I read a lot of information and focus enormous amounts of energy and attention on what may be called "essentials" in ministry.
Of course, what we call "essential" must always be rooted in biblical instruction. For pastors, churches and all Christ-followers, there is no sole, single text with broader application or greater call to action than Matthew 28:18-20--the Great Commission.
The Great Commission is the foundation of all ministry focus and formation. Here we meet the "disciple-making" mandate.
Yet, I often read and observe what seems to me to be a myoptic view of discipleship that focuses exclusively on the developmental efforts of current believers to lead or bring embryonic believers into greater maturity in Christ. That is, discipleship is synonymous with spiritual development.
No doubt the end result of effective discipling investments is a follower whose life bears “observational obedience” (Matthew 28:20) to the commands of Christ.
I believe a truly biblical model of discipleship requires three essential and integral dimensions:
1. Conversion. We must first observe that the starting point for any discipling model begins with the Great Commission. It is a sending mandate in and under the authority of the name of Jesus Christ to go with the gospel and sow gospel seeds in people groups around the world. Whatever this "make disciples" mandate means, it requires active and cooperative obedience on the part of existing believers to GO. Where? Everywhere. Who? All peoples. What? Bear witness to the name and fame of Christ.
We go bearing the seed of the gospel of which the fruit is evidenced in "baptismal" identification under the authority of the "name that is above every name" (Philippians 2:9). This is not a matter of church tradition or denomination, but rather the observable pattern of those who confessed conversion throughout the New Testament.
It should be noted the word “disciple” appears almost exclusively in the Gospels and Acts, but appears absent in the New Testament epistles focusing on spiritual growth and maturity. Why? Because the first essential component of disciple-making is the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit through the faithful proclamation of the gospel.
The disciple-making process is not what happens after salvation; it is the very essence and evidence of faithful gospel witness. In other words, evangelism and discipleship are inseparable and are not competitive forces in the church or any model of ministry. All biblical evangelism is aimed at life-change evidenced in a "disciple" and all discipleship is dependent upon faithful gospel proclamation that leads to conversion.
Disciple-making is not something we do with others for God after their conversion; it begins with God’s gracious work of intervention called salvation. God makes disciples when we go in faith and faithfulness to His command.
The result of gospel-bearing witness is life-changing followship of Jesus Christ.
2. Formation. This is the most common point of identification within many contemporary discussions of discipleship. It is both personal and intentional in the life of individual Christ-followers and the church.
No doubt it is "essential" that we give great attention and effort to spiritual formation in the lives of both new and continuing believers as we face and address life in all dimensions with the implications of gospel.
Formation involves instruction, discipline, relationship, adversity, and more. Yet, this formation is dependent upon the initializing reality of an indwelling enabler, the Holy Spirit, who works to bring a Christ-bearing image in us.
We encourage, support and surround one another for the purpose of deepening our understanding of gospel truth in life, and we instruct and challenge one another toward greater obedience as is the clear intent of biblical community within the church (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Biblically, spiritual formation is not a random process or an automatic outcome of believing faith. It is challenged through instruction, called out through mortification of the flesh, tested in affliction and commanded in the Great Commission itself: “…teaching them to observe all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Who? Those who have been marked in baptism as disciples “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
3. Mission. In the end, discipleship is not an end in and of itself. It is a SEND! It is a journey of conversion and formation in faith that leads to faithful mission and participation in the disciple-making process.
An "essential" part of biblical discipleship is disciple-making with others. We are evangelists, mentors and missionaries. These are the essentials of any disciple-making strategy.
Any view or ministry effort that seeks to isolate one component or pit these against one another as competitors within local church ministry misses the mark of “essential discipleship.”