In my role as elder for training and discipleship at our church I have been giving some thought recently to how to concisely express what it ought to mean for discipleship to be at the heart of church life. I have a few posts to make on this subject which is basically me thinking out loud. Here are some starting assumptions:
The Bible frequently refers to making disciples who are constantly maturing in the faith. This maturing is presented in terms of:
- Knowing Christ in whom is treasure of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3)
- Knowing Christ the hope of glory (Col 1:27-28)
- Growing out of infancy
- Knowing Christ better (Eph 1:17)
This is a broader task than simply leading people to Christ or giving a basic knowledge of God. In Titus 1 Paul says he is the apostle of Jesus (a) for the faith of God's elect and (b) knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. In 1 Tim. 2 he says that God wants all (a) to be saved and (b) to come to a knowledge of the truth.
2 things follow:
- Discipleship, as compared to coming to faith, consists in growing in knowledge of the truth
- This knowledge of the truth is not for its own sake, but for the sake of leading to godliness
As all the believers grow in the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness, the church as a whole builds itself up in knowledge of the son of God and in love (Eph 4:13-17), becoming mature as a body.
Therefore it is essential for the growth of any church:
- that it is founded on the assumption of continuing growth in maturity in God of all the believers. This consists in the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness
- that the church’s programmes and activities to make this a key focus
Therefore the questions we need to ask about church life in the area of discipleship are:
- Does our organisational culture reflect this biblical priority at every level?
- Does our education programme and methodology reflect it at every level?
- Are all the believers, each at their respective levels of maturity, still growing spiritually? Is everyone further on than 5 years ago?
- Are we as good at discipling mature believers as we are with more recent believers? Does everyone have access to stimulating discipleship help, that will encourage them to take the next steps that are appropriate to them?
The answer to these questions in large measure demonstrates the state of spiritual health of congregations.