Discipleship Matters

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

As much of a believer I am in the importance of a formal education for an individual, I consider it far more important to possess an education in God’s Word; for what we study in schools and colleges has only a temporal effect, but what we learn by opening God’s Word (or ignoring it) shapes our entire eternity.

We often see the Great Commission as our mandate to evangelize and share God’s Word with the lost and unchurched. And that is certainly correct, Jesus wants us to do just that: to go out and share the Good News. However, we are not to stop there. Once we have received converts, we are to disciple them, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Through these words, we can see that the Great Commission is also an education mandate and that the church is to be an institution built around discipling its membership.

If a church is not prepared to provide instruction to a new believer, or a sustained member for that matter, the risk is great that that individual will soon fall away. It is imperative that these individuals are counseled that this decision to follow Christ is more than just attending church on Sundays, but rather a process that needs to encompass every aspect of their lives. Thus, the church must be prepared to instruct a new believer by having a comprehensive plan in place on how such a transformation is to occur.

The 4th Chapter of Ephesians provides a Scriptural foundation for the need of such training. The apostle Paul emphasizes the “now” of making a new believer’s transformation, not later. The conversion is what gets you enrolled in God’s school, and it is a school one can only graduate from when the Lord has called that individual home. If we ever allow our pride to say to us, “I know my Bible well enough”, then you have just made Satan smile. If you are still breathing, you have much to learn.

While it is important to teach a new believer the basic doctrines, that of itself is not enough. If we are also not teaching the application of these doctrines to their lives, it will have little or no lasting value. In 1980, Malcolm Knowles developed the concept of andragogy, or Adult Learning Theory. In it, he outlined four basic principles of adult learning, one of which stipulates that adults are most interested in learning things that have immediate relevance in their lives, either work or personal. As Sunday school teachers or those involved in an education ministry, we need to remember this when we conduct our classes. We cannot simply teach concepts without relevant application. We have to make the connection to their lives.

Jay Adams had this to say: “When your goal is to mold the character of an individual, you pursue that task much differently than when your goal is to enable him to answer questions. That is why counselors must deal not merely with intellectual information—transmitted, learned, fed back—but also with habit. Paul’s habits were what caused his struggle. Your task as a counselor, who is engaged not merely in teaching facts, but in changing people so that they pursue righteous living, is to learn to use Scripture to replace sinful habits and lifestyles with biblical ones” (Adams, 1986, p. 194).

If we are involved in any aspect of an education ministry, we must approach it through a lens of a counselor. Christ wants His followers to be completely different from their old self (Romans 6:6; 8:12-13; Galatians 5:16-18; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 1:6-7), in every aspect of their lives. Our job is to instruct new believers not only why this is important through a strong Scriptural foundation, but also how this is to be accomplished through examples that have meaning in their lives. Without a plan to accomplish this, we fail not only that individual, but the church as a whole.

Selected Verses on Discipleship for Further Study

Ephesians 1:17–18; Ephesians 4:13–15; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Hebrews 5:12–14; Colossians 1:28; Philippians 3:12–14; 1 Timothy 4:15–16

Adams, J.E. (1986). How to help people change. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan