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Where to Start a Series on Discipleship?

Note: This is the back story to our basic discipleship class, Life is a Journey, and why we started with a discussion of conversion.

When I decided to create our own new believers curriculum, the first step was to marshall what forces I could from the congregation. I looked for men and women who had a proven track record of mentoring new followers of Christ, as well as those who had a clear understanding of the end goal. I wanted people who had a heart for evangelism and discipleship, justification and sanctification.

I learned two things very quickly. 1. There are not many of them. 2. The few are easy to find. These are the people who are already doing the work, who are looking for people to serve. We used to joke that one of the ladies had a “bathroom ministry.” She watched the congregation very carefully during the service, and if a woman got up and left crying, there was a good chance one of two things were happening. 1. She were hurting. 2. She was being convicted by the Holy Spirit and needed a Phillip to guide her. This lady was God’s agent of leading many women through an awareness of their sin to God’s gracious forgiveness and Jesus’ provision of access to the Father.

When this group met, we started listing all the topics that we thought were essential for a new believer to understand. We thought through the challenges he or she would have, and what would help them learn and grow. We did not decide there would be a “Top Twelve,” but it soon became clear that’s how many topics there needed to be.

What I did not expect was that the first topic the group said I needed to cover was conversion. I thought, “The person just became a Christian. Why talk about conversion?” But the group wisely pointed out many people go through what they believe is a conversion experience when in fact they didn’t.

I am reminded of one of our dearest friends who served in a well-known Bible Study program for many years, and after seven years realized that she in fact wasn’t a Christian, that her understanding had been deficient, and she was nothing more than an apparently good, moral person. When she finally did hear a clear proclamation of the gospel, she responded.

I have been in many churches where I have heard an altar call, and some of the times was surprised. The pastor had not been discussing our separation from God, our inability to earn access to the Father, the role of Christ on the cross and the gift of faith, or of counting the cost. The pastor’s call was to “trust Jesus,” and I have seen people respond. But what are they responding to?

Of course, I have no idea what they are responding to. It could be a very true, deeply felt, spiritual conversion, and for that I rejoice. But there are times I wonder if the person responded to something short of the gospel and now lives out his or her life with the false assumption that they are heaven bound.

So I learned in our very first meeting to respect this group and to value their opinion. Before we can enter into the life of a new believer, we need to be sure, as do they, that they in fact have entered through the gate. In Pilgrims Progress, Christian meets a man who travels as if he is headed toward the Celestial City but in fact never received a certificate (Bunyan’s term for conversion). In the last page of the book, he is turned away at the city’s gate and dragged to hell by two demons.

Let’s be sure that there are not any false assumptions as we work with new believers. Let’s be sure that they in fact are believers. And so we will turn to the whole presentation of the gospel in my next post.

So, what do you think? Is this the right place to start? Is there even something more basic?

Comments

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 seems to have inspired USA Christians to accidentally focus too much on the "go" some place far away, This is the part that we can totally control, whether we are converted or not, we can make travel plans and raise funds. However, we cannot make a disciple truly converted, only the God makes that happen. Making a new disciple includes "teaching them to obey all I have commanded." Jesus asks why bother to call Him Lord if you do not do what He says. Expose new converts to the teachings of Scripture, see who wants out, see who is willing to conform to Bible teachings. For the true Conversion part being taught first, okay, I agree. I also think that we do not necessarily disqualify any new converts ourselves, but the Bible teachings will make them balk if they are not truly converted. A true convert will struggle and persevere, work out their own salvation in fear and trembling. One of the four soil types of conversion says false converts will quit when comparing the converted life to the worldly life.

I believe your group of mentors is starting in the perfect place. A friend's father was a deacon, taught Sunday school, and believed himself to be saved for the majority of his adult life, but was not. He was shocked. He fell on his face and accepted the free gift of salvation on the spot. We have to understand WHY. God's great love for us changes everything. It's not that He's a genie in a bottle we trust for things to go right. We are giving our lives into the hands of a holy God Who loves us so deeply He never wants to be separated from us. For that reason, He gave His perfect Son to redeem and set us free. From there, we, hopefully, learn to walk in that freedom. Sounds like you've got a great group of people assembled! Blessings on the endeavor!!!

False assumption are caused by contradicting of the bible, e.g Genesis 2:1-19 and also the verse in the new Testament which said " God does not attempt people, people are attempt by their sins.

