By Stanley Mehta
One of the core values of Gateway Ministries is that of Discipleship. But is it Biblical? Is it something that comes from the Indian history of ‘Guru-shishya’ system? Did Jesus practice it? Did his followers embrace it? Is it only for the days of the NT in the first Century or is it still valid for us today? We discover that the word ‘disciple’ (or its derivatives) is used 282 times in the Bible. It is absolutely Biblical.
The ministry of Jesus began with him recruiting disciples. Mark 1:16-20 “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men.
At once they left their nets and followed him.
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and
his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.
Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
It is interesting to note that he did not call them at the end of his ministry, but right at the beginning of the ministry (as in Mark chapter 1 and not in chapter 16). He discipled them for mission. Mark 3:14, 15 “He appointed twelve — designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.
He discipled them, so that they would be like him in character. Luke 6:40 “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” The world also noticed their characteristics by their association with Jesus as in Acts 4: 13 “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
And ultimately he commissioned them to make disciples as mentioned in Mathew 28:19,20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This implies that “making disciples” is at the heart of Jesus’ command. He is not asking us to ‘make converts, or ‘make believers’. It is not ‘decision-making’ but ‘disciple-making’ that we are called to.
So the disciples in the New Testament kept recruiting other disciples. For example Paul was hardly a new believer in Damascus and when he created a storm by preaching about Jesus, he was marked for assassination. It was Paul’s disciples who let him down in basket over the wall to let him escape. Acts 9:22-25
Paul instructed Timothy that the way forward was to keep recruiting disciples . 2 Timothy 2: 1, 2 “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses – entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
So here was Paul asking his own disciple Timothy to recruit faithful men to transmit what was taught to him, who in turn would in the future be able to transfer it to the next generation of disciples. This is a plan for four generations. Discipleship is purely relational. Paul refers to Timothy as ‘my son’. It should not be reduced to a program, system, or a method. It will fail.
Of all the different methods of church growth, the most reliable method seems to be that of Discipleship. It is not for producing ‘clones’, because discipleship does not limit the disciple’s creativity or ignore his gift mix. But through discipleship the core values of the vision are transmitted and the DNA of the discipler is successfully passed on. Discipleship is for honing the character, focusing on mission and for polishing the skills of the disciple. Associated with the word ‘disciple’ is the word ‘discipline’.
Hebrews 12:11 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Discipleship between two people is for a limited period, but relationship between them may be for life. Jesus said initially, ‘Come’, but after 3 years he said to his disciples, ‘Go, and make disciples…’ He did not lock them up into a permanent servitude. A good disciple in the long run demonstrates love, obedience and good works. The benefits of discipleship is that it results in freedom from all that entangles the person being discipled. It gives friendship and family to the person. And he now enjoys the fulfilment in function, fruitfulness in ministry and focus in mission. He will see the blossoming of the potential that lay latent until now. Like Elisha who received a double portion from his master Elijah, the disciple also has the possibility of carrying a double portion of anointing of his discipler.
But discipleship comes at a price. It requires sacrifice and self-denial. Jesus said in Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” The disciple has no guarantee of security (Luke 9:57,58), has to maintain the priority of kingdom over everything else (Matthew 6:33); has to be single-minded (Luke : 61,62); and develop intimacy with Jesus above all other relationships (Matthew12:46-50; Luke 14:25-27).
A careful observation within GMI will reveal that, the churches that are planted by those who were discipled as opposed to those who were not.
Those who were discipled do not need supervision. They love being accountable. The members have the same genes as the parent church. The new church members hear the same sound, whether it is from the local pastor or from those overseeing them. It’s time we looked for restoration of discipleship among all the GMI churches. I trust that all our existing leaders would embrace it because it is absolutely Biblical