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FIRST-PERSON: Essential discipleship

AUGUSTA, Ga. (BP) — I read a lot of information and focus enormous amounts of energy and attention on what may be called “essentials” in ministry. Of course as a pastor, what I call “essential” must always be rooted in biblical instruction.

For all pastors, churches and Christ-followers, there is no sole, single text with broader application or a greater call to action than Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission.

I’m sure you would agree the Great Commission is the foundation of all ministry focus and formation. Here we meet the “disciple-making” mandate:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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'” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

Yet, I often read and observe what seems to be a myopic view of discipleship that focuses exclusively on believers leading or bringing embryonic believers into greater maturity in Christ. In other words, discipleship is projected as being synonymous with spiritual development.

No doubt the end result of effective discipling is a follower whose life bears “observational obedience” (Matthew 28:20) to the commands of Christ. But may I suggest that if you are to follow the biblical model of discipleship, there are at least three essential and integral dimensions to consider?

1. Conversion

The starting point for essential discipleship begins with the Great Commission. The Great Commission is a sending mandate in and under the authority of the name of Jesus Christ. It requires active and cooperative obedience on the part of existing believers to go.

Where? Everywhere.

Who? All peoples.

What? Bear witness to the name and fame of Christ.

Essential discipleship requires bearing the seed of the Gospel of which the fruit is “baptismal” identification under the authority of the “name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). This is not a matter of church tradition or denomination; it is the pattern of those who confessed conversion throughout the New Testament.

It should be noted the word “disciple” appears almost exclusively in the Gospels and Acts, but appears absent in the New Testament epistles that focus on spiritual growth and maturity. Why? The first essential component of disciple-making is the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit through the faithful proclamation of the Gospel.

The disciple-making process is not what happens after salvation; it is the very essence and evidence of faithful Gospel witness, beginning with God’s gracious work of intervention called salvation.

Evangelism and discipleship are inseparable. All biblical evangelism is aimed at a life-change, and all discipleship is dependent upon faithful Gospel proclamation that leads to conversion. God makes disciples when you go in faith and faithfulness to His command.

The result of Gospel-bearing witness is life-changing followship of Jesus Christ.

2. Formation

No doubt essential discipleship requires that you give great attention and effort to spiritual formation in the lives of both new and continuing believers. Formation involves instruction, discipline, relationship, accountability, adversity and more. Yet, this formation depends on the reality of an indwelling enabler, the Holy Spirit, who works to bring a Christ-bearing image in you.

What are the results of bearing Christ’s image? You encourage, support and surround others for the purpose of deepening the understanding of Gospel truth. You instruct and challenge others toward greater obedience, as is the clear intent of biblical community within the church (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Spiritual formation is not a random process or an automatic outcome of believing faith. It is challenged through instruction, called out through mortification of the flesh, tested in affliction and commanded in the Great Commission itself: “… teaching them to observe all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

Who? Those who have been marked in baptism as disciples “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

3. Mission

Discipleship is not an end in and of itself. It is a send essential! It is a journey of conversion and formation in faith that leads to faithful mission and participation in the disciple-making process. You are an evangelist, mentor and missionary.

In the end, any view or ministry effort that seeks to isolate one component or pit one component against another as competitors within local church ministry misses the mark of essential discipleship.

    About the Author

  • David H. McKinley