There is a crisis in churches in America today: there exists a shortage of men rising to leadership positions. The reasons can be summed up in two statements: there is insufficient biblical teaching in the church and leaders are not being grown. In order for leaders to grow, there needs to be discipleship of believers. Men need to be taught scripture, how to apply it, and how to share it. But more than that, men need to apply what they learn and leaders need to help men find places to minister and be helped to grow in leadership skills. Sometimes many men have input into the spiritual growth of a disciple.
In order to grow believers, one must follow the model of He who is to be our example, Christ. In Matthew 3:18-23, Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John, telling them to follow him. So they lived with him and walked with him daily as he taught and healed and prayed. This gave them the ideal opportunity to learn from him as apprentices. This is the model we need to follow. Jesus had a close circle of 3 men, who were part of a larger group of 12 men. In Matthew 10, after they had been with him, and trained by him a while, he sent them out to put their training into practice. This was not just a one time thing, but a pattern of behavior: in Luke 10, we see Jesus sending out a larger group of 70 men to put their training into action.
Not only did Christ have groups of men he discipled, but so did Paul. Paul became filled with the Holy Spirit because of a man named Annanias did what God wanted him to do and prayed with Saul and then baptized him (Acts 9:17-19). God used him almost immediately, as then began teaching. Paul in turn had men he discipled. It started with Barnabas, in Acts 11:22-26. Barnabas trained Paul. Together Paul and Banabas taught for a year in Antioch. Paul trained the new disciples in public and in private, from house to house (Acts 20:17-21). Paul trained Timothy and sent him to put his training into practice (1 Cor 4;17). It may be that Timothy trained Epaphras (Col 1:1-8; Col 4:12-13; 2 Tim 2:2).
This same model was used by Elizabeth with Mary, the mother of Jesus. When she knew that she was pregnant with the son of God, she went to stay with her relative, Elizabeth (Luke 1:36-56). It would have been during this time that Elizabeth would have shared what Elizabeth would go through in her pregnancy. Women often do this sort of thing naturally, sharing what is going on with them so that others might benefit.
Couples also can together disciple others. In Acts 18, we see Paul stayed with Aquilas and Priscilla and worked with them. It would have been at this time that they would have come to an accurate understanding of the scriptures concerning Christ. They in turn shared this understanding of Christ with Apollos in Ephesus. Sometimes it is over a period of time, and sometimes it might be just an instant in time.
Regardless of whether it is a man discipling a man, a woman discipling a woman, and a couple discipling someone together, the pattern remains the same. A believer (or believers) identify someone who needs instruction in the word and spiritual growth — people to focus our energy on, to spend time teaching them. We are to teach them scripture and how to practically apply scripture to their lives. We need to talk with them, show them how to apply scripture, and have them do it themselves. Once the disciples are prepared, we need to provide avenues for them to move into ministry and then into leadership. Then the disciples will make other disciples, following the same principles.
The early church also followed this pattern. Titus, in Titus 2, was instructed to teach the older men and the younger men. He was instructed to teach the older women and then the older women were to teach the younger women. In fact, in Hebrews 3:13, we see every member of a church being encouraged to do what disciplers do, to encourage one another so that they may withstand sin. Paul told the believers in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Believers were to teach and admonish other believers.
It is this model that I am trying to follow in my ministry. The Lord led me to this idea a few years ago while I was in Miami. I had been leading many people to make confessions of faith, but I never saw fruit of the faith that was supposed to be there. In prayer, I realized that while my goal was to make reproducing disciples, my actions were aimed at getting people to make confessions of faith. Once I realized this, I began praying for God to show me how to make reproducing disciples. I had started a Bible study in Spanish with four people. One was an immature Christian, and three were not saved at all. One of the students was very resistant to almost everything I had to say. The other two unbelievers made statements of faith, but this woman never would. Finally she was over my house one day and she broke down crying and came to Christ. When things became difficult, the other three decided to follow their own wills rather than that of God. This woman saw it and knew instinctively that they should have done what God wanted. She came to live with our family and studied with me for more than two years. In that time, I was able to share scripture and methods of Bible study and was able to challenge her to seek God’s will and to apply scripture to all aspects of her life. She was able to see me apply scripture in my life. Eventually she felt led to move to Chicago to evangelize her friends. She has led five different people to the Lord and is teaching two groups of women. She is an example of how discipling following Christ’s model works.
At one point in my ministry, I had three men I had been teaching in Spanish. All were believers before I met them. One of them needed discipling in being a good husband. With this man, I spent a good deal of time talking about my own marriage. The others just generally needed to learn to study and apply the bible daily. I began a program with them of challenging them to be sure they are in the Word. I also began to teach them how to study, apply and teach the word to others.
This model will work in any church. One way to incorporate this model into a church is for a leadership team to be challenged to choose people with whom they can focus time and energy on and teach. Once the disciples have been chosen, the leadership team can meet on a weekly basis to be challenged on whether they have focused on their disciples this week. They have to teach the people and to help them learn the Word and learn how to apply the Word to their own lives. This will naturally progress to evangelizing and growing disciples. Every church needs to follow this model, though it might look differently for different churches.
Unknown, “Mentoring chains in the Bible”, http://www.homestead.com/mentorandmultiply/files/Mentoring_Chains_in_Bible_pages_2_7_18.htm, [Available Online: 28 June 2006]