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Grow.-Plant.-Discipleship

Whenever Christians discuss the mission of the church, we tend to get mired in debates over the responsibility of local congregations to be involved in social ministry. Is our work in the world part of the church’s mission? Is the mission broad or narrow?

Underneath these discussions, however, is a bigger question concerning the nature of discipleship. The question isn’t merely about the mission; it’s about how disciple-making should be defined. Is disciple-making broad or narrow?

Below are four important truths we should keep in mind as we consider biblical discipleship:

1. Discipleship is Modeled

Disciple-making is accomplished by modelers, not just messengers. Disciples develop not merely through the intake of correct information, but also through witnessing the life and choices of other disciples they encounter on their way.

This is why the Old Testament emphasizes both the memorization of Scripture and conversations about the Law that take place in the daily rhythms of life. Psalm 119, for example, is heavy on the need for learning and internalizing the Law of God, while Deuteronomy 6 focuses on the daily discussions of the Law in everyday life. It’s also why Paul told the early churches they should imitate him as he followed Christ.

In Total Church, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester explain how they learned the importance of modeling through their own personal experience:

People should learn the truth of justification not only in an exposition of Romans 5 but as they see us resting on Christ’s finished work instead of anxiously trying to justify ourselves. They should understand the nature of Christian hope not only as they listen to a talk on Romans 8 but as they see us groaning in response to suffering as we wait for glory. . . .

We have found in our context that most learning and training takes place not through programmed teaching or training courses but in unplanned conversations—talking about life, talking about ministry, talking about problems. (118)

This emphasis corresponds with the New Testament picture of Jesus with his disciples. Jesus was always teaching, not just through his public discourses, but also through his actions.

2. Discipleship is Balanced

The goal of discipleship is balanced. As Gregg Allison points out, followers of Christ should be characterized by

  • orthodoxy (sound doctrine),
  • orthopraxis (right practice),
  • and orthopatheia (proper sentiment).

When any of these three elements are excluded from a disciple’s development, the other two elements are adversely affected, and the mission of the church is hindered.

Speaking of educational ministry in the church, Allison recommends a discipleship model that consists of doctrinal teaching, character building, and worldview development. This element of worldview formation leads to a point of its own…

3. Discipleship Includes a Worldview

Disciple-making presupposes a worldview—our viewing the world through a Christian lens. What is a worldview? Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen offer a simple definition:

“Worldview is an articulation of the basic beliefs embedded in a shared grand story that are rooted in a faith commitment and that give shape and direction to the whole of our individual and corporate lives.”

Often associated with the definition of a worldview are the big questions of life, questions that help narrate the story through which human beings view reality. N. T. Wright lists five determining questions:

  1. Who are we?
  2. Where are we?
  3. What is wrong?
  4. What is the solution?
  5. What time is it?

Asking the final question, “What time is it?” clarifies the shape of worldview thinking and keeps one from losing the important “this-world” dimension of discipleship. Answering this question naturally leads to the next element of discipleship—one that is too often neglected.

4. Discipleship is Eschatological

Discipleship is eschatological in nature, because the church that makes and receives disciples is eschatological in nature. By eschatology, I’m not referring merely to the “last things” doctrines often relegated to the back of systematic theology textbooks. I’m speaking of eschatology in a broader sense, as encompassing the Christian vision of time and the destiny of our world. Eschatology in this sense informs both our evangelism and our ecclesiology.

I love the picture Lesslie Newbigin paints:

“The church . . . calls men and women to repent of their false loyalty to other powers, to become believers in the one true sovereignty, and so to become corporately a sign, instrument, and foretaste of that sovereignty of the one true and living God over all nature, all nations, and all human lives.”

Seeing discipleship from an eschatological standpoint impacts the way we preach and teach. The alternative is to minimize the eschatological understanding of discipleship, which will leave us with an incomplete worldview, imbalanced discipleship, and eventually, a tragic inability to model the Christian way of life, since modeling implies obedience in a particular time and place.

Discipleship is eschatological, because questions like “What time is it?” and “Where is history going?” greatly impact a disciple’s worldview and inform what modeling a life of following Jesus looks like.


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8 thoughts on “4 Marks of Biblical Discipleship”

  1. Peter Mahoney says:

    Excellent breakdown Trevin… thanks!

  2. Eric F says:

    The nature of discipleship. You say the nature is that it is modeled, it is balanced, it is worldview oriented and it is related to God’s end. So then we are concerned with understanding the statement go make disciples of every nation.
    There is one problem that seems to be overlooked by most. That is that the one who makes the disciple must himself be a disciple. The disciple is a disciple of Christ. A bird is great at flying. A dog is terrible at flying. If both the disciple and the one who is teaching the disciple are not birds then there can be no proper teaching. Any and every “imbalance” that you mentioned can not be corrected by education. Transformation is the only adequate method.

  3. Ben says:

    Trevin,

    This is the first time I’m hearing the phrase orthopatheia, can you expand on that a bit and how it is distinct from orthodoxy? If I’m understanding your article correctly, a developed, accurate worldview is the “tangible” result of orthopatheia in action. From the studying I’ve done on worldviews in the past, I would have said that orthodoxy (sound doctrine) is the foundation of worldview. IE Travelling backwards, flaws in a worldview can be traced back to a misunderstanding or misapplication of sound doctrine. Hopefully that makes sense.

    Thanks,
    Ben

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I probably ought to do a full blog post on that. It’s from Gregg Allison’s work, “Sojourners and Strangers.” I am intrigued by his adding of that phrase to his list of balanced discipleship qualities.

  4. Mike says:

    Oh, #4! Perhaps one of the reasons the church seems to be so lacking in discipleship is that the most prevalent eschatology in the US is an escapist one.

  5. Seth Anderson says:

    I may be misunderstanding the title, which renders my comment inapplicable, but I was eager to see biblical references for Marks 2-4. Grace and peace on this comment.

  6. Daren says:

    Regarding #1- yes! The best way to learn how to make disciples is to watch, work with, be mentored by a deliberate disciple-maker, who has a clear picture in their mind of what a disciple is, and the personalized process that will move the prospective disciple down the path. Too few have gotten to the first stage of defining what a disciple is, in character.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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