Discipleship in the Local Church

As we survey the book of Acts we see that the primary mission of the church is to fulfill The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). Luke provides a valuable guide as to how a church can intentionally make disciples who make disciples. He shows us how the example of the Apostles and the faithful witness of their disciples led to an explosion of gospel truth that resulted in the establishment of several churches across the Roman empire. Robert Coleman explains, “The first-century church body existed for ministry. Every member of the community shared the servant role of their Lord and, in the way He appointed, continued His mission on earth.” Their commitment to live missionally, is a direct result of the kind of discipleship that was modelled to them by the Apostles. Proper designation and delegation of roles was a key factor to the success and growth of the early church. Coleman notes, “Not all served in the same way… There were many different forms of ministry, depending upon the abilities and qualifications given by God.”

Those early Christians not only identified what their spiritual gifts were, but faithfully used them in the making of other disciples. The Apostle Paul asserts, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom 12:6 ESV). As a pastor, I understand that God has called me to a ministry of preaching and teaching that I might “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12 ESV).

Thus, the local church elders must communicate to their people the need to be committed disciple-makers. I believe that preaching through biblical books such as the Gospel of Mark or the Book of Acts will provide clear direction and examples on how true discipleship and service can take place in the home, church and community. Once these principles are taught from the pulpit, the elders can then train, empower, and equip the small group leaders to work through these passages that were preached, thereby providing an avenue to train disciple-makers in the church to use what they have learned in community outreach events and direct one-on-one discipling. The result of this training process (i.e., elders train small group leaders who train others) is a way for all to practice what has been learned from God’s Word by exercising their spiritual gifts.

The beauty of this disciple-making process is that the small group leader can model Christlike character as he serves and shows others how to accomplish the ministry (Eph. 4:12). Coleman writes, “Example gives credibility to leadership. People are far more impressed by what they see than what they hear.” As the church develops this kind of discipleship culture, service in the church and community (with the proper use of spiritual gifts) becomes a reality. The church will come to the place where it will experience the reality of attaining “to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).