Step Five: Discipleship

Today we continue with Step 5 in the series: Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores.

The lack of discipleship in the past has meant that new believers are lost or learn bad habits.  To form habits or disciplines on which a new believer can build a fruitful Christian life is a worthy task.  The evangelist will encourage the new believer to develop an intimate relationship with God through the Five Disciplines for Personal Growth: Prayer, Bible Study, Worship, Testimony, and a Life of Complete Love for Christ. They will form discipleship groups (companions in their spiritual walk) that will be assigned to a discipleship mentor (accountability) for the believers.  The evangelist should take care to not create dependence on him or her.

Expected attitudes and reactions from the group:

Initial: From the beginning, the new contact is hungry for the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2) and begins to practice the disciplines that produce growth (1 Timothy 4:7-8), which will equip a new believer to face his or her daily struggles.

Long Term: The believer will commit to a mutually responsible relationship with other believers (companions on the way) that is centered around the disciplines for personal growth.

Principles:

Our first commandment is: “Go and make disciples.”We are not only to gain converts. It is crucial and important we understand this truth! Developing spiritually strong disciples will be evidenced only when they are obedient in all Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:16-20). Healthy disciples are the “living stones” that form healthy and growing churches. Both the book of Acts and the history of the church demonstrate that churches will be formed and communities transformed where there are true disciples of Jesus Christ.

As church planters, our first goal is to guidemen and women to begin a relationship with the master and his disciples, that is, both with Christ and other believers.  Center the discipleship process around the development of the disciplines.  There is no other way to maintain long-term growth!

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Use discipleship methods that prompt personal discovery of the truth of God, especially the materials the Church of the Nazarene produces. New believers should learn to “feed” themselves with the Word of God and not develop dependence on the church planter or evangelist.  When they search for God in his word and focus on that as a goal, rejoice with them and congratulate each small and large discovery they make.  When we base learning on personal motivation and discipline instead of our own ability to teach and motivate, we create a different type of disciple who learns directly from the Bible and is cemented in a personal relationship with God, rather than remaining dependent on our own abilities as teachers.

Establish patterns of mutual discipleship. One of the best ways to avoid dependency is to encourage disciples to personally discover Biblical truth and create an environment that feeds the concept of mutual responsibility.  This style of discipleship gives each believer responsibility to develop the disciplines necessary for Christian growth.  Mutual discipleship:

  • Prevents the church planter from taking responsibility as the principle disciple, avoiding the creation of a “traditional dependency syndrome.”
  • Promotes a sense among the believers of belonging and personal responsibility for the spiritual well-being of others.
  • Reinforces the importance of the disciplines for Christian growth, like the means of grace mentioned by John Wesley (prayer, Bible study, and holy communion, among others). It helps believers learn to be mutually responsible for practicing the habits that produce growth.
  • Prepares the way to introduce the concepts of responsibility, which are fundamental to healthy spiritual development and will prepare the way for developing local leaders.

Common Errors to Avoid

  1. Creating dependency. We create dependency when we allow new disciples to survive sustained by external systems of life. When a newborn doesn’t desire milk, we know that something is very wrong.  When a believer doesn’t demonstrate any desire to feed himself through study and prayer, his condition is critical.  We must learn to treat it like it is. We do not help a new believer if we keep teaching him with the hope that someday he will decide to begin to feed himself.  That only creates bad habits that are difficult to break.
  2. Communicating that, in some way, the Christian life is easier for a mature believer. The only thing this idea does is discourage young Christians! We should be transparent with both our victories and our spiritual struggles. We must work from a foundation of mutual responsibility and establish patterns of humility and transparency that encourage young believers and create realistic patterns for future leadership.
  3. Measuring “success” in terms of attendance. Since church planters frequently feel pressure to gain visible results, it is possible to fall in the trap of confusing participation in activities with the disciplines of personal growth and the level of commitment to Christ and the Church.

***In the next entry we will move on to Step 6.

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