The Value of Church-Based Discipleship

In her new book, Building a Church Counseling Ministry, biblical counselor and trainer Sue Nicewander gives 6 reasons intentional church-based discipleship is God’s intentional plan for reproducing obedient disciples of Christ. She writes, “Although we will use the terms ‘discipler,’ ‘disciple-maker’ or ‘biblical counselor’ here, the terms ‘soul-care provider’ or ‘mentor’ are also appropriate to describe a person who disciples others. A mentor or disciple-maker cares about people, conveys wisdom and skill, corrects error, and provides fellowship and relationship. Every church should deliberately develop mentoring skills in its people. But why exert such effort when (as most church members believe) the pastor has been hired to do that work? Or why not send people to counseling centers outside the church?

The Bible presents discipleship as a norm for the church. For three years after his conversion, the apostle Paul (formerly Saul the Pharisee) was individually discipled by Ananias, followed by Barnabas, Peter and others (Acts 9:15-19; Gal 1:13-14). As a high-ranking Pharisee, Saul had an impressive educational background and knew the Old Testament Scriptures well (Phil 3:5). But, like many churchgoers today, he did not know how to rightly interpret and apply what he had learned about the Scriptures….The same principles hold true today. Untaught people come into the local church with broken lives built upon false ideas about God, themselves, and others, and about the purpose of suffering. They need to learn the truth and how it applies to their lives. The local church is best equipped to do that work through the ministry of the Word of God.

Involvement in discipleship is not optional. All mature believers—not just the pastor—are required to disciple others….Titus 2 exhorts every believer to reach out—old and young, male and female, from all walks of life—to share the gospel and to teach individuals who are spiritually younger than themselves. In other words, the Bible calls for the whole church to be involved. Each person is to receive scriptural teaching and share what he or she has received.

Biblical discipleship leads people to consider the well-being of others rather than to live for self. In specific ways, God commands believers to care for one another. Christ is emulated through the practice of sacrificial love, and unity is encouraged in the body. Will we obey?

Biblical discipleship restores broken lives through Christ, and helps people share others’ burdens. The pastor is not the only person called to this work; every mature believer is to evangelize, to forgive, to ask forgiveness, and to gently restore souls. The message of the gospel rings true in that context. The reality of Christ’s ever present grace and power are demonstrated in the process of sanctification.

Biblical discipleship averts false doctrine by teaching people how to understand and apply the truth of Scripture. Truth takes root when an individual’s beliefs are addressed in the context of his or her way of life. A person must learn to accept and apply (not just hear) what the Bible says. In the process, he or she will develop a biblical perspective on the basic questions of life.

Biblical discipleship teaches people how to follow Christ, not just in concept but in close relationship. Dr. Steve Viars says, ‘God meets us where we are, but He doesn’t want us to stay there.’ God’s purpose is to grow believers in His image. People often embrace life-changing scriptural principles through direct instruction that demonstrates the impact of the gospel to real life. Thus they learn to seek Christ, to apply the biblical teaching and preaching they receive in large and small-group settings at church, and thereby to grow in His likeness.

Building a Church Counseling Ministry is an important and valuable contribution to the ongoing development of church-based counseling ministries. To get your copy of Sue’s new book, email Jim at Day One Publications:

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