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Intentional discipleship: a process not a program

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–James Cox didn’t find the answers he expected at Discipleship/Leadership Week. What he found instead was a new way of looking at the question.

“I think I came looking for a way to make a successful discipleship program,” Cox said. “Now I’m looking for a way to make a successful disciple.”

Cox, senior adult minister and Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church in Slaughter, La., joined more than 500 pastors, lay leaders and church members for Discipleship/Leadership Week at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Cox also serves as discipleship coordinator for the William Wallace Baptist Association, which serves the East Baton Rouge and East and West Feliciana area. Only six of the association’s 22 churches have discipleship programs, and those aren’t well attended, he said, echoing a common concern expressed at the conference.

“I came thinking that we need to heal the training program. Now I’m sure that’s wrong. It’s the end result -– the disciple -– that matters,” Cox said.

To multiply the Kingdom of God, training those disciples must be an intentional effort on the part of the church, said Jay Johnston, director of FAITH/evangelism and discipleship for LifeWay.

By no accident, the word “disciple” appears more than 250 times in the New Testament, Johnston said, noting that it is a lifelong process, not a finite program.

“God expects disciples to reproduce themselves,” Johnston said. “We must be intentional about sharing our faith with others who are unsaved. For many in the church, that is a very uncomfortable place to be and it shouldn’t be.”

Furthermore, Johnston said, “We cannot have people coming to accept Jesus Christ and then just leave them there not having learned that they can have a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

“We as Southern Baptists have to get rid of the pride that we often have -– we skip the fundamentals because we’ve been doing this for so many years,” Johnston said, whereas, “Every spring, baseball players start over, no matter how long they’ve been playing.”

Daryl Eldridge, president of Rockbridge University in Springfield, Miss., put it this way: “Our discipleship is run amok. It’s not our theology. It’s the fact that people don’t know how to implement it.”

The answer lies in developing spiritual maturity through small groups, where biblical revelation goes from the head to the hands to the heart and translates into habits that in turn grow the church, Eldridge said.

“Spiritual maturity doesn’t just happen, and it never ends,” Johnston said. No matter where a person is on his or her spiritual journey, he added, it is never too early to start looking for someone else to disciple.

Conference workshops, with teachers such as Bible scholar T.W. Hunt, delved into how to accomplish this important part of the Great Commission.

Hunt said early in his speaking career, when he didn’t know how he was going to pay for printing costs for his syllabi, he placed it in God’s hands, and each time God provided precisely for his needs.

“I wonder what would happen if we truly believed God was God,” Hunt said.

“Hearing God speak is far more important than what you want to tell Him,” Hunt continued. “It may just be that He knows more than you. It may just be that His wisdom is infinite.”

For the past 10 years, Katherine Geniec, women’s ministry coordinator for Gate City Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., has attended the annual discipleship conference at Ridgecrest, with an eye toward how it will benefit the women’s ministry at her church.

“Women’s ministry is just in its infancy. Very few Baptist churches have women’s ministry as a ministry. God is raising up women who are seeking and they need to know there is a place they can go,” Geniec said.

“All ministries have to start with discipleship,” she said. “Discipleship is missing throughout our church. We can’t know how to influence our culture if we don’t know the Word.”
LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention sponsored Discipleship/Leadership Week June 27-July 1 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.

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  • Andrea Higgins