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The Practical Side of Discipleship (Part 3)

08.14.17 | by Larry Gates

    Often times our mental picture of a skilled disciple-maker is that of an expert teacher.  Our vision is that of skilled classroom lecturer, the sage on the stage.  With this frame of reference, we often associate lecturing with teaching and listening with learning. But, what if our mental picture shifted or was removed and replaced with a biblical view?

    The biblical picture of disciple-making modeled by Jesus shows us that teaching is more than simply telling, it involves discovery and application.  A close examination of Jesus’ style of discipling the twelve disciples reveals that He encouraged learning through discovery.

    In the New Testament Greek, the word disciple means learner, someone who follows in the footsteps of a master teacher.  Being a disciple of Jesus involves more than sitting in a classroom gathering information, or watching an instructional video, or filling out Q&A questions, or memorizing facts.  True disciples of Jesus embark on a lifetime quest driven by a passionate pursuit to become like Christ, the Master Teacher and Disciple-Maker (Luke 6:40). Likewise, today’s modern-day disciple-makers must encourage their mentees to passionately pursue Christ intentionally and diligently.

    Discovery is the doorway to learning.  Learning, as depicted in Scripture, is intentional but often informal. Listening to Jesus teachings was an important element in the spiritual growth of His disciples. However, of equal importance were the times when they learned from life experiences while walking, talking, and living with Him.  Jesus’ method of discipling reveals that He trained His disciple as though all of life was a classroom.  A lesson we learn from this example is that disciple-makers must intentionally open doors of discovery right were their mentees live, work, and play.  All of life is to be the classroom.

    Instead of an expert, who has all the knowledge, the disciple-maker must intentionally partner with a mentee in the classroom of life, life lived in the present.  Together they make discoveries, explore questions, and apply the truth of Scripture to their life.  With the Holy Spirit as the teacher, the disciple-maker and mentee walk together through life’s classroom.  Caution should be exercise, however, so that the venture doesn’t turn into a conformity of ideas, methods, and curriculum.  To encourage life-changing learning, the disciple-maker must substitute life for the classroom, questions for lectures, and application for note taking.  Jesus’ set the model for teaching and learning through discovery. 

    Today’s disciple-maker can glean much from observing Jesus’ method of teaching as revealed in the Gospels.  It is clearly evident that Jesus’ teaching ministry ranged from the formal approach of preaching to the informal approach of simply asking question.  Apparently, both approaches had the same purpose – to transform lives.  There are 183 instances in the Gospels where people ask Jesus a specific question, but only on three occasions did Jesus directly answer the question.  On the other 180 times, Jesus responded with a different question, or a story, or some other indirect reply.  Apparently, Jesus wanted people to work out the answers on their own through discovery and by applying principles He taught and lived.  The following continuum reflects Jesus teaching and learning strategy.          


    Formal                                                                                                                                    Informal                                                                                                                    

    Telling                                                                                                                                     Discovery                              


    Sermon                 Parable            Example               Assignment        Metaphor       Questions

    Matt. 5-7                Matt. 13          Jn. 13:12-17          Lk. 9:1-6             Jn. 10:7, 11       Mk. 12:35-37

    If Jesus employed these various methods in training His disciples, the disciple-makers of today would be wise to diversify their portfolio of methods of discipling their mentees.  Discovery is the catalyst that moves people from the lecture hall to life’s classroom.  It encourages people to move from being Christian spectators to becoming fully engaged followers of Jesus, learning to live and love like Him.

    Skilled disciple-makers don’t merely open the door of discovery through using questions and sharing stories.  They are adamant about application of Scripture to life.  While discovery is the doorway to learning, application is the pathway to life change - without application there is no transformation.  To know the truth but never applying it to life circumstances is dead faith (James 2:17, 21-22).

    Personnel application of Scripture starts by responding in surrender to the Holy Spirit as He connects the truth of God’s word to the inner depths of the heart.  However, application is more than discovering and understanding the truth of God’s word.  Application requires sitting in silence listening to and gaining insight from the Holy Spirit concerning one’s own personal condition.  Then, and only then, can a person move toward practical action steps to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

    Meaningful applications of Scripture have three characteristics:

    ·              -Principle – A person responds to a principle or insight from


    ·             -Personal – A person considers how the principle affects them  


    ·             -Practical – A person creates a measurable action to apply the    


        Measurable action steps usually include what, when, where, and  

        how elements.


    Wise disciple-makers know that good applications involved an immediate response to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.  They understand that applications need to be simple, daily, and practical responses of obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirt and to the word of God.  Good applications are not usually lifetime decisions or habits.  They simply involve daily walking in obedience and faith.

                                                                                                                                                            Forum Issue: 8