Archives For disciples

By Michael Kramer


Michael Kramer

Three years ago, my job title was changed from adult education pastor to discipleship pastor. I was happy. Discipleship is a trendy term, but no one quite knows how to define discipleship. I realized this a couple months ago at an education conference put on by LifeWay. The presenter made the off-hand comment that discipleship seems to be the fad in evangelicalism. He had my attention.

The presenter explained that there have been several church growth models over the last 50 years, and he thinks discipleship is the current trend. Yet, he lamented, everyone has a different take on discipleship. He then produced a two-page handout offering his own definition. This made me chuckle. Why is discipleship such a tricky term?

I once watched a ministry leader draw a pie chart depicting Sunday school. He then put discipleship as one-sixth of the pie alongside community, shepherding, evangelism, teaching, and service. Discipleship had been relegated to a narrow slice. If I were discipleship, I think I would be offended.

We wrestle with discipleship because it is a relatively new term that is, at best, tenable and, at worst, divisive. First coined over 150 years ago by a well-meaning church educator, the term has come to distinguish the “two wings of the plane” which give flight to evangelicalism. These two wings are evangelism and discipleship. Sadly, this has created a division within disciple making, and we have yet to recover from the schism.

It’s not about ‘me’
Fast forward a century or so, and attempts at wordsmithing are causing confusion. You may wonder if discipleship is a biblical term. Nope, it is not. Jesus made disciples and called us to make disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, but “discipleship” is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. That’s just a little problematic when we seek to define discipleship in a consistent or biblical fashion.

Most church members will say they are involved in discipleship. After all, they participate in youth group, Bible study, women’s ministry, life group, or Sunday school. But this definition of discipleship is about personal growth or finding a niche within community. Reduced even simpler, discipleship is all about the participant. Discipleship at this level is designed to help “me” follow Jesus.

If a pastor refers to discipleship, most likely he has the spiritual maturity of church members in mind, relying generally on programs to foster maturity. Most pastors would say that the sermon, serving in the church, and going on mission trips are vital parts of the process. In some church cultures, discipleship may focus on spiritual disciplines coupled with some degree of intentional accountability. Again, the focus is on “me.”

My job title says it’s what I do, but do I?

At the leadership level, discipleship and disciple making are often used interchangeably, but the terms have dramatically different focuses or applications. While discipleship focuses on the participant, disciple making focuses on reproducing others. As leaders, we need to decide if we are calling people to invest in themselves or replicate others.

Words matter, especially when used by leaders.

So, is discipleship an evil term? No, not really, but it is unfortunate, because the term tends to not move beyond “me” and my walk with Jesus.

Discipleship places emphasis on the Great Commandment, me loving God and others, but misses the intentionality of the Great Commission, me making disciples. Ultimately discipleship is an unfortunate term because it fails to call people clearly to reproduce themselves in the lives of others.

While I doubt my title will change any time soon, as a leader who wants to communicate clearly, I have decided to call people to disciple making, which I believe carries a lot more weight. Disciple making begs the question, “Who or what am I reproducing?” I, for one, want to reproduce disciple makers.

While discipleship will continue to be a moving target, the term disciple making is biblical, offers a clearer vision, and is measured by reproducibility. Maybe we would save ourselves a lot of trouble if we focused less on the wings of the plane and more on the engine that makes the plane soar, disciple making.

Michael Kramer is discipleship pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton. He recently completed a Ph.D. in leadership at Southern Seminary.

Mistaken identity

Lisa Misner —  December 6, 2018

By Adron Robinson

Read: John 13:34-35

It may take former Phoenix NBA star Edward Arnett Johnson a long time to get over the worst day of his life. After his NBA career ended, the 6’ 8” basketball player, who is now 47, spent many years serving his community.

But in 2006, another former NBA star—6’2”, 51-year-old “Fast Eddie” Johnson—was arrested for sexual battery and burglary. Some reporters around the country picked up the story and mistakenly assumed that Edward Johnson of Phoenix was the criminal. His phone started ringing off the hook. Neighbors, even friends, were quick to tell him how disappointed they were with him.

“The thing that disappointed me the most is some people were overzealous enough to think it was me and attack me with a ferocity I can’t comprehend,” Johnson said. “That’s the part that didn’t allow me to sleep last night. That’s the part that forced me to reach out to as many people as I could and say, ‘Shame on you; that’s not me.’”

Afterward, Eddie Johnson of Phoenix said his goal was to get the word out about who he really is—and isn’t.

Just like Eddie Johnson, the church is facing a case of mistaken identity. The sinful acts of some who claim the name of Christ have sullied the reputation of the church. And because of this, we need to display God’s love first to other believers, regardless of their race, social status, or place of birth.

Second, we need to venture outside the church building and into our communities to show the world our true identity: love. A world full of hateful speech and hate-filled action needs to see and hear what true love looks like, so be intentional today about loving one another.

