Thursday, January 29, 2009

Here is a great book that will challenge the way you look at and think about disciple-making. Bill Hull, in his book The Disciple-making Church, strongly urges the church (people who have put their trust in Christ) to take on their God-assigned role in discipling others. Hull provides a clear definition of what he believes discipling to be:
The intentional training of disciples, with accountability,
on the basis of loving relationships (pg. 32).

From here, Hull launches into a full-scale investigation of the principles and preferences of the first Christian churches (e.g., the Jerusalem Church, the Mission Church at Antioch, and the Discipling Church at Ephesus). Each church is explored through out the book of Acts and Paul’s writings.

Hull contends a movement is needed from Christocentric leadership (Jesus as the leader), the style found throughout the Gospels, to churchocentric leadership (leadership team), is found in Acts and the epistles. The Christocentric model, though effective while Jesus ministered, is not the most effective model for making disciples today according to Hull. Hull points to five changes needing to take place in the church in order to be effective in making disciples. Hull believes these changes to be essential in order to keep discipleship a process that involves the whole church rather than an event involving one person. The direction the rest of the book takes is the “how-to” of implementing these changes. The following are the changes Hull suggests along with a short explanation of each (take from chapter 2 of The Disciple-making Church).

1. Leadership – A change from Christ leading Apostles to elders leading the congregation. While Christ was on earth, authority remained in one person. That person was Jesus Christ. When He ascended into heaven the leaders shared it. The Christocentric model is master-pupil. The master is Jesus, Himself, and anyone under him would be His pupil. The churchocentric model is elders-congregation. In this model disciple making is in the hands of the church. Hull points out that individuals cannot completely disciple another person. It must be done by the variety of gifted believers known as the church. Only the body of Christ can fully provide an environment capable of creating challenges and experiences a believer needs to grow into full maturity. Hull reminds us on page 36, “Anything that helps a person move forward in Him fits the label of discipling.”

2. Guidance – We move from Christ's personal presence to the Holy Spirit living in us. We also have the ministry of the Word, Prayer, and others. Our purpose is to serve God through an obedient lifestyle. Through obedience we come to know God and His leading. Part of this obedience to God involves being disciples and making disciples. When it comes to guidance in the church, the churchocentric model of leadership is a shared experience. Hull points out in the end of his book that guidance comes through elders (leaders) and their apprentices.

3. Training – Here we move from Christ preparing leaders alone to a leadership community engaged in multilevel training. This means the church is doing various things (e.g., small group Bible studies, special classes, Sunday school) to disciple and train future leaders. Where does discipling begin? According to Hull, discipling begins when a member of the discipling church makes contact with a person. Making disciples begins with introducing men and women to Christ.
Hull states three things that the church is:
1. A hospital for sinners.
2. A greenhouse for the growth of new believers.
3. A training center for the eager and well.

Church leadership should be engaged in three primary areas of training/discipling:
1. Preaching/teaching track (Come and see). The Word of God must be preached to the world. How will people hear if no one preaches?
2. Leadership track. Church needs zealots (or people dedicated to the vision of the church) to be produced. Their fire and passion will draw others.
3. Small-group track. This gives seekers and those hungry for God’s Word a chance to develop and grow.

4. Outreach – A move from individual evangelism to team evangelism. Each member of the body has different gifts and can more effectively reach the lost by working together. Evangelism is and must be shared by the church. The corporate witness of the church's love for one another creates a power and attraction that make verbalization a natural result (pg. 45). The Holy Spirit must be allowed to creatively work through different people to reach the lost. Evangelism is not a bounty hunter job and suffers if it is left to individuals (in that it isn’t as effective).

5. Pastoral care – Here movement is from Christ meeting the needs of all people to Christ meeting needs through gifts of the body. What Jesus was to the disciples, the disciples are to one another. Hull elaborates in chapter 11 on the role of a full-time pastor. There he suggests:
- A pastor is one who is committed to God’s Word and the studying of God’s Word.
- A pastor’s primary role is communicating God’s Word to others.
- Through Paul’s pastoral epistles (i.e., Timothy and Timothy 2) we learn a little more of what is expect of pastors. They teach, rebuke, correct, and train.
- Pastors also have the responsibility to develop faithful leaders (elders and deacons) in the church.

