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Because I became a Christian at an early age, there are many terms and ideas used in the church that I never pondered upon; I simply accepted them. For example, the term "disciple" I identify as one of Jesus' twelve closest followers, one of the paper characters placed on the felt board during Sunday school. Through my research, I have discovered that while accepting Christ through faith alone grants us salvation, to become a disciple of Christ, or practice discipleship, requires work and commitment from the believer.
The word disciple, or the Greek word mathetes, is used over 220 times in the Gospels, but not once in the Epistles, those letters written right after Christ's resurrection ("A Church-speak, n. d.). As customary for the Greek usage of the word, mathetes refers to a student who has personal interaction with their teacher. This offers one explanation as to why the word disciple is not used in the Epistles. No one had direct contact with Jesus anymore because He had gone on to Heaven to be with God. Another explanation for the absence of the word in the Epistles is that the churches that these letters were directed to were aware of Jesus' teachings about discipleship. It is possible that the writer did not mention discipleship because it would have been redundant to do so (Haines, 1999).
According to the lecture notes, a disciple is a "student" or a "pupil" and the act of discipleship is "advancing the cause of the kingdom". During Jesus' time on earth, He had many who followed Him and accepted Him so that they would receive eternal life. Many also applied the teachings to their own lives and proclaimed them to others in order to spread Jesus' message. These people became Disciples of Christ, or "obedient believers".
James 1:22 tells us, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves." This scripture is speaking directly to Christians today. We do not have the benefit of having Jesus with us in the flesh as the earlier disciples did. We must pray and study our Bibles in order to grow spiritually. Not only must we read the Word, but we must also apply it to our daily lives. We must allow the Word to change us in order for us to experience spiritual growth and true discipleship.
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I believe there are many things the local church can do to assist believers in growing as disciples. First, the church must have an active outreach program to welcome as many people as possible to their place of worship. A church can send postcards to the surrounding communities, their membership can invite friends and relatives to attend a service, and the church can host community functions in order to welcome non-members to their facilities. All these examples help the church to build a relationship with those in their geographical area. A second thing the church can do is to witness to the lost in their congregation. Jesus commissioned His disciples to tell others about Him so that they might also be saved. Thirdly, the church can help its membership with their personal spiritual growth. By advocating daily Bible reading and prayer time, the church can help its membership build daily practices that lend itself to spiritual growth. The church also provides Sunday morning Bible study, small connection groups, and fellowship opportunities. Finally, the church offers opportunities for its members to serve. Most churches have many opportunities for its members to minister to various types of people. Such opportunities include outreach, prison ministry, benevolence, food banks, counseling services, and seasonal giving.
There are many hindrances in growing as a disciple. The primary hindrance is an attack from Satan himself. The more a believer grows and develops, the more Satan is afraid of what that believer can accomplish. Satan responds with attacks on the believer and the believer must remain strong in his faith and seek God fervently through prayer and Bible study. Another hindrance to growth is a lack of obedience by allowing sin in our lives. Sin separates us from God and if we have unconfessed sin, we will not grow into disciples. The church might also play a part in the stunted growth of a believer. Through lack of programs or inability of church leadership, a believer might be disenchanted with their spiritual experience if their faith lies more upon man than on God.
It is imperative that we follow and apply the teachings of Christ and become true disciples as illustrated in a parable Jesus told concerning keeping God's Word. Jesus stated in Luke 6:47-49, "Whosover cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them is like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock." Jesus goes on to say that this man's house stood, but the man that did not hear and do as Jesus said, his house immediately feel when faced with a broken stream (Haines, 1999). According to Tony Evans, discipleship "is the process of spiritual development which occurs within an environment of loving accountability, whereby the believer progressively moves from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity, ultimately repeating the process with others" (Evans, 1990). To make the most impact for the Kingdom of God, believers must travel through all levels of spiritual maturity and pass on those teachings to fellow believers.
A Church-speak Dictionary: Common Christian Jargon. (n. d.). Retrieved February 19, 2006
Evans, Anthony, Th. D. The Meaning of Discipleship. (1990). Retrieved February 19, 2006
Haines, Leland M. Jesus Explains Through the Apostles. (1999). Retrieved February 19, 2006