Prayer Prompt: Father God, your Word tells us that the world will know we are your disciples by our love. Please forgive us for trying to identify ourselves by anything else but your love. Sanctify our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit to love one another.

Adron Robinson is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017

Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director, talks with a pastor at the Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017 in Springfield.

“Personal development requires surrender and sacrifice,” shared leadership expert Mac Lake.

“If I want to grow myself there’s a price I have to pay…Discipline is often the cost we’re not willing to pay.”

More than 250 leaders gathered in Springfield for the Jan. 24-25 Illinois Leadership Summit. Mac Lake, the architect of The Launch Network, a church planting network, served as the summit’s keynote speaker and was joined by 18 break out session leaders. Together, they taught the men and women in attendance practical ways to became better leaders and how to use what they’ve learned to develop leaders in their own churches.

Visit our Facebook page to watch video from Tuesday evening’s session, and learn from Lake:

– Why people don’t do what you want them to do
– About the strengthen conversation
– How to do one minute goal setting

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter hear from some of the breakout session leaders, and read the Feb. 6 Illinois Baptist newspaper for complete coverage of the Illinois Leadership Summit.

“The more our lives are devoted to spreading this gospel,” said David Platt at an October meeting near St. Louis, “…do we really think that our adversary and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms are going to sit back and just watch that take place?"

“The more our lives are devoted to spreading this gospel,” said David Platt at an October meeting near St. Louis, “…do we really think that our adversary and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms are going to sit back and just watch that take place?”

NEWS | Meredith Flynn

Arnold, Mo. | Voice crackling with intensity, David Platt painted a picture of the current status of the gospel: With seven billion people in the world, even the most liberal estimates leave 4 or 5 billion who do not know Christ. And a couple billion of those have never even heard the gospel, added the recently elected president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

“If that’s true in the world…then we don’t have time to play games in the church,” he told the crowd gathered at First Baptist Church in Arnold, south of St. Louis.

“We don’t have time to waste our lives on a nice, casual, comfortable, cultural version of Christianity. Because, number one, that’s not Christianity. Number two, God’s created us for something so much greater than that.”

Hundreds of people gathered Oct. 6 for the St. Louis-area stop of the Send North America Experience Tour. The two-hour service, facilitated by the North American Mission Board, was part of a multi-city effort leading up to the national Send North America Conference in August 2015.

Worshipers of all ages stood and sang before Platt came to the podium. He started his message with the bleak reality of billions of people who don’t know Christ. Then, he preached better news from the Book of Acts. Reading from the end of chapter 7 through the beginning of 8, he told the audience that it’s “ordinary people” through whom the gospel is spread.

In a part of northern India known as a spiritual graveyard, Platt said, a chicken farmer and a school superintendent attended a disciple-making training session where they were assigned to go out into the villages and ask how they could pray for the people there. The two men didn’t expect success, Platt said, but they went anyway. Near the end of their time in the village, they met a man who said he had heard about Jesus, and wanted to know more. The man went to get his family so that they could hear the good news too. Around 20 people in the village came to Christ. A few years later, there are 350 churches in villages in that part of India.

“Let’s put aside an unhealthy dependence on places and programs and realize that the gospel in ordinary people has power,” Platt said. But it’s not their own power. The extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit was at work in Acts and is still at work in Christians today, and through that it, believers proclaim the gospel, Platt said.

Many believers say they witness through their lives, by being kind. “Hopefully, that’s a given,” he said, as the audience laughed. “Nobody gets on a witness stand and smiles. They speak. They testify. And this is why the spirit is in us, that we might speak the gospel.”

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, early disciples also prayed and fasted, he continued. And they suffered.

“How will we ever show the world a proper, clear picture of Jesus if everything always goes right for us?” Platt asked. Suffering makes sense in the life of a believer.

“If our lives are on the front lines making the gospel known in our communities and cities and to the ends of the earth, we can expect to be met with the full force of hell.”

Alan and Jean Lasley sat three rows from the front of the auditorium with their pastor and his wife and another couple from First Baptist Church in Red Bud. Platt’s simple delivery was the thing he would take away from the evening, Alan said.

“Just be more intent on telling others about Jesus,” Jean said of what she had heard. A simple message for sure, and clear. As Platt concluded his message, he appealed to every ordinary disciple in the room.

“In a world and a time and a place where God has put us, in a city where God has put you, let’s say we consider our lives worth nothing to us if only we may finish this race and complete this task the Lord Jesus has given us.

“Ordinary people in this room, every single follower of Christ with extraordinary power….wherever God leads you, whether he leaves you here the rest of your life, or sends you to people who’ve never heard the gospel. Testify. Preach. Pray. Give. Even suffer, for the spread of this gospel, to the ends of the earth.”

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.