Hull’s book is very insightful and challenging in light of our individualistic society. Personally, he challenged my view of discipleship and how it is done by broadening it to include the entire church body (I previously thought of discipleship in terms of small groups and one-on-one meetings). I was right in regards to discipleship being intentional and a process but that is only a small part of discipleship. When we involve the whole church we make the kind of disciples Jesus asks us to make (Matt 28:19). To incorporate the church into the discipling of others is a challenge, especially when statistics say only twenty percent of church members actively involve themselves in serving God while the other eighty percent watch comfortably from the bleachers. How do we change this?

Hull holds in high esteem the church at Ephesus as an example.[1] By this time, the apostle Paul was able to hone his skills and gifts in disciple making. This model disciple-making church did a wonderful job of inviting people in and attracting people (come and see). This was followed by getting them all involved (come and follow me), and then handing over responsibility (come and be with me), and finally letting the reigns of power down so someone else could pick them up (remain in me and go and make disciples). Once implemented this would continue the disciple-making process Jesus commanded in the Great Commission.

To apply the principles gleaned from this book one must evaluate his/her own perception of discipleship and the church. Are the two separable? Can one be done without the other? What exactly is discipleship? How is it done? For me, answering questions like these has led to some brainstorming of ideas for implementing what I have learned into practical steps.

æ Set up church activities (e.g., fellowship dinners, small groups, cookouts, mentoring, Sunday school, mission trips, training seminars) that call all people into participation. If the Body of Christ is responsible for making more mature and fully developed disciples, then participation of everyone is essential. Sermons and teachings of the church must back this up and confirm it to all church members. So, maybe a good starting place is restructuring how one’s church views discipleship through sermons and teachings. If the majority of your church sees discipleship as primarily the leaders’ job and responsibility they need to be taught that all Christians have that responsibility. Maybe sermons on the book of Acts and the Epistles would be helpful.

æ Search for ways in which all people in your church can participate in discipling. Since discipleship covers everything the church does, what are some things currently being done or that could be done to incorporate more of the Body of Christ in the process? What are some things your church could do to utilize the spiritual gifts of others? Here are some discipling/ministry opportunities a pastor could make available:
§ Teachers for VBS, Sunday school, small groups, special seminars
§ Mechanical work (e.g., oil changes, minor tune ups, etc.) available to anyone needing it
§ “How to play golf” workshops taught by church members
§ Van drivers willing to pick up kids and teens needing rides to church
§ Sound and video technicians for worship service
§ Coffee makers for the Sunday School hour
§ Grounds keepers willing to serve by landscaping and/or mowing church yard

æ As a pastor one of my responsibilities is to look for/identify leaders (zealots if you want to call them that) on fire for God in my church to hand over responsibility to. These people need to be given responsibility. Investing in their lives allows the process of discipleship to continue, as they will in turn invest in someone else’s life. I guess you would call this leadership development. Hull provides an appendix in his book giving guidelines and expectations of such leaders that could be useful to encourage commitment from such leaders.

These are just a few of the practical ways I came up with to change the church’s approach to leadership, guidance, training, outreach, and pastoral care.

Bill Hull’s The Disciple-making Church is not a difficult scholarly read, but a down-to-earth and practical book. This book is a good launching pad for pastors wanting to further study principles of discipleship because it gives a complete summary of principles used by the early Church that is easy to follow and understand. I highly recommend to every pastor, layperson, and congregation member Bill Hull’s The Disciple-making Church.

[1] The church at Ephesus combines and synthesizes nicely the principles and preferences of the two churches (Jerusalem and Antioch) mentioned and studied earlier in Hull’s work (pg. 51-148).

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