The essential task of Christian ministry is for the disciple of Christ to be, know, declare, and glorify God in thought, word, and deed. Dr. Mitchell after much study on the words “follow” and “disciple” in the New Testament concludes that the conditions of discipleship articulated by the Master include self, denial, renunciation and leaving all, steadfastness and love. Dr. Dempsey describes discipleship as sacrificial, relational and transformation. His definition of discipleship summarizes what it means to be a disciple according to the New Testament: A disciple is a person who has trusted Christ for salvation and has surrendered completely to Him. He or she is committed to practicing the spiritual disciplines in community and developing to their full potential for Christ and His mission.
Discipleship, Education, and Spiritual Formation
Biblical discipleship according to Luke 9:23-26 and Luke 14:26-35 involves coming to and following Christ, denying oneself, counting the cost in corporate and personal relationships, and taking up the Cross of Christ. Education according to Dr. Mitchell can be understood as a conjunction of two axes of continuums: Individual/Corporate and Transmission/Reflection. The task of Christian education consists of four critical components: First, godly and biblical people, second purposes, third products, and finally processes. Christian spiritual formation is the growth and development of the believer in progressively becoming like Jesus in all of life, and involves spiritual practices such as prayer, the study of Scripture, fasting, simplicity, confession, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning.
Spiritual formation and discipleship are alike in that they both help the believer learn to model the life and teachings of Jesus. Spiritual formation aids the disciple’s inwardly conformity to the likeness of Christ while discipleship is the means by which the disciple manifests the likeness of Christ in his/her attitudes and behavior. The goal of Christian education is to educate the mind and impacts the heart with Gospel-centered teaching that motivates the disciple to grow in the knowledge of spiritual formation and discipleship. Christian education is different from spiritual formation and discipleship because it transmits biblical data to the disciple either in a formal or informal setting.
The Importance of Biblical Discipleship To The Church
The Church ought to be most concerned with making disciples. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus teaches that He has given His authority to go out and make disciples. Central to the Church’s responsibility according to the Word of God is discipleship. A disciple is literally a learner and in this way discipleship could be seen to be an umbrella including spiritual formation and education in the task of making disciples.
In His risen state, Jesus exercises absolute authority throughout Heaven and Earth which shows His Deity. The imperative “make disciples” is the call for individuals to commit to Jesus as Master and Lord explains the central focus of the Great Commission, while the Greek participles (translated go, baptizing, and teaching [v.20]) describe aspects of the process.
Teaching is a means by which disciples of Jesus are continually transformed in order to become more like Christ (Matthew 10:24-25; Romans 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). Christian education and spiritual formation serve to instruct the mind and heart so that Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:20 to “observe all that I have commanded you” may be fulfilled.
The Importance of Worship
The Bible reveals God to man so that man may worship God. Bible reading and preaching are central in public worship because they are the clearest, most direct most extensive presentation of God. For the same reasons, Bible study and meditation are the heart of private worship. Believers are expected to participate regularly in corporate worship. This command is given in Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Worship is a discipline and relates to what it means to disciple, because it is a means to develop the habit of faithfully assembling with other believers in meetings where the purpose is to worship God. The spiritual discipline of publicly and privately worshiping God is one of the means He’s given us to receive the grace to grow in godliness. As we grow stronger in the worship of God, we grow stronger in the likeness of Christ.
Discipleship in the context of the local Church ought to focus on spiritual formation and education. Biblical discipleship is on display in the life of a believer who humbly serves the members of their local Church, community, city, and nation through their vocation and ministry to the glory of God. Biblical discipleship is on display when the local Church reaches out to the broken, orphan, widow, homeless, and the abused. Biblical discipleship is on display in the lives of when believers deny themselves, take up their Cross and follow Christ, because it is such believers who desire to not make known their own name, but instead desire to know and make known the fame and glory of Jesus to the nations. Biblical discipleship centers itself on Christ, the Gospel and the Word of God. Biblical Discipleship glorifies God because it takes seriously the means and methods God has inspired in His Word. Biblical discipleship is the means God uses to build His Church. The Lord God uses Gospel-centered men and women to build His church, His Kingdom, for His glory.
Dempsey, Rod, “What It Means to Be A Disciple?” 2010, unpublished manuscript (down-loadable photocopy), DSMN 500 Discipleship Ministries, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia.
Mitchell, Michael R, Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples (Bloomington: CrossBooks, 2010), 6, 232, 243.
Michael R. Mitchell, Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples (Bloomington: CrossBooks, 2010), 6.
Rod Dempsey, “What It Means to Be A Disciple?” 2010, unpublished manuscript (down-loadable photocopy), DSMN 500 Discipleship Ministries, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia.
Michael R. Mitchell, Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples (Bloomington: CrossBooks, 2010), 232.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021) and The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.