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How Jesus’ discipleship model applies to the local church
Thirty years ago I had the privilege for a short season of traveling with Youth With a Mission founder and president Loren Cunningham. During one flight, Loren asked what my spiritual gifts were, to which I responded with my best guess as a 20-year-old. He affirmed my gifts of leadership and communication/teaching, but really got my attention when he said: “You know, Dave, it really doesn’t matter how many you lead or teach that counts. From God’s perspective, your life and ministry will be regarded as fruitful only to the degree you invest the ways of God into the third and fourth generations.”
Loren wasn’t talking about 40-year generations, but instead the kind of generational transfer Paul spoke of in 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This is the heart of discipleship—the multigenerational execution of Jesus’ great commission to us. The initial phrase in Matthew 28:19 is literally translated: “As you are going, make disciples.” As we go about everyday life, are we 1) intentionally investing what God has deposited in us into 2) someone else, who then deposits it into 3) another person, who in turn pours that into 4) yet someone else?
Henry Blackaby recently labeled this generation as “the most undiscipled generation of believers that I’ve ever known. ... Evangelism is a byproduct of discipleship, but we have made discipleship a byproduct of evangelism.”
Indeed, Jesus taught the multitudes yet invested in only 12. Since He knew He’d eventually return to His Father, I’m sure during His three years of discipling Jesus felt the weight of His followers really “getting it.” But the disciples “got it,” even sacrificing their lives to advance the kingdom. The bottom line: Jesus invited them to follow, the Holy Spirit drew them to follow, and they made a deliberate choice to follow.
So where does a pastor begin when it comes to applying these truths of “followship” at the local church level? The book of Matthew reveals a pattern that provides us with a glimpse of how to go about this disciple-making process:
1. Calling (4:18-25)—Jesus built relationships and, after prayer, invited the 12 to be with Him. Discipleship happens in the context of commitment, relationship and community.
2. Maturing (5-9)—Jesus taught His disciples the truths and values of the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount, then modeled what they looked like in “real life.”
3. Mobilizing (10)—As the disciples matured in God’s ways, Jesus sent them out to “flex their muscles” in faith, character, values, authority, evangelism, gifts, wisdom and persecution.
4. Multiplying (28:18-20)—After walking with them for a time, Jesus commissioned His disciples to replicate His ways by “teaching them to obey what I’ve commanded you.”
Both the Gospels and Acts 1 show this practical progression: 1) Jesus did it; they observed. 2) Jesus did it; they helped. 3) They did it; Jesus coached. 4) They did it; Jesus left!
Discipleship involves intimate replication, which often contrasts with our modern mass-evangelism-driven church culture. As you apply Jesus’ simple principles and begin the discipleship process, challenge those learning from you to pray about who they too can begin to disciple—people they’re simply “one step ahead of.” Within a local church, this establishes a Christ-like culture in which the pastor leads and models, with others following close behind, followed by others, followed by .... It’s discipleship at work.
Dave Buehring is the founder and team leader of Lionshare Leadership Group.
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