Why discipleship?

By Simon Lerefolo

Our church has been on a long journey of becoming a disciple-making church. During times of strategic planning, fasting and prayer over the past couple of years, we repeatedly sensed that the Lord is calling us to be an apostolic centre. By definition, the word apostle means sent one. Kris Vollaton said that apostles are cultural transformers; they bring a culture of heaven on earth. With this understanding in mind, we started asking how we should build an apostolic centre where the five-fold ministry (apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists and pastors) has full expression. How does the local church prioritise reaching, raising and releasing an army of believers into the marketplace and into cities and nations of the world, particularly in areas where the Gospel has not yet penetrated the culture of the day? It became very clear to us that churches that have become successful apostolic centers (or missional churches) have three things in common: a strong sense of community, they are passionate about the lost and have a clear discipleship path.

As a leadership team, we decided to seek help from those who have gone ahead of us. We invited Joey Bonifacio (author of The Lego Principle) to share his insights on building a culture of discipleship with us. It was at this juncture that one thing became very clear: discipleship is relationship. Making disciples is not about having great programmes or fantastic tools; it starts with the heart. When we have a revelation that Jesus Christ died on the cross to purchase our lives from the destruction of sin and death – all we have belongs to Him and all we are is because of Him – there is only one response, to give Him everything. We give Him our time, talents and treasure. Most importantly we share His love with others and that is the reward of His sufferings. There is no plan B, we are it.

Recently, while having a good chat with one of our church leaders about life, politics and the church, he asked me a very poignant question. He said that our church has put a lot of emphasis on discipleship, in its simplest form, over the past few years, but what is the biblical definition of discipleship? I had two answers for him. The first one was the academic version: discipleship is a process whereby men and women who follow Christ are trained in His Word, grow to maturity and learn to replicate themselves. The second answer I extracted from Steve Murrell’s book on discipleship called Wiki-Church: discipleship is follow, fish and fellowship (simple but not necessarily easy). In his book, Steve uses Scripture to illustrate that Jesus’ life and words portrayed discipleship as being about following Him, fishing for those who do not yet know Him and staying connected or in fellowship with those who already have a relationship with Him. At this point, my learned friend made a statement: “We need to hear this simple definition of discipleship over and over again, until it sinks in”.

I have become convinced that this definition will never sink in until we as believers, by virtue of what Christ did on the cross, carry our crosses daily (follow), build relationships with our friends, colleagues and neighbours (fish), and be part of a small group and attend church regularly (fellowship). Most times that I have led people to the Lord, happened because of this deliberate aim to connect with people around me. It was not because I set aside a special time for discipleship; it was through making myself available in the course of the day to show Christ’s love to those around me.

In the book, The Simple Church, the authors drive this one point home: a local church cannot have a discipleship culture, unless there is a clear discipleship track or path. After much consideration and deliberation, the leadership of His People Joburg decided it is time we review our current discipleship track and see why it has not worked to the extent we had hoped it would. As such, we have identified different stages of growth and development in the life of a believer. These stages assist one to ENGAGE in people’s lives, ESTABLISH strong foundations, EQUIP them to minister and EMPOWER them to make disciples.

Of importance, discipleship is not about programmes and tools, it’s about the heart. Greg Oden writes about Transforming Discipleship and he says that the main ingredient of a successful discipleship path is small groups. Small groups provide intimacy, accountability and truth. It is for this reason that we say, “the life of a church is in Connect Groups”. Simply put, our small groups have five key “wow factors”: they are relational, thankful, biblical, prayerful and fruitful. We encourage all members of our church to become part of a Connect Group, as it provides the perfect environment in which they will ENGAGE in people’s lives, ESTABLISH strong foundations in their lives, get EQUIPPED to minister and EMPOWERED to make disciples.

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