What is church? Why does it exist? This is a crucial question for all believers. The New Testament defines church as a community of believers who have been called out of the world by God and sent into the world as disciples of Christ. The church is God’s people called in Christ (I Corinthians 1:1, 2 Ephesians 2:19). God gave birth to his people (John 1:12-13). The church began with the emergence of those who confessed Jesus Christ as the Son of God after Jesus’ resurrection.
When we define church as the people of God, we realize that church is not represented by just a few pastors but by the laity who must daily live out their faith in the world and engage in spiritual warfare. Thus the laity is the key and the principle body of the church. They belong to the body of Christ and are given specific callings and gifts along with the ministers. The Holy Spirit allocates and mobilizes their gifts for ministry. However, unfortunately, the laity remain dormant in many churches. Much of their potential and energy is being wasted. We need to, once again, awaken and mobilize the laity.
Discipleship can be understood as a biblical and foundational strategy that reconstructs the laity’s self-image to correspond to the biblical essence of the church. Discipleship provides the goal and the standard for training the laity who have been called to go out to the world.
What is it about?
Discipleship training in its broadest sense refers to the process of helping believers to become and live like Christ. The purpose of discipleship training is to ‘attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13).
In other words, the purpose of discipleship training is maturity. The Bible speaks of different stages in spiritual life -- the infant stage and the mature stage. Infants can only take in milk but grown-ups can eat and digest solid food (Hebrews 5:12-14). Spiritually mature refers to those who can distinguish good from evil. We are called to rise above the elementary stage and move on to maturity (Hebrews 6:1-2). Furthermore, we are commanded to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). One who is mature is compared to a tree in Colossians 2:7—“Rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
However, discipleship training in its narrowest sense can be defined as an advanced course designed to raise spiritually healthy and strong lay leaders who can help and serve others.
In this regard, it is helpful to differentiate discipleship training from more elementary courses that are designed to help infants to grow as to be able to eat and digest solid food. Such elementary courses can be referred to as the ‘nurturing stage’. Such nurturing stage requires attentive and tender care that a mother would give to an infant. In this sense, the purpose of nurturing stage is to help those who are new to the faith to reach balanced spiritual maturity. On the other hand, the purpose of discipleship training is to train those who have attained a degree of spiritual maturity and raise them as lay leaders.
Therefore, in order to carry out proper and effective discipleship training, it is important to understand discipleship training as differentiated from the nurturing stage. Otherwise undesirable situations can develop in which those who need nurturing come into discipleship training or discipleship training becomes just another nurturing course. Nurturing is a necessary preparatory stage that a layperson must go through prior to receiving discipleship training. When discipleship training is carried out for those who have not received proper nurturing, discipleship training itself can fall apart.
Equipping the laity to become effective lay leaders to better serve Christ as His disciples
The purpose of discipleship training is a course designed to equip and train the lay members who have attained a degree of spiritual maturity through nurturing stage and raise them up as lay leaders and effective servants of Christ both in and outside the church.
Discipleship training aims at equipping and training the laity to live out their faith in all sects of life, to reach beyond their own spiritual needs and desire, consider the interests of others’, and to embrace and serve the community and the world.
Why Discipleship Training?
The foundation of discipleship training is Matthew 28:18-20. “Then Jesus came to them and said, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The one who commanded to make disciples is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth. We are commanded to make disciples of all nations. Someone who wants to become a disciple must believe and be baptized. Therefore discipleship training must be carried out by the church.
The content of discipleship training is based on Jesus’ teachings. The method of training purports not simply teaching the contents of the Bible but also enabling the trainees to apply what they have learned into practice. One who is a disciple can disciple others. Jesus gave the command to make disciples to his disciples whom He had trained for three years by being with them. It is important to notice why Jesus did not command the disciples to evangelize from the beginning. He focuses on training a handful of disciples for three years. Jesus was training those who would live for the kingdom of God and carry on the work of saving the world. It was not a majority but a minority, not the entire crowd but a few, who truly followed Jesus. Jesus believed that the least will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation (Isaiah 60:22). He knew that those few could lead the majority and conquer the world with the power of the gospel. The strategy was to awaken and mobilize a few to lead the majority. This is the presupposition of Jesus’ discipleship ministry. He was indeed correct! Did not the world change and is changing by the name of Jesus Christ? The mere twelve men trained in the hands of Jesus began to change the world, and many more are rising yet to carry on the work and proclaim the gospel.
For many centuries, the Great Commission has not been fully understood by the church. At most, it was used to promote evangelism. But many young people in various mission organizations and para-church ministries began to challenge the traditional understanding of the Great Commission and explore discipleship training to gain a better understanding. The result has been enormous. Now the task remains for the local church to implement discipleship training. We are merely at the beginning stage.
The reason why AIM is insisting on the vision of discipleship training is primarily for two reasons. First, the church must equip and generate disciples of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). Second, the church cannot effectively proclaim the gospel and win the world without sending out properly equipped and trained disciples of Christ. It is our prayer that there will be a day when all nations will be overflowing with disciples of Christ. What is impossible with man is possible with God, and Christ will be glorified and honored throughout all nations.