I arrived at my friend’s church excited to hear his pastor preach. A lady sitting beside me in the pew asked, “Have you been baptized by the Holy Spirit?” By this she meant had I spoken in tongues. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of people say bizarre things in Christian settings. At a student event I heard a youth pastor say, “The Gospel is our personal testimony.” Experiences like these (and many others) evidence a need for discipleship.
Those of us who love God and His Word cringe at the confusion about basic theology exhibited by so Christians. Many of us (myself included) expend a great deal of energy complaining and lamenting about the sad state of the church in America. This series of blog posts (read the first one here) provides a practical means of addressing these problems—discipleship. While the church faces a legion of challenges, engaging in discipleship equips us and others to address them.
Jesus commands us to make disciples, and we talk a lot about discipleship. Over the next few months, I’ll suggest some methods/means of making disciples you can implement in your life and your church. My previous article dealt with the meaning and motives of discipleship. This article provides one method of implementing it.
Presuppositions of this Method
This method assumes the people involved are followers of Jesus Christ. It also presumes they regularly attend churches where they receive a steady diet of expository preaching dispensed by qualified pastors. This discipleship methodology supplements the regular worship, preaching, and teaching of a faithful local church. This approach is primarily for a one-on-one meeting with another Christian of the same sex. It could also work with a small group.
Take the Initiative
This method works best when someone takes the initiative to lead the meeting. Your local church is the best place to find other Christians to meet with for regular discipleship. You should discuss this approach with your pastors/elders before implementing it. You can also solicit book recommendations or other suggestions from your church leaders (they keep watch over your soul—let them help you fulfill Jesus’s command to make disciples). Your pastors/elders may have someone in mind that could benefit from this kind of discipleship. You may also be able to incorporate this kind of a discipleship meeting into your lunch break at work. Approach another Christian and ask them about regularly meeting for discipleship. The initiator will typically need to send texts, emails, and reminders about the regularly scheduled meeting.
Make Expectations Clear
On the first meeting, emphasize that everyone should be reading the Bible daily. This is a good time to commit/recommit to daily Scripture reading. This method will help incorporate training for daily meditation on the Scripture. Also highlight the importance of daily prayer, and agree to regularly pray for each another. Discuss and agree upon the frequency of your meeting. A weekly or by-weekly meeting usually works best, but once-per-month can also be workable. Reading one chapter of a book before the meeting and being prepared to discuss it should also be a prerequisite.
Before beginning in prayer, it’s good to find out if there are any pressing needs (prayer requests). You should write down each other’s requests and commit to praying about them until the next meeting. I write them on a note card that doubles as a bookmark for the book we’re reading. When I read the book in preparation for the meeting (see below), I’m reminded to pray for my brother. Psalm 119:18 is always a good text to pray before studying Scripture together: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
Emphasize praying about spiritual needs. The prayers of the Apostles are filled with requests about growing in knowledge, holiness, faith, and love. Pray for the ministries of your local church and your pastors/elders. It’s good to pray for opportunities to proclaim the Gospel. Pray for your efforts to make disciples in your family and for your continued commitment to your spouse. A couple of the books below serve as great resources for learning to pray.
Use the Scripture
Jesus explains we make disciples by “teaching them to observe all I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20). We know that God sanctifies us in the truth (John 17:17). Therefore, reading and meditating on God’s Word should be central in our method of discipleship. We also know God’s Word has spiritual power not found in other writings, philosophies, or opinions. Hebrews 4:12–13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
You should read systematically through a book of the Bible. Ideally the book will be familiar to the initiator of the meeting (you understand the setting, context, purpose, and general structure of the book). You could also choose a book to address a specific issue you want to examine/discuss together, such as:
- The early church (Acts)
- The life of Jesus (one of the Gospels)
- The doctrine of salvation (Romans or Galatians)
- Rejoicing in the church (Philippians)
- Division in the church (1 Corinthians)
For meeting with a new Christian, you could study Genesis to establish the foundations of the faith. Reading and discussing Mark’s Gospel helps new believers understand the person and work of Jesus Christ. We want to make it a regular practice in the church to be discipling new believers.