100% accurate in your assessment of where to start. Do not assume anyone who professes to be a new Christian has actually responded to the true gospel. Great to hear your 12 point discipleship program begins with conversion. I look forward to hearing more about your total discipleship curriculum Tom K

We must start at the place where the person whom the Lord has prepared with listening ears appears to us. I have found that you do not have to go looking for him. He just comes into your sphere of influence. It is a matter of spiritual discernment from that time on. One must always be sensitive to the Holy Spirits presence in both the discipler and the one open to discipleship. The fundamental issue is the Kingdom of God. Those citizens of His kingdom are sent out under His authority, and indwelled by Him, to disciple the prepared ones into His kingdom. I believe that this is the acceptable work of the believer. Mathew 28:8 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. NKJV

Good place, the right place to start, Bill I also appreciate your series of Life is a Journey 10 messages. I gave them to a new believer in Christ, a Chinese brother in Christ! Cornel

Definitely need to start with conversion. If that is not nailed down anything else is worthless.

I Believe The Beginner's class should start with the fact that Jesus came to Earth for one reason and one reason only. It started with his deviation from the Old Testament mosaic laws of how to get to heaven. Not that I am making an assumption that everyone or new beginner is of the Jewish faith. Rather I think that the first thing to understand is why Jesus came to Earth, to sacrifice himself and take on our sins, so that we could join him in r Celestial home.

I believe we are but legs and arms for God. As we walk this earth, and mingle with our fellows, it can only be through the power of God's Spirit that we achieve anything in His name. When we see our brother or sister needing material or spiritual things, it can only be by God's Spirit that we might be impressed to help address that need. As chosen people, spiritual leaders are impressed to tell others the Good News of Jesus Christ. Whether or not God's Spirit chooses to take that further, is entirely up to Him. We must do what God's Spirit impresses and empowers us to do; the effects are up to Him, and although we like to see the fruits of our efforts, that cannot always be.

Where to begin discipleship training? What a great question to ponder and even greater that we should pray over for only the Lord can give to us the right answer. Never the less, I would like to offer up my testimony of a study that the Lord has allowed me to participate in over the years that has been most fruitful. The study itself was titled "What is means to be in Christ" or "What it means to be a Christian" taken from the book of Galatians. Many years ago I was privilege to sit under my pastor who delivered this study in small groups and witnessed the power of God's word relieve the burdens of both saved and unsaved as they had their lives changed by the great doctrine of Justification by faith. When in the process of time God was pleased to place me in the ministry, I too began to disciple my flock with this same study and found that the effects were dramatically the same. I know of no other book in the bible that offers up such a precise declaration of "what it means to be a Christian" as does the book of Galatians in a compact manner. This great book serves to strip men of all their righteousness (which both the saved and the lost ever need reminded) and set Christ Jesus before them as the chief Cornerstone by which all things the Christian life must be built on. So then in short the effect has always been the same on those who have attended. First, if there are any present in a lost state, the setting forth of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone yields for them hope alone in Christ Jesus. Secondly, for those who have been born again the book provides for them their eternal anchor by which they will always know that they are never alone. For me I have found that this study has addressed the greatest need for saved and lost together in one study. So, we can both evangelize and disciple at the same time. Scarcely have I ever given the study without seeing the conversion of souls and always, always the edification of the redeemed. I only offer my testimony as a point of prayerful consideration for at the end of the day, The Lord knows best what your flock needs and I pray you may find that perfect path of discipleship to the glory of our Lord Jesus.

I certainly believe your group was right to state that we must be sure that people indeed are Christians, that they experienced a true conversion. Too many times I have heard the pastor asking people to pray the so called sinner's prayer after him and the whole concept of repentance was not even mentioned, the very aspect that both John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ started with. And even in the Old Testament we see time and again that God sent His prophets with exactly this aspect as the core of their message. Too many times the gospel has been watered down on order not to upset people, thus withholding them from a true understanding of their position in relation to God's requirements for holiness, the impossibility for human beings to live a perfect life and the severe consequences of even our smallest sin. Let's make sure they become so aware of their miserable position and the fact that they can not change that themselves so that they in all humbleness will cry out to God for mercy.

Thanks for uploading this. I'm currently trying to learn how to disciple people better at the college group at my church. It can be challenging because it's right next to the Master's College and it's easy to assume college students from such a Christ Centered college are Christians when in fact not all.of them are. Is this the right place to start? Well I think the right place to start is showing them that you care. Invest time in them and demonstrate a Christ Like love that models the Gospel toward them and the brethren. Sometimes I think people can get so caught up in trying to convert people and spreading the Gospel; it can come off as unloving because they are trying to do it under their own power and own terms. Instead of trusting in God and Proclaiming the Gospel, some people try to force it and almost get angry when people don't get converted. The most basic place to start I think in discipleship is modeling Christ Like attributes and reflecting them for his glory. And having a deep rooted trust in God's promises. Gentleness and humility along with asking the right questions are essential for someone to follow. I hope I'm on the right page! Have a good day

I absolutely agree that Conversion is the place to start in teaching new believers or those searching for the one true God. As a teacher of new believer classes for a few years, there are many who identify themselves as a Christian but cannot explain what they believe or why they believe it. I felt the need to teach and mentor new believers due to what I have observed in church, that many are not being taught about what it means to live this new life in Christ. As a result, some are uncertain and unknowledgeable about what they have "signed up" for or about what this new life means.

