What do you need to be a Disciple?
- a quick survey of some Discipleship Courses and what they think is important
This is not a comprehensive survey of Discipleship courses, we will have chance to talk that through more at the Resources Forum on the conference; it isn't even a theological evaluation of their quality or usefulness; this is simply asking the question: what do the courses explicitly (or implicitly) assume people need to grow in their discipleship? This only gives some brief reflections, and represents personal opinion, but they are all courses which I have used to a greater or lesser extent during my ministry. I hope the conference and our discussion together will us work through the extent to which their vision fulfils the biblical mandate.
Discipleship Explored (Good Book Company 2005)
A course deliberately marketed to follow up Christianity Explored, following a similar format, with a well-produced DVD adding input into Bible Study and discussion. It lasts 8 sessions.
What is discipleship? For DE explicitly discipleship is about having a growing confidence in God, a growing understanding of God and a growing fruitfulness for God.
How do you grow in discipleship? You study the Bible together, specifically going through the book Philippians, but supplemented at home by some guided personal reading of other passages linked to the key themes of the book. You explore your questions with group leaders, who are encouraged to model as well as teach the faith. By following the outline of Philippians, what you grow in, is more about knowing the gospel better than developing the disciplines of the Christian life. The assumption at the end of the course is that people will be ready to join Bible study groups to go on from there.
Insights? Discipleship must be God-centred and Word-centred.
Design for Discipleship (NavPress 2006)
A course designed not only to help newer Christians to know more of the Bible, it specifically encourages them in actually putting what they learn into practice. It runs through 7 booklets over a total of 35 sessions, effectively a year. The material is structured thematically, with extensive cross-referencing, and is primarily intended for preparation at home and discussion when together.
What is discipleship? For DFD effectively discipleship is about developing a growing biblical framework and practical growing faith, explicitly relying on the work of God's Spirit, being responsible stewards of our gifts and effective witnesses to Christ in the world.
How do you grow in discipleship? You develop a discipline of personal Bible study, Scripture memorisation, and personal reflection (using a journal), which you then share with others in a groups for discussion and encouragement. Over the whole course the specific disciplines of the faith are covered in detail, as are the basic heads of biblical theology. It also addresses some of the core ethical and pastoral challenges of faith, and explicitly calls Christians to service and evangelism. In practice the course heavily depends on the personal preparation, and is a little prone to 'proof texts' as a method of addressing topics.
Insights? Discipleship must develop godly disciplines of life and service
Ready to Serve (Bible Society 1995)
A course developed at All Soul's designed to prepare people for homegroups. It consists of three 7-session terms, looking first at Scriptural teaching on key theological and ethical issues, then a term on making sense of the Bible, and finally a term exploring gifts and ministries. It was designed to be flexible and highly inductive, including role-lay, drama and inductive learning techniques.
What is discipleship? For RTS effective discipleship is about being equipped for biblically faithful ministry within the church. Primarily it requires engagement with the issues of faith and life, not just knowledge about them.
How do you grow in discipleship? You require a basic biblical theology and ethical framework, practical skills in bible handling and specific ministry-related training according to gifts. It is strengthened by the recognition of various learning styles and the supportive character that the group is intended to engender.
Insights? Discipleship must take account of the different ways people learn to live the truth.
Walking with God (Willow Creek 1992)
Developed for the small group curriculum of Willow Creek, it consists of two years worth of material, 3 terms of 12 sessions, which intends to help people inculcate a basic Bible knowledge and practical disciplines of Christian living, focussed on developing a personal relationship with Jesus. It includes guidelines of Bible reading, prayer and Scripture memorisation, as well as discussion questions.
What is discipleship? Explicitly a disciple is defined as someone who "walks with God, lives the Word, contributes to the work and impacts the world". That also forms the framework for the material.
How do you grow in discipleship? The key component is the dynamic of the small group, studying the Bible and applying it practically and personally to each other. It recognises the need not only for Bible knowledge, but specific skills and perspectives necessary for a healthy Christian life. For example, it was the only course to explicitly include a whole section on 'encouragement'.
Insights? Discipleship must be given sufficient time to develop.
Challenging Lifestyle (HTB 1996)
One of the Alpha follow-up resources, this course takes the sermon on the mount as a Biblical framework for the practice and priorities of discipleship, under the banner titles of "How to…". Eg "How to avoid divorce", "How to give" etc
What is discipleship? Treating it at its simplest level, discipleship is reduced to following Jesus, and understanding his teaching on discipleship - which the sermon on the mount distils.
How do you grow in discipleship? In short, practical obedience to Jesus. By adopting the "How to … " approach, key ethical and spiritual issues are discussed and modelled and then discussed in the group.
Insights? Discipleship involves practical activities and choices.
Whatever you do (by You)
In my experience, most people do not simply follow any one set course for helping people grow in discipleship. Certainly over the years I have tried to mix the best of different resources to help people grow.
What is discipleship? To bring all life into the service of Christ takes more than Bible study, it involves accountable relationships, practical ministering, faithful application of Scripture to all of life.
How do you grow in discipleship? For what it's worth, I've always thought the key elements needed for effective discipleship must include giving a working knowledge of the following: basic Bible handling - interpretation and application; basic theology of key truths - God, Jesus, Spirit, atonement, etc.; basic ethical overview - sexuality, guidance, work; practical discovery and training in gifts and service, and all this in the context of a commitment to the whole body of Christ. I have rarely managed anything like this in a course that is less than a year.
Insights? Discipleship is a challenge for us all, and no-one seems to quite agree what matters most.
What next…? See what we can apply form the conference!