Discipleship is a topic that is currently being discussed in various forums throughout modern evangelicalism. Over the past couple of years, I have sat in many discussions with church leaders from all over the world who have expressed a newfound commitment to emphasizing discipleship in their local churches. Fellow local pastors and friends are starting discipleship cohorts and rethinking their approach to making disciples in their churches. This newfound focus on discipleship is a welcomed development without question. It is, of course, a fundamental component of the Christian life and mission. Take discipleship out of The Great Commission and you no longer have The Great Commission.
Among millennial pastors and church leaders, there seems to be an intense discussion on how to normalize and emphasize discipleship in the local churches they lead. Interesting research conducted by Lifeway reveals this emphasis.
In Facts & Trends’ Future of the Church study, LifeWay Research asked pastors their top concerns. Younger pastors, those 18 to 44 years old, are more likely than any other age group to say discipleship is the chief concern.
It is no coincidence that these same church leaders regularly confessed that they themselves had not been discipled in their teens and twenties. One young pastor wrote about his experience growing up in church.
“We had events, Sunday school, Bible studies, but there was no discernible process or passion for making disciples who made disciples,” he says. “Despite being in church virtually my whole life, I can count on one hand the number of spiritual mentors I have in the faith.”https://factsandtrends.net/2019/02/22/follow-me-younger-pastors-prioritize-discipleship-despite-a-lack-of-experience/?ecid=PDM166818&bid=631579294
As a millennial pastor myself, leading a young church filled with millennials, I can attest to this reality. While there are a number of different discipleship strategies out there, employed effectively by lots of different churches, we can look at a classic example of a robust discipleship culture in a local church by examining the Church in Antioch in Acts 11.
Antioch is, without question, the most influential church in history. Its impact as a hub for developing disciples and sending those disciples out to plant churches is unmatched. By the end of the first century AD, Antioch’s imprints and influence for there Gospel spread far and wide across the Roman Empire.
When we examine Antioch we see two fundamental elements that helped establish a culture of discipleship.
Antioch was committed to doctrinal teaching and instruction. As a matter of fact, this is one of the first points of emphasis for Barnabas when he arrives in Antioch. Barnabas knows, if this church filled with new converts planted firmly in a pagan city, is going to be able to reach that city with the Gospel, then they MUST be taught the Scriptures. The teaching of sound doctrine was the solid rock that Antioch built its ministry on. What does this teaching look like? Pulpit ministry? Classes? Groups? One-on-One mentorship? Yes! Discipleship is happening when the Gospel is being taught, and the Gospel should be taught in our churches through a host of venues and various contexts. If we are not “teaching all that Jesus taught us to observe” then we are not making disciples.
Barnabas is one of the most impressive leaders in the New Testament. His name of course means, “Son of Encouragement” and encouragement was one of the hallmarks of his ministry as a disciple-maker. When Barnabas arrived in Antioch and observed the work of grace on display there in the lives of new converts he responded by praising God and encouraging the fledgling church.
Acts 11:23 23 (Barnabas) exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,
The word translated “exhorted” can also be translated “encouraged”. Literally, the word used in Greek means, “to come alongside and give heart”. Encouragement is essential for making disciples for this reason: Following Jesus is hard. Self-empowerment cannot help us lead the Christian life because self-empowerment is not a thing. We need encouragement from someone else. We need someone to come alongside us in our weakness and in our frailty and “give us heart”.
Encouragement is the great remedy for spiritual weariness which a great enemy of spiritual growth
Without sound doctrine, discipleship can’t start. Without encouragement, it can’t last.