Here’s a BRIEFING on one-to-one ministry that compliments much of the Biblical Shepherding Bull’s-eye and prepares the way for a Practical Plan of Discipleship. For a taste:
Effective one-to-one Christian ministry is not limited to counseling, nor is it essentially about solving personal or emotional problems. What is it then? It is forming a relationship with another individual for the purpose of mutual growth in Christian understanding, obedience and service of others.
I don’t love the recommended resources near the end but the rest of the article is worth the time to read and implement.
The Great Commission sets our sights high; we are to make disciples of all the nations. The apostle Paul also emphasized the broad scope of his ministry, teaching every man and warning every man in order to present every man complete in Christ. Everyone falls in one of the three circles on our disciple-making bullseye. Either they are spiritually dead and need the gospel, they have been made spiritually alive and need to grow in the gospel, or they have demonstrated faithfulness and are ready to do the work of the gospel. But everyone is somewhere on the target.
The target may represent an entire country, a city, a local church, a particular ministry within a church, or small group within a ministry. Each sphere includes those who need salvation or sanctification and training for ministry. So here’s a recap of the three target levels:
Evangelizing. In order to make disciples among the spiritually dead we must reach out for Christ.
Edifying. To help believers obey everything Christ commanded we must build them up in Christ.
Equipping. To help the faithful become disciple-makers we must train them up and send them out for Christ.
I believe disciple-making is best facilitated by some form of small groups. Though you can be discipled or make a disciple without being part of a one, small groups provide a place for thorough and concentrated evangelism, for accountability relationships and mutual edification, as well as for quality (controlled) equipping and an obvious place to practice the “focus on the few to reach the many” principle.
As I mentioned in the last post, Jesus is the ultimate example of making disciples. He not only paints the target but demonstrates how to reach it. In upcoming posts we’ll see the practical stages of development that help us hit the center of the disciple-making bullseye.
Disciple-making ends (and begins again) here. This center circle on the target represents the third step to present every man complete in Christ. Helping others follow Christ advances from Evangelizing to Edifying to Equipping.
Spiritual birth and spiritual growth toward Christlikeness mark every disciple. One of the clearest signs of increased spiritual maturity is that the disciple is capable of reproducing, that is, making a disciple of their own. Not only is this an important sign of health, it is necessary for fulfilling the Great Commission in coming generations as well as among all the nations.
Therefore, training–equipping–others to reproduce themselves is the final level of disciple-making. To equip means to prepare, to train, to furnish someone with tools necessary to accomplish a task. For those in this center circle on our bullseye we train and reproduce. By instruction, example, delegation, and critique the discipler equips the disciple to disciple someone else.
God gives leaders to the church for this very reason: to equip the saints for the work of ministry. But note that while the pastor initiates and oversees the process, the work of the ministry is done by the saints. In other words, disciples make disciples who make disciples until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. Pastors/elders and Bible study/small group leaders should be the first disciplers but never the only disciplers.
The center of the bullseye is the smallest circle because it typically includes the fewest number of people. In fact, this target level is aimed at the faithful, those who can be entrusted with passing on truth to others who will be able to teach others after them. While we want everyone to end up here eventually, disciple-making requires us to focus on the few, faithful followers to reach the many in the outer circles.
This is probably the weakest sphere for most churches, including churches with sound doctrine. Equipping certainly includes solid teaching in big church but it involves much more than that. We don’t expect our children to mature by handing them a book to read, is it different for spiritual children? Disciples don’t learn to take responsibility from a distance, so making disciples from the platform or sermon mp3s is only a small part of the process. Jesus modeled for us at least five stages of development with His disciples (which I plan to post about soon). Suffice to say for now, each stage involved more than relaying a message, it involved imparting His very life.
On another practical note, you can always find someone who knows less than you do. So get in someone’s back pocket who knows more than you and then pass that on to someone else. That’s what it means to make disciples, following Christ and equipping others to follow Him. It is every disciple’s mission.
Disciple-making continues here. This second circle on the target represents the next step to present every man complete in Christ. Helping others follow Christ moves from Evangelizing to Edifying.
The Christian life begins at regeneration when God creates new life in a spiritually dead person. From the human perspective this is called conversion as we recognize repentance and belief as God’s work. But conversion isn’t the goal of the Great Commission. Christ did not call us to make converts who sit around and wait for heaven. Conversion is simply the start.
The goal is Christlikeness. So instruction in truth, training for obedience, and encouragement toward Christlikeness–edifying–is how disciple-making continues. To edify means to build up, to strengthen, to develop and improve. So we labor not only for others to profess Christ as Lord but to walk in a manner worthy of their Lord.
One of the clearest summons to edification is Ephesians 4:13-16. Every Christian ministers for the purpose of
building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The emphasis is on building up (vv. 12, 16), maturing (vv. 13, 15), and strengthening (v. 14). The disciple-making job isn’t finished until everyone reaches the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. So until God glorifies us at our death or Christ’s return, there is building of the Body to do.
To this second circle on our bullseye we instruct and encourage for the sake of spiritual growth. We want every believer to live the gospel. We train disciples to obey Christ, studying the life of Jesus and then following in His steps. The New Testament spills over with descriptions of this ever-progressing Christian life: observing everything Christ commanded, becoming complete/mature/perfect in Christ, being conformed to the image of Christ, attaining to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and growing up in every way into Christ.
One additional label for this process is sanctification, a term that describes the widening separation from sin and intensifying consecration for God that should mark disciple in this target level. It applies to all believers and remains our objective until the end. Christians are saved from the penalty of sin and sanctified from the power of sin. Therefore, making disciples requires not only evangelizing, but edifying.
