Laying the Foundation for Church-Wide Discipleship

Posted: November 7, 2011 in Church, Church Strategy, Discipleship
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When I owned an Asphalt Paving company we decided to get into concrete, and so we did in a big way. We even did footings, slabs and walls for new construction. I learned a great deal about foundations for commercial buildings. You don’t just dig a trench and pour concrete. You must consider where the main support beams are placed, what the weight load of the walls will be, what type of soil the foundation is on, and many other factors. The foundation is a really big deal that I had taken for granted. Good concrete alone is not enough for a solid foundation. You must use steel re-bar, and the amount and configuration of the re-bar depends upon the load at that point. Even concrete slabs have to consider the weight of the objects they will support. As part of our foundation work we did some banks which had bank vaults. Most vaults nowadays are actually pre-fab concrete units that are shipped in and moved in place. The vault door is added later. But the slab of the vault is poured 12″ to 24″ thick, with 2 to 3 layers of 3/4″ re-bar tied on 12″ centers. (We did one with 6″ centers). They do not want the vault going anywhere! It also indicates the weight (and importance) of the bank vault. Before concrete, I never thought about foundations. Now I consider them wherever I go. I even took this picture of some awesome re-bar for a building going up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Judging by the re-bar pile, they still had a lot of tying to do!

The church of today is so often about programs. We need programs to keep drawing crowds and making people ‘feel’ like they are Christians. So often ministry programs for children, seniors, life groups, special events, and whatever must pass the “feel good” test. Will it “minister to a felt need” and make everyone “feel good”. Modern ministry must have an emotional draw or it usually dies.

The church that Jesus began and the Apostles modeled was centered around discipleship, making disciples. Emotional feelings quickly fade in the face of persecution. There must be something more about being a church than “feel good” programs. That more is true discipleship. We tried to get a “discipleship program” going within a year after coming to my present church, Pleasant Prairie. But we were only 3 years removed from a tragic ‘split’ that nearly destroyed a church that had been there for 36 years at the time. The people were not ready for a discipleship program that did not meet the need to rebuild their emotional being. There were emotional scars of bitterness and unforgiveness that needed attention before discipleship could begin. Inward hurts hinder the ability to look upward and outward!

God has recently burdened me that it is time to more clearly define the mission of our church. God has been sending some great men and families our way, but we need to have a clearly defined discipleship path. Our church is ready to stand and embrace discipleship as our core value, but I do not want it to be a “program”. Discipleship does not automatically have a “feel good” component that builds excitement. Most Christians seem to view discipleship as something for Paul’s and Timothy’s, people who serve in a major capacity. Even leaders in the church seem to shy away from intentional discipleship. Too often Christians are ‘comfortable’ where they are at. Convenience and comfort are often core values of most American Christians.

The Holy Spirit was leading me to preach on the Life of King David. He is a great example of a man of God. There is no more transparent life in the Bible than King David. But the Holy Spirit was also burdening me with the need for a clearly defined discipleship path in our church. For some reason He led me to the ‘last saying’ of King David in 2 Samuel 23:5. I won’t get it to it in this writing, but through this, the Holy Spirit is revealing some awesome revelations about discipleship and how the church can embrace it, accomplish it and even have a “feel good”  component at the same time. 

So the next few posts will be the “Laying of the Foundation” of what I am calling “David Discipleship”. We don’t often associate King David with discipleship, but I believe his life is the very definition of discipleship, beginning with the revelation of His last words.

Now to bend and tie the “re-bar” of David Discipleship:

If the church is not to be about “programs” but about making disciples, what is a disciple? 

Disciple: One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another. In the New Testament, the word is Mathētés. Here it means more than a mere pupil or learner. It is an adherent who accepts the instruction given to him and makes it his rule of conduct[1]. The general designation of mathētés was given to those who believed on Christ. Jesus clearly defines disciple in John 8:31: (ESV) So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples”.

What is Discipleship?

If a disciple is an adherent of another person’s teachings, what is discipleship?

A consensus of definitions produces this: Discipleship is the process of learning about the teachings of another, internalizing them and then acting upon them. Most discipleship programs focus on the learning process, with the emphasis on knowledge.

Peters Perspective on the Discipleship Process

Peter turned out to be the most dynamic of the early disciples of Christ. He had learned a great deal after spending three years at the feet of the Master Teacher. Yet when it was time for the rubber to meet the road, Mighty Peter failed, and denied his Master in a dramatic fire. Where was that knowledge then? What good did his earlier confession do at the moment when it mattered most? Peter sheds a glaring light upon what a discipleship program should be about.

2 Peter 1:1 (ESV) Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…

2 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV) 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge (epignosis)[2] of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge(gnosis) …

Peter’s Insights into Discipleship:

1. Equal Faith <–> Righteousness of Christ

  • Discipleship grows from Faith that is provided by the righteousness of our Savior Jesus Christ. That faith makes each believer equal in the sight of God. That equality is not based upon knowledge, but upon the righteousness provided us by our God and Savior Jesus Christ!