Hello Bill I read your article on discipleship, with its included discussion of true and false conversion and I think you are putting your finger on a sore and bleeding pulse. This will probably sound like a bit of a rant. It probably is :) There are the obvious and serious flaws in the If you prayed the sinner's prayer, just put up your hand, Ah, yes, I see that hand, you are now saved and heaven bound, sir, glory to God. We really have no business assuring someone of salvation until we have had a chance to see if the Spirit is really bringing conviction upon that person and a work of grace is happening. There is also the problem of the use of blatant manipulation, coercive pressure and tactics that have more in common with high pressure sales and the corporate world with its marketing strategies, than that of a truly believing person cooperating with the Spirit in bringing someone to Christ. Bribing people to come to church where the worship is rocking and upbeat, the dress is casual and there is a coffee bar and babysitting, complete with the usual mission statement slogan on the wall borrowed from the corporate world, because church is you know, a fun place to be.. Arrrrgggh. This I believe is because of unbelief and a weak and deficient view of God and of sin resulting in a gospel more like watered down gruel that cant sustain life or bring change on a deep level. It is an insult to the Holy Spirit and to Christ to suggest that this sad and beastly state is the results of His death on the cross. He surely died for something more than status quo and station keeping. Something only possible where all grasp of holiness has long since fled. This combination of a weak view of God, a gross underestimation of sin, being at home in the world and unbelief in the word of God, if it results in someone still managing to get saved, sets them up for a fall. Something akin to what David did to poor Uriah. One awful evidence of this is the number of scandals involving gross deception, sexual sin and even predatory behaviour by supposedly godly men ( all of whom have large followings who sing their praises and are loyal to them), in the church. If we are walking in the truth, how is it possible to be this willfully clueless about evil and sin and this undiscerning? If what is being taught and practiced is the truth, why are evil people dressed in sheeps clothing so comfortable among us? I recently had a friend recommend a book by a supposedly Christian author who claims to be retooling Christianity. This author recently performed the homosexual wedding of his son despite claiming to be a bible believing Christian. How can my friend, who has been a missionary for years be so quick to believe every wind of doctrine and not realize she's being misled? I also have had my own share of shocking eye opening situations that first made me aware that while many of the churches and denominations I once thought solid probably were, today the name over the door, a cross on the roof and a correct sounding doctrinally statement are no guarantees of anything. Like teenagers who give way before the pressure of their friends to do drugs, because of the accusation of being a nerd or a loser or a chicken, many formerly solid Christians have forsaken the old paths to be seen as loving and acceptable, more concerned about the acceptance of people and loyalty to them over God. I have attended a number of new believers classes and while they do outline the basics of Christian belief, the importance of regular church attendance, baptism, prayer and a daily time in Gods world, almost NOTHING is said about the reality of the battle with the flesh or of spiritual warfare that will come . Some churches go off the rails into an extreme focus on demonology. Others act as if Jesus was speaking euphemistically when He spoke about the devil and believe that the devil cannot get a foothold or stronghold in the life of a believer. ( why then did Jesus warn of such things) As a result, a new Christian may, if things run true to western evanjelliyism, think now he has God in his life who is going to bless him and make him healthy, wealthy and wise and cause his life to turn out well, be utterly unprepared for the reality of sin, of evil, of spiritual warfare and of the battle with self and the flesh. Little is said about the fact that we are supposed to be switching kingdoms and allegiances completely as well as the purpose of our lives. So many of us think that having God on our side means we now have a chance at worldly happiness and success, and that trusting in the Lord and His giving you the desires of our hearts means finally getting that pony we wanted for Christmas but didn't get, and really deserved! I think what I am talking about is likely something many don't want to accept, so devoted are they to a religion of Nice I anity, where God would NEVER be so rude and unjust as to send someone to hell, and church discipline for sin and disobedience, well, surely the apostle Paul was mistaken and didn't really understand the grace of God and His radical acceptance of us when he ordered the immoral brother to be expelled, and also that we should not even shake hands with a teacher who corrupts the gospel and promotes error and deception. Whatever is going on in many of todays churches, I am increasingly convinced it is not the true gospel and that compromise and corruption have produced an ugly hybrid. It is Nice I anity. Not Christ following. Reading through Christian literature including stuff related to puritan believers is eye opening. They understood we were to come out of the world and be separate from it and that friendship with the world was enmity with God. Nowadays things Christians of more solid times would repudiate are actually tolerated and even seen as marks of confidence and strength. Of course I am not suggesting cultic weirdness but hopefully you know what I mean. Our churches are more like social clubs with gospel flavorings. Almost every church I know, if a word of rebuke came to them as in Revelation, would be so assured that they, at least, are pretty near to what it meant to be NT believers as in the bible, that they would be unable to even countenance the idea that God might be displeased with them and have something to rebuke them for. We flatter ourselves too much to hate and detect our sin. You asked if something more basic was needed to start. Yes, absolutely. Rebuild the old foundations and don't worry about softening the truth out of fear that a prospective convert will bolt. If God is truly at work, such a one will be open to the truth when it is the truth. Id like to see New Believers classes be more like spiritual boot camps, I think that's what we need to do, without worrying about this nonsense of being ahem, relevant. As if the Holy Spirit is never relevant. Teach the truth. Don't alter it to please domineering authority usurping women or milquetoast abdicating men. Light up the ancient pathways. Okay now that I have possibly convinced you I'm just a nut on a rant :), I will end my rant with this from AW Tozer: Following Hard after God My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me. - Psa 63:8 Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man. Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow. We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: “Thy right hand upholdeth me.” In this divine “upholding” and human “following” there is no contradiction. All is of God, for as von Huegel teaches, God is always previous. In practice, however, (that is, where God’s previous working meets man’s present response) man must pursue God. On our part there must be positive reciprocation if this secret drawing of God is to eventuate in identifiable experience of the Divine. In the warm language of personal feeling this is stated in the Forty-second Psalm: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” This is deep calling unto deep, and the longing heart will understand it. The doctrine of justification by faith a Biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort has in our time fallen into evil company and been interpreted by many in such manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved,” but he is not hungry nor thirsty after God. In fact he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little. Thanks for listening, Bill.

