When we look at the church and discipleship, the two categories are dependent upon one another. Without healthy discipleship occurring creating healthy disciples, you can’t have a healthy church. If you have unhealthy disciples, they will naturally create an unhealthy church environment. However, a church without a focus on creating healthy disciples, will only perpetuate the cycle of making the church even more unhealthy. On a practical level, it is necessary to explore the role disciples have in the church as well as how the church affects individual disciples.
DISCIPLESHIP AS IT EFFECTS THE CHURCH
When first exploring discipleship, it is necessary to recognize each individual is part of the body of Christ. This takes place both on a world wide and timeless level and also in local churches. In relation to the practical aspects of discipleship, the most impact will be made on an local church level, and in this role, “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.” This is crucial to understand since the church can only function as God designed it to when individuals are using their spiritual gifts for the equipping of the saints. This is manifest through God being involved in the local church through the body of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this by saying, “The Holy Spirit becomes visibly present in the fact that everything is done for the benefit of the church-community. Apostles, prophets, teachers, overseers (bishops), deacons, elders, presiding officers, and leaders are all servants of the church-community, the body of Christ.”
HOW INDIVIDUALS IN THE CHURCH EFFECT DISCIPLESHIP
One of the most important individuals is the pastor of the church or the leader of the disciples. Since most discipleship happens in the context of the local church, it is important for the leaders to establish the identity of the church. The pastor sets the tone, and if a pastor shares their struggles, their failures, and their successes, the rest of the church will tend to as well. The lead pastor must disciple some, and then those are disciple by the pastor can go out and make more disciples. The pastor must also encourage the growth of small groups for it is in the intimacy of a small group that true discipleship occurs.
One of the biggest problems disciple makers must face is being authentic with those they are leading. There can be no pretense of perfection or cliques. When these arise, “if a person was struggling or having trouble, then he felt like a failure. No one wanted to attend a meeting where they left feeling worse about their problems. So these churches had developed a system in which people most in need of the prayers and encouragement of others wouldn’t come to the groups intended to help them.” This is true of small groups, Sunday morning worship services, and any other time the church comes together. People need to be included and need to know they are wanted no matter where they are in life.
Furthermore, While the body of Christ is made up of individuals, and led by individuals, they all act in concert with each other for equipping of the saints. Having already talked about how individuals need to not put on pretenses, it is vital the church as a whole does not either. “The biblical model for church community is an authentic and healthy transparency that repeatedly points people back to the gospel. It is never healthy to try covering sin or hiding it away.” This needs to be a key part of any church because when we hide sin, it festers like a disease. Just like with infections, it is best to have sin in the open where it can be dealt with and cleaned up and surgically removed when necessary. But more important for Christians is to build up and encourage one another to be more like Christ.
HOW THE CHURCH EFFECTS DISCIPLESHIP
While individuals are important in the overall picture of the church, it is also important to recognize that without the church, disciples can’t be spiritually healthy. Churches need to provide places for disciples to be made, trained and exercise their gifts. This means the disciples need places to practice their spiritual gifts so they can grow as well. One of the most common ways this is done is providing small groups that are led by the congregation, but overseen by disciple makers (pastors usually). “A leader’s job is to guide and equip the saints so that the entire church becomes a mature community in which disciples flourish. It involves releasing the ministry and gifts of all believers. Its about creating a place where everybody learns to be a minister by growing, serving, and making disciples themselves.” It is within the context of the local church where disciples grow and learn to become better utilize what God has given them and fulfill what God calls them to do to grow more and more towards spiritual maturity.
STEPS TOWARD SPIRITUAL HEALTH
When looking at my own ministry context, there are a few things for me to implement more in my own life. First of all, I have to continue working with friends to create more growth and encouraging them to use their spiritual gifts in other areas as well. This will take place primarily within the contest of the small group my wife and I lead. Some of the hard part of this is that the small group we lead have people from multiple churches. So it is important to equip those who attend to take what they learn back to their own church and use it there. However, there is no oversight on my end except what we get back from them.
The next area that I’ll be incorporating this into is with regards to the youth I teach in the high school as well. The course I teach is a worldview class and is very specific toward implementing a Christian worldview in their everyday lives. In this context, I will continue to teach them and speak into their lives, but I will be focused more on how they implement what they learn and how they take it back to their churches. Encouraging them to seek areas they can use their spiritual gifts, and speak into the lives of those God brings to them.
It is important to know the church and discipleship are two things, which cannot be separated. Without discipleship, the church is just people meeting together with no real purpose. Furthermore, without discipleship, the church doesn’t grow, and just stagnates. Without the church, the disciples won’t have a place to grow and mature. It is important to have both since they are in a symbiotic relationship.
 Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010, 43.Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010, 43.
 Boenhoffer, Deitrich, Discipleship, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003, 230-231.
 Putnam, Jim et al, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Dsiciples, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, 104.
 Putnam, Jim et al, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Dsiciples, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, 114.