2. Growth <–> Relational Knowledge

  • Our growth in life and godliness is by His divine power and only through knowing Him in His glory and excellence.

3. Growth <–> Precious Promises

  • Our growth is only by His divine nature becoming our nature through the power of the Word and His precious promises.

4. Growth <–> Focus on His Virtue becoming our Virtue

  • Discipleship must focus on His Virtue becoming our Virtue. We first add virtue to our faith, and knowledge to virtue.

VIRTUE is the Greek “areté” which denotes in a moral sense what gives man his worth[3]

Why is Virtue Important to Discipleship?

There are four synonyms to Areté in the Greek according to Zodhiates…

  • dóxa – glory;
  • dúnamis – power;
  • chárisma – gift;
  • ōphéleia – usefulness[4]

Virtue is a quality that is difficult to define, but definite in its impact. From the synonyms we glimpse the power of this little word. Here is my humble attempt at a definition.

Virtue is the strength of the character of Christ internalized into my life as I follow Him. Virtue brings worth and value to my life. Without His virtue I am weak and ineffective.

Virtue grows from an obedient relationship!

Discipleship programs are not effective if their focus is primarily upon knowledge (ginosis). It must be knowledge that grows from a personal on-going relationship with Jesus Christ Himself! (epiginosko). I know far too many graduates of Christian Schools and Colleges that display little if any of the life of Jesus Christ. A surprising number no longer go to church. Knowledge is not enough to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Look at Judas. He had three years of instruction from Jesus Christ, and yet there was no changed life!

Discipleship is Life-Changing only if it is Life-Giving!

Discipleship must lead believers into a life that is above the natural, a life that is empowered by the Righteous Life of Jesus Christ. His virtue of LIFE becomes our virtue by our dying.

We Have No Virtue worth Propping up

Discipleship is not a self-improvement course. It is not a way of “improving” your Christian walk! We are ugly before we are saved, we are ugly after we are saved. The only beauty we can ever have is the beauty of Jesus Christ.

COULD YOUR HEART PASS THE HOLE IN THE WALL TEST?

God told Ezekiel to dig a hole in the King’s wall. He was startled by the abominations being committed by the ‘supposed’ righteous leaders of Israel.

Ezekiel 8:8-13 (ESV) 8 Then he said to me, “Son of man, dig in the wall.” So I dug in the wall, and behold, there was an entrance. 9 And he said to me, “Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.” 10 So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. 11 And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the smoke of the cloud of incense went up. 12 Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’ ” 13 He said also to me, “You will see still greater abominations that they commit.”

No matter how ‘spiritual’ we pretend to be, or how much ‘Bible knowledge’ we possess, no one can pass the “Hole in the Wall” test. Our hearts are full of abominations through sin. The harder we try to be a good disciple, the further we alienate ourselves from the heart of God! The heart of God is centered around the virtue of His Son, Jesus Christ! The only virtue worth having is not man-centered but Christ-centered!

Discipleship finds all that we need in Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 1:30-31 (NIV) 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Discipleship which focuses on knowledge will always lead to pride and self-effort. Discipleship which focuses on virtue will always lead to humility and dependence.

Therefore I define Discipleship as:

Discipleship – “the intentional process of making the virtue of Christ my own, through submitting to His Lordship and Direction, and the daily Hope of Gaining Christ”

Discipleship is simply gaining by trading (diapragmateúomai)[5];

The King will demand an accounting of what you have GAINED by trading

Luke 19:15 (ESV) When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business.

I believe we will be judged at the ‘bema seat’ and our judgment will simply be an accounting of what we traded to gain for the sake of becoming like Jesus Christ! We will be judged for how we ‘gained’ Jesus Christ! Christians are to be about the business of trading their lives to gain Jesus Christ!

Paul said it best in Philippians 3:8: Philippians 3:8 (ESV) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

So the ‘re-bar’ of discipleship is the Virtue of Jesus Christ! Any substitution or absence of His virtue will result in a foundation that is weak and doomed to fail.

Our Hope of Glory is Christ IN me

Colossians 1:27 (ESV) To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.


[1] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary – New Testament, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 936.

[2] Epígnōsis: In the NT, it often refers to knowledge which very powerfully influences the form of religious life, a knowledge laying claim to personal involvement. When used as an obj. (Eph. 1:17; 4:13; Col. 1:9, 10; 2:2; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1; Heb. 10:26; 2 Pet. 1:2, 3), it shows the relationship of the learner to the object of his knowledge (2 Pet. 1:8). Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary – New Testament, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 624.

[3] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary – New Testament, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 252-251.

[4] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary – New Testament, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 252.

[5] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary – New Testament, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “megauploaddiapragmateúomai”.

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