Romans 10:17 NASB So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. A person has to know "the bad news" {sin, the resulting seperation from God… }in order to even know what is good about "the good news".... this understanding can only come from God's word. It is a story of much greater magnitude than the "you should just love Jesus" gospel, greater than the "health and wealth gospel". It is about the saving of mankind, our having peace with God, and the full cost of this justification..... This faith is more than feeling, it involves a knowledge of and a full belief in what God and Jesus have accomplished for us. In this we learn of God's grace. Foundational concepts for conversion. Just my thoughts

I stand convinced that nothing is more important than getting the Gospel right; it's the DNA, so to speak, of the body of Christ. If we're getting the Gospel wrong in the tracts we write or distribute, in our one-on-one witnessing encounters, in our open-air preaching, in our sermons, in our books, or on our blogs, we're laying a foundation doomed to collapse in the day of judgment.

I've always appreciated the simplicity of the four steps of the Gospel that I learned years ago. - the truth about God - the truth about sin - the truth about Jesus - our reasonable response to these truths If I look back on what I needed back then, it was a bit more explanation of this gospel as well as a bit of an explanation of what Christianity isn't.

Dear Professor Mounce: I can't believe that someone is asking this question and actually wants to know the answer. My husband and I are missionaries to the ethnic Chinese in Taiwan. I am in the process of developing our own new converts Chinese language curriculum. Because I am constantly involved in discipleship training, I do have some very definite opinions, not just where to start, but where to go afterwards. We need to have a clear goal in mind: that is to establish disciples who are prepared to face the challenges and complexities of the Christian life, understand their giftings and calling, and enter into productive service. Here are some of the teachings I believe are necessary to achieve that goal. 1) Understanding that the sole basis for solving all problems is the Word of God is paramount. So, using simple terms, I explain the structure and development of the Old and New Testaments. Then from the start, I require my students to find and read the scriptures that pertain to the course subject matter. All the while I question them about the meaning of the particular scripture and what it tells us about God or man. The objective here is to establish the principle that the Bible is the source. I want my students to own the Bible, love the Bible and trust in the Bible. I also want them to understand that our Christian faith does not rely upon our feelings or circumstances, but on the objective reality of God’s promises, as set forth in the scriptures. 2) I want people to have a correct and orthodox concept of God. So I we study the nature of God and the trinity. In Taiwan, ancestor and idol worship is the main religion. So it is important for people to clearly understand that there is one God, creator of heaven and earth. He is absolute truth. He has established just laws that He expects us to obey. And He is kind and loving. So we talk about the fatherhood of God, including His promises to provide for our needs. 3) We then study the doctrine of salvation. Our salvation is wholly a work of God's grace, does not depend, in whole or in part, on human works, goodness or religious ceremony. God imputes His righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, and thereby justifies them in His sight. 4) Then I teach about how God works in our lives to sanctify us. This is where I think there needs to be a greater emphasis, because once we have trusted in Christ for salvation, we spend the next ten, twenty, thirty years trying to figure out how live as Christians. This is where, I believe, most new converts classes fail. New believers need to know that they are embarking on a journey where they will be tempted, disappointed and disillusioned. It is a long road. It will not be easy. I try to prepare them for what is ahead. Here are some of the areas, I discuss: a. The process that God uses to bring about change in our lives. How God will target areas in our lives that are not pleasing to Him. He then allows us to repeatedly encounter situations that force us to deal with these problem areas. Eventually through the Holy Spirit we are able to overcome. It may take years, but eventually through the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives we will achieve victory in a particular area. b. The doctrine that we have assurance of salvation. When we fail, we don’t