Education, Discipleship, and Spiritual Formation

10 06 2010

This is my second essay on the subject of Discipleship.  I welcome comments!

A recent study of born-again adult believers shows that most acknowledge that spiritual formation or development is a primary responsibility of a follower of Christ and may be a helpful endeavor; however, they do not feel that it is a pressing need in their lives because they feel that they have mostly mastered the concepts of the Christian faith.[1] Making disciples is the ultimate goal of all believers.  It is what Jesus commanded His followers to do before He ascended to heaven.  He stated in Matthew 28:19a, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  When considering discipleship, one must ask the question, “How does this happen?”  Discipleship is not a one-time event.  Discipleship is a lifestyle of learning and growing in the things of God as Paul said in Philippians 3:12.  It is a constant process of being trained and mentored by an individual or a collective effort of a group of people.  For the church to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus and make disciples of all nations a thorough understanding of discipleship, education, and spiritual formation and how they interact with each other must be ascertained.

A true disciple can be defined as “becoming a complete and competent follower of Jesus Christ.”[2] It also refers to “someone who is a learner of follower who serves as an apprentice under the tutelage of a master.”[3] Based on this information concerning discipleship, it can easily be established that learning must take place.  The true disciple must have the capability to learn, the ability to learn.  Also, the desire to learn must exist.  It has been established that discipleship is a process.  It is a lifestyle of deliberate choices and decisions to follow Christ and to obey all that He has commanded in His Word.  The key word in the study of discipleship is “process.”  That word connotes a series of steps to attain a certain goal.

Education is a major step in the process of becoming a true disciple of Jesus.  Education has been defined as “the creative process of promoting and attaining growth and development, enabling the complete individual to contribute to his or her culture.”[4] By definition, education is a process in much the same way as discipleship.  In the process of education, there must be a relationship between the teacher and the student (1 Corinthians 11:1).  The student learns from the teacher that which has been designed for the student to teach.  Every student has a different capacity for learning; therefore the methods of teaching or training must be adjusted for every student in order for learning to be most effective.  In relation to discipleship, education is the process by which the disciple learns information from the master, whether that is through classic education styles, such as classroom training, or in more practical activities, such as outreaches.  Without education, disciple making would be impossible.  Education is the vehicle by which information is transferred to the disciple from the master.

The process of becoming a true disciple of Jesus includes another very important piece.  Spiritual formation or growth must take place in the life of the disciple.  George Barna stated, “Churches that are most effective in discipleship have a philosophy of ministry that places daily spiritual growth at the core of the ministry.”[5] Spiritual formation is also a process.  Paul stated in his letter to the Corinthians, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).”  We move from glory to glory by spiritual transformation.  That process is very similar to another principle that Paul spoke of – sanctification. Sanctification is defined as “being set apart by God and for God.”[6] When Jesus called His disciples, He set them apart for Himself.  He required of them that they leave everything and follow Him.  They left their homes, careers, families, and personal ambitions.  Jesus told His disciples that they must turn from their selfish ways and take up their crosses and follow Him (Matt 16:24).  Sanctification is a process whereby disciples are spiritually set apart to follow Christ and reproduce themselves in the earth.

An understanding of discipleship, education, and spiritual formation are key in becoming true disciples of Jesus and fulfilling the Great Commission of making other disciples.  These three elements are not mutually exclusive.  One cannot have discipleship without education.  Education holds within its very nature an element of discipleship in the teacher-student relationship.  Being a true disciple of Jesus Christ requires that spiritual formation take place. Church ministries should have discipleship as their primary focus.  Spiritual formation would be a natural result of the discipleship program, and education would be the process by which the discipleship would take place.  Barna stated, “True discipleship creates Christians who aggressively pursue spiritual growth rather than passively experience spiritual evolution.”[7] The body of Christ must aggressively pursue creating disciples by fostering an environment, which enhances spiritual growth through the process of education by a quality teacher-student relationship.   

Bibliography

Barna, George.  Growing True Disciples.  Colorado Springs, CO:  WaterBrook Press, 2001.

Gangel, Kenneth O.  Holman New Testament Commentary: Acts, ed. Max Anders.  Nashville,            TN:  Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

Mitchell, Dr. Michael R.  “On the Structure of the Discipline and the Essential Activities of            Education.”  Liberty University BlackBoard. http://bb7.liberty.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tabGroup=courses&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fcontent%2FcontentWrapper.jsp%3Fcontent_id%3D_7962168_1%26displayName%3DLinked%2BFile%26course_id%3D_929907_1%26navItem%3Dcontent%26attachment%3Dtrue%26href%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fbb7.liberty.edu%252F%2540%2540%252FB366EB213446C70095182FB591F9C8B2%252Fcourses%252F1%252FDSMN500_B07_201030%252Fcontent%252F_7962168_1%252Fembedded%252F5_Qs_Summary_Pub_Ed.pdf.  Internet.  Accessed on May 23, 2010.


[1] George Barna, Growing True Disciples (Colorado Springs, CO:  WaterBrook Press, 2001), 34.

