Discipleship in Church


When Jesus left his disciples, he never told them to go and build a church, he never told them to make converts. His mission for the disciples was to make more disciples. We see the grouping of disciples being the local church, as the body of Christ, and it is through the Church that disciples grow, but often the church has forgotten this. “It is apparent, even to the casual observer that the interpretation of what the church should be doing is not as clear as one would like to think.”[1] It is important to look at how disciples are made, and what roles all the members of the church have in making disciples. Christians are meant to live in community with each other, and that community is the local Church. The Universal Church is made up of local congregations which are important for the growth of a disciple for it is within a local congregation that pastors and other saints can utilize their spiritual gifts in order to build up the body of Christ.


In the New Testament, we constantly see the Church referred to as a body who’s head is Jesus. The metaphor of a body is incredibly apt and can be seen as an extended metaphor to make up multiple parts of describing the Church. With Jesus as its head, all believers are part of the body of Christ. As soon as a person becomes a believer in Jesus, they are brought into the body of Christ. This applies on an individual level where each believer is brought into the whole of Christendom from the beginning of time, but also applies with the local churches as well. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this more in depth and concludes “The ‘new human being’ is thus at the same time Christ and the church. Christ is the new humanity in the new human being. Christ is the church.”[2] Therefore we can see the body of Christ being made up of individual believers much like human cells. This also translates into local churches where the analogy shifts a bit, but each believer makes up part of the body of the local church. In an ideal world, there would be only one church in each city, but now that there are multiple churches in the same city, believers may only be part of one church while at the same time being part of all churches in their city.

Extending the metaphor of each believer being part of the body of Christ, each believer is to perform a function. Without a properly function member, the body is crippled such as an body without an arm or without an eye is handicapped, the church without the functioning members of the body would also be crippled. The inverse of this is also true, “as the individual believer grows and matures, the body becomes healthier. The more parts of the body that are working ‘properly’ (as He intended), the healthier the body becomes.”[3] To move this into the practical realm, believers need to be exercising their spiritual gifts for the building up of the local church. Members need to be serving in roles such as children’s ministry, bringing food to people who may have a hard time making food such as someone coming out of the hospital, or even hosting other members of the church family in their home for times of fellowship, Bible study, and even just hanging out. The local church needs to be facilitating this growth.


One of the most commonly thought of roles is that of the pastor. In the Bible we see the term elder being used to describe what is commonly attributed to pastors, even though it is not limited to just the one speaking from the pulpit of a church, and ultimately that is not even the most important function a pastor facilitates. While preaching is important, “Jesus didn’t use the methodology of preaching to the crowds as his core means of making disciples, so why should we? One of the obvious factors that limits a weekend service’s effectiveness is that a sermon happens only once a week.”[4]

To better understand what a pastor out to be doing, it is good to look at what the role of a pastor would be prior to its common use here. Many churches use the term pastor to define the role of those in leadership, and while it is apt, I’ve found the more readily understood implication of shepherd to give people a better understanding of what a pastor is to do. They are there to make sure the flocks (the body) was fed, as well as care for the flock. They would guard against thieves, against predators like wolves, and look out for the health of each part of the flock. This involves more than just teaching on a Sunday morning, and in a healthy church, the pastor will be the one who is facilitating small group growth, discipling a group of believers who can one day take over more roles of leadership, and potentially even replace the pastor there or move on to a new congregation. The pastor is the one responsible for the overall health and safety of the local church, and should be working in conjunction with other pastors to facilitate the growth of the church.


While the pastor is responsible for the overall health of the church, it is not the responsibility of the pastor to be everything and do all of the teaching. It is rather the role of everyone in the church to help build up every one. To clarify things, when using the term saints, it is important to realize every believer is a saint. Unlike in certain Christian traditions, all believers are called saints, and it is important every saint realizes the instructions given to saints are for every one who takes the name of Christ. Furthermore, we are relational beings and it is through “our interactions with other people are one of the means God uses to teach us truth. Relationships in the body of Christ are where we learn from others what a mature Christian life looks like.”[5] This gathering of the believers is what is warned against in Hebrews 10:24-25 where we are told to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” Not only are we to meet together on a regular basis, but we are to encourage one another. If you want to ask what toward, it is simply to be more like Christ in our every day life. Which also means we need to incorporate friendships among the body into our daily lives. Lastly, for anyone who many not be familiar, it is through our spiritual gifts whereby we are able to encourage people to live more like Christ.


For some reason the topic of spiritual gifts is one of great controversy due to beliefs about whether or not some gifts have ceased being in the church. While this is an important topic, it is not vital to the discussion at hand since everyone does recognize that spiritual gifts have been given to the church. While there are some differences in what is available, 1 Peter 4:10-11 “makes it clear that every believer has at least one spiritual gift, and we are to use the gift in such a way that God will be glorified.”[6] Specifically, it is through building up and encouraging other believers and bringing people to Jesus where God is glorified.


Ultimately, to build disciples, the Church should be functioning as a single body for the purpose of bringing more people to Christ and discipling those who belong to Jesus. Each person who belongs to Jesus fills a specific role within the body of Christ, and as such needs to be exercising what spiritual gifts they have in that role whether it is as someone who cleans toilets or in the pulpit on Sunday morning. No matter the role, the church needs to function as one to fulfill the commands and instructions given to the church which include both as individuals and as a church providing resources and community to the believers in the area.


Boenhoffer, Deitrich, Discipleship, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003.

Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010.

Putnam, Jim et al, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Dsiciples, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

[1] Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010, 43.

[2] Boenhoffer, Deitrich, Discipleship, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003, 219.

[3] Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010, 43.

[4] Putnam, Jim et al, 116

[5] Putnam, Jim et al, 140.

[6] Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010, 42.

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