Unearthing Historic Discipleship
Welcome to Introduction to Discipleship, a series of four modules designed to help you learn Jesus’ strategy for shaping the lives of the Twelve and sending them into the world with the gospel of grace.
Matthew records what we now know as the Great Commission, in which Jesus commanded the disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19-20). The question every faithful and obedient Christian must answer is, “How do I make disciples?” This course is designed for self-directed study and examines the biblical idea of discipleship, the most important insights related to understanding Christian discipleship, and the practical steps for engaging in contemporary, Christ-centered discipleship.
Self-Paced and Self-Directed
This course is self-paced, as well as self-directed, meaning you may complete the assigned work within the limitations of your own schedule. There are no deadlines, and the online materials may be accessed at your convenience.
- To examine the principles, methods, and strategies that Jesus used to transform and train the Twelve to take the gospel of salvation by grace through faith to the entire world.
- To embrace a Trinitarian theology of ministry based on God’s self-disclosure as revealed and preserved in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, rather than one whose foundation is utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number of people; ministry created out of needs) or pragmatism (the assessment of truth according to practical consequences; ministry built upon a marketing strategy).
- To learn how to disciple others in the words and ways of Jesus Christ.
Biblical discipleship must be understood before it can be practiced. As in any new field of study, the fundamental ideas, definitions, and principles must be learned before moving forward into deeper and more complex areas of knowledge and skills. As the foundation connects the building to the ground and transfers loads from the structure to the ground, so a sound biblical foundation for discipleship ensures that the practice of discipleship in the world will be firmly rooted and grounded in the truths and principles taught and practiced by our Lord Jesus Christ.
As a foundation’s inadequate load capacity could send a large building crashing to the earth during hurricane-level winds, so an inadequate or unsound biblical foundation would detrimentally impact the members of an entire discipleship group as they “turn aside to fruitless discussion” (I Tim. 1:6), neither understanding “what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (vs. 7). Having abandoned the Word in favor of utilitarian, pragmatic, or other worldly solutions, each individual member would begin to feel the sway of the building and gradually realize that he is “unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:8). The preeminent apologist in our day, Os Guinness, DPhil, made the observation about the church-growth movement that “its theological understanding is often superficial, with almost no element of biblical criticism….Today theology is rarely more than marginal in the church-growth movement at the popular level. Discussion of the traditional marks of the church is virtually nonexistent. Instead, methodology is at the center and in control.” (Dining with the Devil: The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity, p. 26). The late theologian Ray S. Anderson, PhD, expressed a similar concern: “When the theological mind of the minister is being educated primarily through experience, an ad hoc theology (a response to a specific need or demand, rather than to principle) emerges which owes as much (or more) to methodological and pragmatic concerns as dogma” (Theological Foundations for Ministry, p. 7).
Once the shallow, methodological remedies for building mature disciples have been tried and failed, Christians may be tempted to abandon relational discipleship (as Christ modeled) altogether and look for other avenues of ministry which give the appearance of growth and success. However, in our experience, those who invest the time and energy in learning God’s ways of building mature believers for his church are usually the ones who engage in disciplemaking for the remainder of their lives. By the grace of God, they accept and embrace the authority of the Bible, the commitments and sacrifices required to fulfill the task, and prayerfully face every obstacle as they labor to see Christ formed in the ones they are called to love and serve.
This Introduction to Discipleship has been designed to help you fulfill God’s call and build a strong biblical and theological foundation to prepare you to effectively disciple others for the glory of God and the expansion and edification of Christ’s church. We encourage you to begin your studies with prayer and to follow the suggested order we have outlined for you, proceeding at your own pace in order to fully grasp each concept.
As we recommended at our Information Desk, we encourage you to begin your study of discipleship by reading Robert E. Coleman’s book, The Master Plan of Evangelism (available in paperback, Kindle, and Nook versions). This is the single best summary we know of that outlines Jesus’ strategy for training the Twelve and taking the gospel to the world. The late theologian, Carl F.H. Henry claimed that “no book on evangelical evangelism will invite sixty printings and press runs exceeding a million copies unless it has something urgently important to say. Readers of Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism know the secret.” Chuck Swindoll admitted, “I know of no more relevant book on discipleship that is based on Jesus’ years of training the Twelve than this one.” And the late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), said, “The book is must reading for everyone who desires to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As Coleman clarifies in his Preface, “this is a study in principles underlying his ministry – principles which determined his methods. One might call it a study in his strategy of evangelism around which his life was oriented while he walked on the earth.” In eight brief chapters with one-word headings – Selection, Association, Consecration, Impartation, Demonstration, Delegation, Supervision, and Reproduction – you will be exposed to “the unchanging, simple (and yet profound) biblical principles which must undergird any authentic evangelistic outreach” (Billy Graham, from the Forward).
The newest editions of The Master Plan of Evangelism have a Study Guide written by Roy J. Fish. We highly recommend that you reinforce what you have learned in each chapter by completing the corresponding lesson in the Study Guide.
Now that you have completed Dr. Coleman’s book and the accompanying Study Guide, we want to introduce you to additional material that will strengthen your understanding of biblical discipleship. When you are ready, study the Introduction to Classic Discipleship and Part I: Unearthing Historic Discipleship, both available from the Classic Discipleship page (scroll down to “Content Downloads”). The Answer Guide is also available to use with this material. This section in Classic Discipleship includes content that addresses the following:
- The Definition of “Disciple”
- The Disciple’s Square
- Who is Jesus’ Disciple?
- Ten Characteristics of a Disciple of Jesus Christ
- What Do Jesus’ Disciples Need to Learn?
- The New Testament Idea of a Teacher
- Following Christ: The True Mark of a Disciple
- Making Disciples: The Great Commission
- The Language of Disciplemaking
- Explanatory Notes on Disciplemaking
- The Power of Spiritual Multiplication
- The Ten Primary Reasons Christians Do Not Reproduce
- What is Discipleship?
- The Definition Unfolded
- Rationale for Discipleship
- Rediscovering Discipleship
- The Benefits of Discipleship
These seventeen topics will strengthen your understanding of discipleship and give you a firm foundation upon which to build your theology and practice of discipleship for years to come.
In this module, we are seeking to consolidate what you have learned in Modules 1 and 2. When you are ready, read online or download An Invitation to Discipleship: Essential Truths and Standards of Excellence. This 28-page document will summarize many of the things you have been learning as well as give you a tool for planning and beginning your discipleship group.
What you have already completed in the first three modules may have satisfied your desire to understand the essentials of discipleship. However, if you would like additional insights from another author who has studied, taught, and practiced discipleship for many years, we highly recommend Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden. Whether now or later, it would be of great benefit to become familiar with Greg Ogden’s foundation and vision for biblical discipleship.
Congratulations on completing the Introduction to Discipleship! When you are ready, continue your preparation by studying Clarifying Your Vision.