each other up, spurring each other on, and celebrating the “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33).
“True discipleship is not more than Jesus, but more of Jesus”
May He give us a hunger for more of Him today.
How have you found yourself growing in Scripture, doctrine and spiritual habits?
*thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC and the opportunity to post an honest review!