Updated: May 25
Where are We Going?:
One's destination almost certainly dictates the path by which one is to travel. Within the scope of discipleship, understanding the destination will pay dividends toward mapping out a cogent pathway; especially if true biblical discipleship is to take place. As a young pastor serving within an indigenous congregation, I understood the necessity of discipleship. However, I did not comprehend—with full conviction— the end point to where discipleship was to terminate. After 10 years of ministry, and by God's sovereign grace, I had come to understand that the end goal of local church discipleship was first and foremost conformity into the image of Christ; that is, before the foundations of the world God has "predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29; cf. 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, biblical discipleship in the local church. These points are not restricted to youth ministry, but rather are overarching principles tied to the biblical fabric of the life of the church.
1. Gospel Centrality. If we, the church, are to have any power in bringing forth transformation, it must be done through the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Rom. 1:16-17). 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, then, this Gospel we proclaim is a Trinitarian Gospel; wherever Christ is proclaimed His Spirit brings forth understanding (illumination) to the glory, fame, and praise of the Father. To this end, 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; meaning, it is a faith that is dynamic, life-pursuing, and alive. No one graduates from the Gospel, but rather the Gospel is the air that sustains the Christian life.
This faith is a regenerative faith as well as a sanctifying faith; meaning, it is a faith that is dynamic, life-pursuing, and alive. No one graduates from the Gospel, but rather the Gospel is the air that sustains the Christian life.
In addition, 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 of the biblical storyline points to 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, then, is the central aim which empowers and motivates effective discipleship.
2. Biblical Truth & Doctrine. The biblical text is the primary vehicle forged through the power of the Spirit—its author—to renew His people "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 upon the Word, because it is through the Word that the Spirit awakens dead and sloth-filled hearts to see and savor our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
Consequently, doctrine serves at least two purposes: (1) it links us to the historical church and conveys how the saints have sought to think and communicate biblical truths about the things of God, and (2) it synthesizes from a biblical theological as well as a systematic standpoint the bible's composition of theological thought (ex. Doctrine of God, Doctrine of Christ, Doctrine of Sin, ect.). This, then, serves to assist God's people to have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). Or said another way, doctrine formulates helpful categories in the life of a believers in order to think critically about faith, life, and evangelism.
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 transferring information for the sake of sheer cognitive growth. Rather, discipleship is a life lived in order to share the joy of Christ. These discipling relationships should reflect, then, genuine accountability, transparency, brotherly/sisterly affection, and encouragement. Both the positive and (so-called) negative sides of good authentic relationship should encompass these encounters; that is, hard conversations should not be foreign to a discipling relationship. As 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). Constructive conversations should mark discipling relationship with the Scriptures as their ultimate standard.
Discipleship is not merely transferring information for the sake of sheer cognitive growth. Rather, discipleship is a life lived in order to share the joy of Christ.
In addition, life should be lived together in such a way as to enjoy each other's company. Meaning, the covenant community of saints should live amid one another as to bring forth life, vitality, and joy. As much as the church is to value the studying of His Word, the Word should produce in His children an organic affection that is personified in joyful obedience to the glory of His Name. That is to say, fellowship with the saints should give life to the believer (cf. Acts 2:42; 4:32-37).
4. Prayer. Prayer is a tool in the mighty hands of God to shape His children into His image. Prayer is a vehicle used to align the saints toward God's creative intent (Jn. 15:7-9). Prayer, then, 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 upon the Creator God. Prayer is a response to God's work in our life. Prayer is an avenue to communicate with the covenantal God Himself. Prayer, in turn, should be engulfed in thanksgiving.
To this end, prayer is not a means to twist the arm of God (as though we could), but rather it is the pathway by which God uses to submit His children's hearts and minds toward 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 the Creator God who re-creates by His Word through the Spirit.
5. Modeling a Christ Centered Life. Again, discipleship is not merely a transferring of information, but a lifestyle that is to be observed and modeled. The Apostle Paul charges the church 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). In saying this, biblical teaching must be put on display—it must be dramatized—for disciples to see the natural flow of doctrine in the theatre called 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 observed is not necessarily the "good" found within the discipler's life. Rather, it is the warts and wrinkles that marks a saint who is in process of being sanctified. This authentic access into the life of a believer will showcase the transforming power of the Gospel. Or, will reinforce the centrality of Christ rather than the discipler themselves. To this end, 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). The Gospel is not to be merely conceptualized. It is to be put on display!
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 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 disciple-makers who make 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 disciple-makers who make 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. It is something we must joyfully do, and it is something we must propel and train other believers to do.
7. Covenantal Community. The work of discipleship is to operate in the organic structure of life, yes, but is also to be lived under the oversight and support of the covenant community. The Christian life is meant to be lived together communally as well as individually for the sake of Christ. Discipleship that is void of local church commitment is discipleship that is weaned from Spirit-filled resources, i.e., the means of grace. That is, God has given us the church, the ordinances (baptism and the Lord's table) as a means to strengthen and nourish our spiritual lives. To neglect these means is to neglect the fuel that is meant to propel one toward faithfulness.
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 what seems to be hopelessness while failures turn into victories. You will see the hand of God touch hearts by bringing forth reconciliation and inner peace to lives that were drowning in bitterness and closure. You will see the glory of God shine forth in the midst of darkness as the light of the Gospel awakens minds 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.