[2] Ibid., 17.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dr. Michael R. Mitchell, “On the Structure of the Discipline and the Essential Activities of Education.”  Liberty University BlackBoard. http://bb7.liberty.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tabGroup=courses&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fcontent%2FcontentWrapper.jsp%3Fcontent_id%3D_7962168_1%26displayName%3DLinked%2BFile%26course_id%3D_929907_1%26navItem%3Dcontent%26attachment%3Dtrue%26href%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fbb7.liberty.edu%252F%2540%2540%252FB366EB213446C70095182FB591F9C8B2%252Fcourses%252F1%252FDSMN500_B07_201030%252Fcontent%252F_7962168_1%252Fembedded%252F5_Qs_Summary_Pub_Ed.pdf (accessed May 23, 2010).

[5] George Barna, Growing True Disciples, 31.

[6] Kenneth O. Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary: Acts, ed. Max Anders (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 348.

[7] George Barna, Growing True Disciples, 167.





Discipleship Essay #1 – “What Is Discipleship?”

7 06 2010

I will be posting my essays on Discipleship in the coming weeks.  I enjoy feedback from my readers, so let’s discuss discipleship!

“Discipleship” is one of the most misinterpreted and least understood words in the Christian vernacular.  Any Christian that has been a Christ-follower for any length of time should know about the Great Commission where Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”.  Basically, He was instructing those that followed Him during His ministry to reproduce themselves in the earth.  These disciples were eyewitness to the amazing miracles He performed.  They had first-hand knowledge of the incredible teachings of Jesus.  They knew what to do with that information.  They were to go to Jerusalem and start making disciples there.  Then, they were to go to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth spreading the good news of Jesus and making disciples everywhere that they went.  These original disciples carried within them the DNA to reproduce themselves under the power of the Holy Spirit everywhere that they went; however, discipleship is about more than making relationships with people and sharing the gospel.  Discipleship carries with it costs, conditions, and an incredible responsibility to reproduce in the earth.

When Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, He did not immediately tell them the cost of the decision they were about to make.  The Gospel writers tell us that He simply said, “Follow Me.”  The costs were built into the call.  For those that decided to follow Jesus, they left behind careers, homes, family, and other things that they cherished or felt gave them worth.  Another call in Scripture to be a disciple or follower was the call of Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21.  When Elijah called Elisha in the field by casting his mantle upon him, Elisha responded immediately and left his father and mother and destroyed his oxen thereby leaving his home and career to follow this man and the call of God.  Elisha remained with Elijah for the remainder of Elijah’s ministry and learned all that he could from this mighty man.  The results were much the same as the disciples of Jesus.  Elisha’s immediate willingness to count the cost and follow Elijah resulted in him receiving a double portion of his anointing.  Elisha consequently performed twice as many miracles as Elijah.  When Jesus was speaking in John 14:12, He told His disciples that they would do greater works than He would do.  When the costs of discipleship are counted and “paid” immediately by the disciple, God reciprocates by allowing the disciple to function at a greater capacity than the master.

To go along with the costs of discipleship, there are also conditions placed on the disciple.  Many times, Jesus told His followers that they must do something before they could be true disciples.  In Dr. Michael R. Mitchell’s article, “The Conditions of Discipleship,” he states some of the main categories of conditions that Jesus gave His disciples.  Self-denial is the first on this list.  Jesus warned His disciples that they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him in Mark 8:34 or they would not be considered His disciples.  Jesus also instructed His disciples that to be a true follower, they must leave everything including family, jobs, homes, etc.  Jesus went so far as to require that personal possessions be sold and the profits given to the poor (Matt. 19:21).  Dr. Mitchell ended his article with the categories of “Leaving all,” “Steadfastness,” “Fruitfulness,” and “Love.”  God required in the Ten Commandments to have no other gods before Him, and Jesus reiterated that fact in the conditions He placed on His disciples.  Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ was to become “an all-consuming obsession.”[1]

Reproduction is not just a good suggestion from Jesus, but it was His final commandment before His ascension to the Father.  He told His disciples to go and make disciples.  They were to reproduce themselves in the earth.  God also gave a similar commandment to Adam and Eve when He told them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28).  God never intended for His people to cease reproducing in the earth and not carry out His will and purpose.  A wise man once said, “Christianity is one generation away from extinction.”  If the body of Christ does not reproduce itself by making disciples, we will have ceased to fulfill the commandment of Jesus.  Barna stated in his book, Growing True Disciples, “An individual who does not reproduce himself in Christ is not truly a disciple since he does not exhibit the selfless love of the Master.”[2] Elijah reproduced himself in Elisha.  Moses reproduced himself in Joshua.  Jesus reproduced Himself in His disciples and the rest of the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many Christians today have either not been taught or they do not fully understand the concept of discipleship.  The body of Christ as a whole has not grasped the gravity of the costs, the conditions, or the responsibility to reproduce itself in the earth.  True discipleship, as defined by Barna, is “becoming a complete and competent follower of Jesus Christ.”[3] The true disciple of Christ must be completely sold out to His cause and mission.  He or she must also be competent in knowing the Word of God and have the ability to teach and train others to do the same.  Barna also describes discipleship as “about being and reproducing spiritually mature zealots for Christ.”[4] Discipleship is about building relationships with people and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through those relationships to allow supernatural reproduction to take place.

Bibliography

Barna, George. Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine

Followers of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2001.


[1] George Barna, Growing True Disciples (Colorado Spring, CO:  WaterBrook Press, 2001), 19.

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] Ibid., 17.

[4] Ibid., 18.