One of the core ministries that God has greatly blessed in our church is the organized discipleship on Wednesday evenings. Not only are there new people continually being enrolled in discipleship and others completing the course, but the biblical grounding and personal mentoring that takes place during the weeks of discipleship continues to bear fruit in people’s lives years after they have finished.
At our church, we use the Continue discipleship book and have found it both helpful and fruitful.
But it’s not just having a course or a program that makes a discipleship program effective. It’s much more than that.
Discipleship, whatever means you may use, is one of the components of the Great Commission (“teaching them to observe all things,” Matthew 28:20). It is the responsibility of the local church to ground new Christians in the faith while teaching them how to grow in a daily walk with God.
So having an organized discipleship program is a good start, but it’s not enough. What are the characteristics of an effective discipleship program?
1. A Pastor Who Is Committed to the Importance of Discipleship
Without pastoral vision and leadership, a discipleship program will be butting heads with the other ministries of the church. Another leader (lay or staff) may oversee the weekly details of discipleship, but the pastor must be committed to ensuring there is a biblical process for nurturing and grounding young Christians in the local church.
2. Disciplers Who Share the Pastor’s Vision
I believe discipleship is best done one-on-one (or for couples, two-on-two). This necessitates that there are several people who have a heart to disciple others and are mature enough Christians to provide a consistent example with their instruction. They also must see their role as supporting the Great Commission and the pastor’s vision for the church as a whole.
3. A Church Family Who Is Consistently Reaching New Converts with the Gospel
There must be soulwinning fervor and fruit in the church. There will be no one to disciple if no one is being saved.
4. Set Times for Discipleship Meetings
Like all good intentions, discipleship won’t happen if there isn’t a set time. At Lancaster Baptist, we ask our disciplers/disciples to meet on Wednesday evening during the midweek Bible study. This helps young Christians get in the habit of attending church on Wednesday night, it provides childcare, and it helps our disciplers not have to commit an extra evening in their week.
5. A Clean and Prepared Room
There should be a sense of preparedness when a young Christian arrives for their weekly discipleship meeting. A clean room (perhaps with refreshments) that is set up for disciplers and disciples to meet says to those attending, “This is important to us, and we want it to be helpful for you.”
6. A Nurturing Blend of Tenacity and Patience
Working with young Christians requires gentleness and patience. Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). But it also requires the tenacity to love someone with rough edges, follow up on them when they miss a couple weeks, and pray for them to grow in Christlikness.
7. Training in Sharing the Gospel with Others
Remember that discipleship is just one part of the Great Commission. The goal is that a spiritually grounded Christian will be more able to share the gospel with others. In the Continue discipleship book, we cover sharing the gospel (both through organized church outreach and personally speaking to family and friends) in week 12. Often, by this time, the disciple is already going out soulwinning on a weekly basis with their discipler.
8. Assimilation into the Body Life of the Local Church
When someone finishes our discipleship book, we give them a certificate in church the following Wednesday evening and also recognize them in their adult Bible class the following Sunday. Additionally, a few weeks before they finish (week ten in the Continue book), we encourage them to take a spiritual gifts test and to sign up a weekly area of ministry at church. This allows a couple of weeks for a ministry leader to help them get plugged into an area of ministry while they are still meeting with their discipler.
A discipleship course is not an end; it is a beginning. Discipleship itself is a life-long process of spiritual maturing. But we have found that a church discipleship program with the above components goes a long way in encouraging setting the direction for that continued spiritual growth.