lose our salvation. We repent, ask forgiveness and ask for overcoming grace in the future. c. How to deal with temptation. Temptation is not sin. Acting on temptation in the wrong way is sin. It is important for new believers to understand this. Otherwise they start living in condemnation. I use a flow-chart that explains what happens when someone is tempted and the right and wrong ways to react. d. I talk about the conflict between faith and fear. This is where knowing the Bible is so important. I give them practical examples of how we can appropriate particular scriptures to combat fear. e. I talk about some of the more deep rooted addictions that may require an accountability partner or outside intervention (like a 12 step program) to overcome. 5) In discussing the Church, I explain what the Church is and the role it serves in our lives and in the World. It is important to remain in close communion with other believers. Through the church we receive instruction, fellowship, have opportunities to live out our faith and serve others. In addition to the more conventional teachings on the Church, I also disabuse new believers of the unrealistic expectations they have about the Church. It is very easy to confuse the perfect God of our salvation with the imperfect people who populate our churches. I hear new believers saying things like, “You Christians are so nice. I love this church.” So right up front, I let new Christians know: God is perfect; people are not. When you join a church, expect to be hurt. You think I am pretty nice, right now. Well just wait, even I will let you down. There is no way to survive long-term in the church environment, if you have unrealistic expectations. You hear it all the time. People leave churches because the pastor or some brother or sister let them down. We want new believers to survive to the end. We need to prepare them for the harsh realities of church life. We put our faith in God, not people. 6) We also want to develop disciples who are intimately acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ. So we encourage people to establish daily habits of prayer and Bible study. I teach people how to express themselves honestly to God. I give them examples of how God has answered prayer in my life, because I want them to expect that God will answer prayer. The objective here is to convey the reality of living in communion with God. I will stop here. There is a lot more I could say. But I have probably written enough. God bless you in your task of writing a new converts course. I pray that it is not only doctrinally sound, but sufficiently practical to empower new disciples to successfully navigate the difficulties of Christian life. Sincerely in our Lord Jesus Christ, Janine Chapman

This is very timely and relevant. As a small group leader I have thought that some of the regular members are there just for the company and do not really understand very much of the essential truths. it often seems kinder to leave them there rather than gently encourage them to a real and deeper, saving faith but we must realise that of God has given us the privilege of leadership then we must be most concerned about our obedience to that call and the eternal destiny of those whom we seek to lead. Thank you for the encouragement. On a personal note, I appreciate your humility in recognizing and sharing your own weaknesses as you serve Him.

Thank you for your heart felt honesty. So many think they are on their way to heaven, and they never take the time to really know Jesus, and what He did for each of us...

Agreed. Everyone needs to know how deeply loved they are by Jesus and that calling on his name sets their life on a trajectory of eternal glory with him. May we all become great lovers!

I worked with a very wise CEF directer when I was summer missionary. He taught us to make sure that when leading a child to Christ we did not lead the child into a false confession. He told us that it was better to not to lead a child to Christ then to have him accept Christ and not understand what he was doing. At that point I learned really how to make sure the child understood what it met to accept Christ as his Savoir. I think we really need to pray about how we lead people to Christ. Also I really liked the fact that we talked with each child about accepting Christ rather than telling them to just trust Jesus.

I highly recommended the works of Dallas Willard on discipleship. Perhaps beginning with The Divine Conspiracy or The Renovation of the Heart. His books Hearing God and The Spirit of the Disciplines are more practical for one who is already convinced of the need for ongoing discipleship. Willard has many recordings on YouTube as well.

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