On a practical note, small groups are a great place to help one another cultivate Christlikeness. They are like a sturdy crock for stirring one another up to love and good works, keeping everyone in the pot until all the necessary ingredients are mixed in. Then we help those who are ready to move on to the third level.
Disciple-making starts here. This is the first and broadest circle on the target, meaning it encompasses the most people and is the initial step to present every man complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). Helping others follow Christ begins with Evangelizing.
The Bible reveals that the God who created everything is holy and requires holiness from His creatures. But the first man, Adam, disobeyed God and every man since is by nature a sinner who also disregards and defies God’s law. The consequence of man’s rebellion is death–physical and spiritual–and there is nothing he can do to escape on his own. That’s the bad news.
But God offers forgiveness and righteousness for all who repent and believe. He sent His Son to bear the punishment for our iniquity on the cross. Those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead will be saved. Then God begins to deliver them from the power of sin and promises to conform them into the image of His Son. That’s the good news!
Proclaiming this gospel–evangelizing–is where disciple-making starts and takes different forms. For example, there is lifestyle evangelism; an implicit communication of the gospel. A Christian’s conduct should stand out in such a way that others see our good works and glorify God. Our transformed lives are to shine for Him and make others ask why we’re so hopeful (1 Peter 3:15).
However, all the lifestyle evangelism in the world cannot communicate Jesus as Lord, the sin/death problem, and the cross/faith/salvation solution. Those things require words. So evangelism must include verbal, explicit communication of the gospel. Why is it that the feet of those who bring good news are so praiseworthy? Because faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. Therefore the gospel must be clearly stated or a person cannot become a disciple.
Jesus obviously expected us to start with evangelism since He commissioned us to make disciples from all the unbelieving people groups. So this broad target is determined by the King Himself. To this outer circle on our bullseye we model and proclaim the gospel. We desire men everywhere to believe the gospel. That involves more than getting someone to pray a prayer. We want them to meet and know Christ, to learn to observe everything He’s commanded.
In other words, we want regeneration. The people in this outer circle are spiritually dead. We proclaim the gospel and pray that God will create new life. This is where we start in our disciple-making and shepherding.
One of the reasons I’ve spent so much time on this is because evangelism is just as important in our churches and small groups as it is to the nations. John MacArthur painted this stark picture:
Our main mission field in America today is within the church. (Hard to Believe, p.101)
Our congregations include crowds of spiritually dead people, after all, the wheat and tares mix until Christ’s coming. So churches need to evangelize. Small groups can’t take the gospel for granted. Personal discipleship shouldn’t assume anything. Like every part of the yard needs to be covered equally and evenly with seed so we must broadcast the gospel thoroughly and individually. That is the first step toward Christlikeness and therefore the first target level of discipleship.
On a personal note, perhaps nothing is more frustrating in disciple-making then trying to help a person follow Christ when they don’t truly know Christ. No one bypasses this level of the bullseye. Never suppose anyone’s salvation, always and carefully evaluate their spiritual condition. Then we help those who are ready move to the second level.
The Christian life is simple. It’s hard, but not complex. Christians follow Jesus.
Our single responsibility includes watching and learning from Jesus, loving and worshipping Him, then submitting and obeying everything He’s commanded. We follow Jesus. In other words, we are His disciples.
Too often, however, Jesus is not the center of Christian life but a tangent. We confuse weekly, religious routine for supernatural relationship. We schedule meetings instead of living life like Christ. We read books, take classes, create programs, organize or attend conferences, and publish podcasts rather than wearing Jesus’ yoke and learning from Him. Ironically, many good things intended to help us follow Christ more closely can potentially distract us from Him.
And when we miss the heart of the Christian life we inevitably mistake the simplicity of Christ’s commission, namely, to proclaim His gospel. We follow our Lord and represent Him to the world. We work on His behalf, under His authority, and for the sake of His kingdom. And what has He charged us to do? Follow Him and help others follow Him. In other words, we are to make disciples.
How could we Christians muddle our mission so miserably? For all her progress, how did the church get so busy that she forgot her most important work? Though exhausting, the assignment is clear: make disciples.
To disciple means to guide or direct in someone to be a personal follower, student, or learner. A disciple not only studies from his master, he imitates him. Making a disciple involves (at the very least) teaching, modeling, steering, leading, escorting, and guiding. It requires time, energy, and commitment. Group meetings (of the entire flock or in smaller segments) play a part, but disciple-making doesn’t happen without personal, [house to house], one-on-one attention.
In barest form making disciples means following Jesus by helping others follow Jesus. So where do we start and where do we go? Enter the Biblical Discipleship Bull’s-eye.
This is not new. But we dare not take our familiarity–with the gospel or the Great Commission–for granted. Nor is it a program. (Note: I am so not against scheduled services and small groups. I love books and retreats. I think we’re crazy not to maximize the internet and iPods for ministry. But let’s not get so involved admiring the china pattern that we forget the point of the plate is to carry the food. ) But this paradigm should shape every Christian’s approach to relationships, use of spiritual giftedness, and strategy for shepherding/making disciples. For my part I am eager to stir up disciples with a fresh reminder of Jesus’ long-established model of ministry.
Everyone (where by “everyone” I mean everyone, believers and unbelievers) fits somewhere on this target. In the next post we’ll consider the first of Three Target Levels of Discipleship so that we ourselves can follow Jesus more closely and help others do the same.