Last month I attended the Pastor’s School of Discipleship at First Bible Baptist Church in Rochester, New York. The Bible-centered philosophy that Pastor Grace, Dr. Brado and the rest of the staff shared was transformational in my life and I believe it will have an eternal impact not only on my ministry in Italy but also in my home as well.
The value that our Lord placed on discipleship can be seen in even a cursory examination of His earthly ministry. The Lord Jesus invested in twelve men. He devoted His time to teaching and training them that they might in turn reach others and ultimately reach the world. If we disciple those we evangelize, grounding them in the truth of God’s word and solidifying them in their walk, then we can build a ministry that does not end with us and that has a global impact for the kingdom of God. If a person is discipled correctly then they won’t be guilted into carrying out their faith, it will be a natural outpouring of their heart.
This discipleship philosophy is the heartbeat of First Bible. A story was told to me at the conference by a member of the church about how Pastor Grace introduced discipleship to the congregation. He had spent some time training leadership before he brought it publicly before the church. He didn’t announce discipleship as a new program that was being instituted; instead, he announced that every member needed to be in attendance for an important Sunday evening service. The anticipation grew as the date approached and the event was continued to be built up. That evening when people entered the church they were given a piece of paper and a pencil. Pastor Grace stood before them and began to administer a surprise quiz. They were asked to write down five verses that proved the deity of Christ, then a verse that proved baptism is by immersion, then three verses that proved the trinity, and so on through fifteen questions. Less and less people were writing as questions were asked. Pastor Grace then asked why no one was writing and then appeared to be agitated that no one knew the answers. He exclaimed, “You don’t know the Bible in a Bible-believing church? Who are you going to point the finger at? Do you know whose fault it is that you don’t know the word of God?” The silence was deafening. He then answered, “It’s mine as your pastor. Today it’s my fault but a year from now you’ll have no one else to blame for not knowing the Bible but yourself.” And so began the discipleship ministry of First Bible. This church in its forty-plus year history has started over 30 churches between Syracuse and Buffalo and has sent out over 160 families into the work of the ministry… a testimony to the importance of biblical discipleship.
Discipleship is an attitude of investing in people, it is not another church program that you show up for and then leave. It must be a philosophy, the center of the church, and not a temporary program. Discipleship is a way of life, not just a series of lessons. It provides incentive for holy living and when holiness is instilled in your disciple and practiced it will yield benefits that are not able to be calculated. First Bible has formalized several discipleship methods in order to get people rooted in the truth…
Life-on-life (or one-on-one) discipleship is the most important investment we can make in the life of a believer. It is an opportunity for a new convert or a Christian that has never matured spiritually to be established in the word of God. First Bible has created 18 Bible lessons to be used in life-on-life discipleship. The discipler-disciple (student-teacher) meet once a week and review the lessons, fellowship, pray, etc. It is a means of systematically teaching the basics of the word of God.
Another discipleship method is in group settings within the home. First Bible offers home Bible studies each Friday from September through May. Twelve trained teachers are chosen to lead these studies from the Bible. It is never a lesson from the latest Christian book… the emphasis is always on learning the word of God using the Bible as the textbook. This is an opportunity to keep people accountable as well as a means of developing leaders as they are built up from an understanding of the Scriptures.
One other Bible teaching tool we learned was called the Big Picture Bible Study. This can either be used in a home Bible study or Sunday School class, etc. The purpose is to teach Christians the basic structure and chronology of the Old and New Testaments incorporating Bible maps into the teaching. For instance, in the Old Testament Big Picture study, twelve major events that occur in the Old Testament are covered, one event each week. This helps the disciple understand how the Bible is put together and lays a great foundation to build upon for further study.
It is our responsibility as Christians to teach others the Bible in such a way that they are confident in their knowledge of the word of God and are able to teach others also. The Pastor’s School of Discipleship stressed the importance of the Bible and the need for discipleship. First Bible has organized discipleship to give it some form and a more intentional way of accomplishing the goal which should be common to every ministry… to help one another become like Christ.
When people learn that I’m a missionary to Italy they often express dolefully how difficult it will be to get something established there. I usually hear something like, “You can pretty much plan on a small work.” I had already determined to be faithful in what God has called me to do regardless of perceived “results” but the Pastor’s School of Discipleship gave me a refreshing new outlook… the focus is not about making a big splash in “ministry”, it’s about people and investing in individuals. In a country of nearly 60 million people I’m praying God gives me at least one soul each year who is seeking truth in whom I can invest my life and that he in turn will invest himself in others. I realize there will be failures along the way but if just one soul is reached each year and is stablished in the faith in order to reach another then in just 10 years there would be over 1,000 people saved. In 15 years, this number would grow to be over 32,000 souls if each one reached one every year. I can’t guarantee these results but I do have a guaranteed commission and it’s my responsibility as a Christian to pour my life into others in order to reach a lost and dying world. It might be a slow start but with the tools of discipleship I learned at First Bible and the principle of multiplication on my side, I am excited about what God has in store for Italy and expect great things to be accomplished for the kingdom.
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2