I suggest reading one chapter or a smaller section of Scripture together. Some modern translations break the text down into paragraphs. You could read one paragraph from Malachi in each of your meetings and discuss it. I suggest taking turns reading successive verses out loud. Each person should take note of verses, words, or issues they want to revisit. Was there a verse/phrase that piqued your interest? After you complete the reading, return to verses/issues of interest for more in-depth discussion. You can always ask, “What did you find particularly striking?” or, “What would you like to investigate further?”
When reading through the Scripture, you should always ask:
- What is the author’s intent in writing this?
- How does this chapter, paragraph, or verse fit in the context of the rest of the book?
- What does this text teach us about God?
This method helps train others in Scripture meditation. Don Whitney defines meditation as, “Deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.”1Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991, 48. Have you heard the saying, “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” In studying the Scripture, we want to see the forest (the big picture) and the trees (each constituent part of the forest). We want to regularly be reading through large sections of Scripture—this allows you to see the forest. But we should also take note of particular trees that warrant closer examination.
Here’s an example:
- Read through a chapter in the Bible.
- Mentally tag a verse to revisit after you complete the chapter reading.
- Revisit the one verse and think more deeply about it. Train yourself to be thinking about the verse throughout the day. This way you’re meditating on Scripture during your daily activities.
Now discuss how to apply the Scripture to your life. Jesus wants us to be, “teaching them to observe/obey . . .” (Matt. 28:20). Consider these questions together:
- How does this apply to my family?
- How does this apply to my service in the church?
- How does this apply to my job/work/vocation?
- Is there a command to obey?
- Is there a sin to expose or avoid?
- Is there an obligation or responsibility to fulfill?
- Is there an example intended to be followed?
- Is there a warning against a particular belief or behavior?
- Does this apply to a contemporary issue you’re dealing with?
Use Christian Literature
I suggest reading through a Christian book together. Read through one chapter each week and be prepared to discuss it in your meeting. We can be helped and encouraged by the insights of others throughout church history. We’re not alone—we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have thought deeply about Scripture. We should utilize their writings and consider their perspectives. We read Christian books to gain a better understanding of Scripture. They can help us apply/obey the Word of God.
After discussing the Scripture, transition to discuss a chapter of the book you’re reading together. As the initiator of the meeting, you should lead the first discussion.
- What did you find most helpful?
- Was there anything you disagreed with? Why?
- Was there something you really want/need to implement into your life?
- Were there any quotes that stirred your faith?
I suggest encouraging the person you’re meeting with to lead the book discussion at your next meeting. By doing this you’re training them to make other disciples. Share the above questions to help them lead the next discussion.
We have limited time in life and can only read a small number of books (compared to the vast number available). Therefore, we need to do our best to select the most helpful, sanctifying, and enriching books possible. Your pastors/elders can help you select books that will strengthen your faith. On your first discipleship meeting, you can discuss possible books to explore. As the initiator, prepare some suggestions for books. Maybe they have an issue they want to address, or a theological subject they want to consider.
Here is a brief outline of books I’ve used over the years in discipleship:
For a New Christians (or any Christians)
- Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian life by Donald S. Whitney
- The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul
- The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
For Mature Christians
- The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (I recommend the abridged edition from Banner of Truth)
- Knowing God by J. I. Packer
For Training with Prayer
- A Method for Prayer by Matthew Henry
- Tell the Truth by Will Metzger
For Church History
- The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves
- The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steven J. Lawson
- The Daring Mission of William Tyndale by Steven J. Lawson
To Address Contemporary Issues
- Strange Fire by John MacArthur
- Charismatic Chaos by John MacArthur
In the concluding prayer, specifically pray through the Scripture you just discussed. Take some of the application points from the Scripture and turn these into prayers. If something in the book challenged you, use it as a prayer request.
Overview of a One Hour Discipleship Meeting
- Prayer requests and opening prayer. 5 minutes
- Scripture reading, discussion, and application. 35 minutes
- Book discussion 15 minutes
- Closing prayer 5 minutes
|Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991, 48.