Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Where are We Going?:
One's destination almost certainly dictates the path to which one travels. Within the scope of discipleship, understanding the destination will pay dividends toward mapping out the pathway in which one is to embark if true biblical discipleship is to take place. As a young pastor launching into youth ministry I understood the necessity of discipleship, but I did not embody, with full conviction, a clear grasp on the final end point of where I was to point the students under my pastoral care. After 10 years of ministry, and by God's sovereign grace, I have come to understand the end goal of local church discipleship—Christ conformity. Before the foundations of the world God has "predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29; cff. Col. 3:10).
The seven (7) pillars provided below are not meant to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but they are—in my mind—foundational to the pursuit of faithful discipleship in the local church. These points are by no means restricted toward youth ministry, but rather are overarching principles tied to the biblical fabric of the church life.
1. Gospel Centrality. If we, the church, are to have any power in bringing forth transformation and hope to a broken world, it must be done through the proclamation of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul clearly states, "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16, italics mine). Let us not be mistaken that this Gospel we proclaim is a Trinitarian Gospel; where Christ is proclaimed the Spirit brings forth understanding (illumination) to the glory, fame, and praise of the Father. Paul goes on the state, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). This faith is a regenerative faith as well as a sanctifying faith. No one graduates from the Gospel, but rather the Gospel is the air that we breathe within the Christian life.
This faith is a regenerative faith as well as a sanctifying faith. No one graduates from the Gospel, but rather the Gospel is the air that we breathe within the Christian life.
The biblical witness clearly notes that the Person of Christ is the central figure within redemptive history. Christ Himself communicates how the Scriptures speak of Him (Jn 5:39). The climatic figure within the meta-narrative points toward Jesus who is the Christ. "But when the fullness of time had come," according to Paul, "God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5, italics mine). The Gospel is the central aim within effective discipleship.
2. Biblical Truth & Doctrine. Scripture is the primary vehicle used by the Spirit—its author—in renewing us "in the knowledge after the image of its Creator" (Col. 3:10). In Jesus' "High Priestly Prayer" the Savior states, "[sanctify] them in the truth; your Word is truth" (Jn. 17:17, italics mine). In our discipleship endeavors we must weigh heavily on the Word because it is through the Word that the Spirit awakens hearts to see and savor Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
Doctrine serves at least two (2) purposes: (1) it links us to the historical church and conveys how the saints have sought to think biblically about the things of God, and (2) it synthesizes from a biblical theological as well as a systematic standpoint the biblical composition of theological thought (ex. Doctrine of God, Doctrine of Christ, Doctrine of Sin, ect.).
3. Genuine Personal Relationships. In God's triune nature He has created humanity in His image (Gen. 1:28). Therefore, relationships are an essential component to authentic discipleship. Discipleship is not merely a passing on of information, but rather a life lived in order to share the joy of Christ. These discipling relationships should reflect genuine accountability, transparency, brotherly/sisterly love, and encouragement. Both the affectionate and difficult side of good authentic relationship should encompass these encounters. Paul writes, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, italics mine).
Discipleship is not merely a passing on of information, but rather a life lived in order to share the joy of Christ.
4. Prayer. Prayer is another tool in the hands of God that shapes His children into His image. Prayer is a vehicle used to align the saints to God's creative intent (Jn. 15:7-9). Prayer must be central in the life of discipleship in order to engage in authentic transformation: illumination, sanctification, etc. Prayer should be seen as a privilege. Prayer communicates a dependence on God. Prayer is a response to God's work in our life. Prayer is the avenue to communicate with God. Prayer should be engulfed with thanksgiving.
Prayer is not a means to twist the arm of God, but rather is the pathway to which God uses to submit hearts and minds to His good, acceptable, and pleasing will (Rom. 12:2). Prayer within the realm of discipleship showcases that the Christian life is not dependent upon the self, or rather the discipler, but upon God who re-creates through His Word by His Spirit.
5. Modeling a Christ Centered Life. Discipleship is not merely the transfer of information, but a lifestyle that is to be observed and modeled. The Apostle Paul charged the churches to "[be] imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). Much of the discipling process is caught not necessarily taught. The emphasis upon discipleship is rightly centered upon the logos (content) and the pathos (passion), but what becomes neglected is the ethos (ethic). Biblical teaching, then, must be put on display for disciples to see the natural flow of doctrine in the drama of life.
Simply put, biblical discipleship is the sharing of life for the sake of the glory of God. This may mean that much of what is to be observed is not necessarily the "good" found within the discipler's life but rather the warts and wrinkles that mark a saint who is in the process of sanctification. This authentic access into the life of a believer will showcase the transforming power of the Gospel. Paul rightly articulates, "[you], however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconic, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me" (2 Tim. 3:10-11).
6. A Perpetual Mandate. The initial mandate for humanity was to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28). As image bearers God called His people to cover the face of the earth with the image and glory of God. Sin entered into the tapestry of creation and shattered shalom as well as scaring the image of God within humanity. Christ has re-created humanity through His work and Person on the cross and has given the church the mandate to "[go] therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19).
The aim of discipleship in the local church is not to merely engage in the act of disciple-making but rather to be a disciple-maker who makes disciple-makers who make disciple-makers.
The aim of discipleship in the local church is not to merely engage in the act of disciple-making but rather to be a disciple-maker who makes disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. This is not a programmatic strategy, but rather the biblical mandate grounded within God's creative intent (Gen. 1:28; Gen. 12:1-3; Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Discipleship is spreading the joy of Christ throughout the world through a life lived in total abandonment for the Glory of God in the face of Christ.
7. Covenantal Community. The work of discipleship is to operate in the organic structure of life, yes, but is also to be under the oversight and support of the covenant community. The Christian life is meant to be lived together communally as well as individual for the sake of Christ. Discipleship that is void of local church commitment is discipleship that is weened from Spirit-filled resources.
Soli Deo Gloria:
The engagement of discipleship is not glamorous, flashy, nor prestigious in any sense of the definition. It can be tedious from the sense that you will be dealing with a great deal of hurt, pain, and brokenness. It will be a natural grind because the sin nature is real and the flesh aspires desperately against the work of the Spirit. Discipleship will be sacrificial because you will have to give yourself fully to the task at hand; discipleship cannot be done faithfully by going through the motions. Discipleship will be costly because the investment is of eternal value.
But discipleship is rewarding. You will witness the Lord work miracles in opening eyes to see His majesty. You will be apart of God's redemptive plan in proclaiming to dead hearts the life giving message of Jesus Christ. You will observe the faithfulness of God in the wake of hopelessness in restoring lives while failures turn into victories. You will see the hand of God touch hearts by bringing forth reconciliation and inner peace to hearts that were embittered and closed. You will see the glory of God shine forth in the midst of darkness as lives are awakened to a new sense of purpose and aim.
The task of discipleship is a daunting task. Yet the Lord did not leave us to our own faculties to fulfill this God-given mandate.
The task of discipleship is a daunting task. Yet the Lord did not leave us to our own faculties to fulfill this God-given mandate. He has empowered us by His Spirit (Rom. 8:11) to go in faith and to strive through these endeavors by His strength (Col. 1:29). May we stand with the Apostle Paul and say, "[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me" (Col. 1:28-29, italics mine).
McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
He is the husband to Debbie Yang and the father to McCayden (11), McCoy (10), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (4). He is one of the Teaching Pastors at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN which was planted in early 2020. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO where he hopes to obtain his PhD in Systematic Theology. His ambition is to use his training and platform as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens. McYoung enjoys reading/writing, sports, and playing with his children.