The Six Stages of Discipleship

This article is addressed to pastoral leaders and members of covenant Christian communities. The spiritual principles and practical wisdom given here can be beneficial to Christians in general who seek growth in discipleship. – ed.

Introduction

When a new disciple gives his or her life to Christ, there are several stages, areas, or questions to consider. In this article I will touch on some of those questions. Each stage or area can generate its own article or even books! Again, this discussion assumes a person has embraced or is seeking after a life of discipleship. We can consider a few passages from Scripture that help us to know more or to answer the questions.

What is the New Way of Life for a Christian?

 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10b 

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

Romans 12:2  

Jesus says, “I am the way” so we know that it will be different and that it will come through Jesus. The roles of men and women will be different than they are in the world. For example, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 5:21 – 6:4 gives us a lot of instruction about family roles and order, yet many Christians today adopt the world’s model of family life. 

The teachings of Jesus and the apostles will reveal much to us about this new way of life. Christian morality will be different. We can receive pastoral care from Christian leaders who get to know us and care for us. We will be praying for and with each other and that will be different – the world has mostly adopted an individualistic, autonomous approach.  

What does the Corporate Christian Life Look Like for the New Disciple? What Do his or her Relationships Look Like?

I am the Life.

John 14:6

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

1 Corinthians 13:1

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

John 13:34  

We will be caring for each other in a familial way. In fact, Scripture says that we are brothers and sisters! We have all experienced some of that in parish/congregational life. In the Sword of the Spirit network of communities we also develop covenant relationships where we decide to stay together long-term.

How Does a Christian Worship? (and with Whom?)

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

Luke 11: 1-13  

What an important question! Maybe it should have been first in this list (the list is not prioritized). I am always inspired by the story of the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). Peter preached; they were baptized in the Spirit; they spoke in tongues and were praising God.” They immediately knew how to worship… so the Holy Spirit is a big part of the answer to this question. 

It is a big question and there is much that can be discussed or discovered. There is corporate worship. Married couples pray together. There is “sacramental” worship. There is denominational worship. And there is charismatic worship (the Sword of the Spirit has a course called Our Charismatic Spirituality). 

It is one of the first questions to ask: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

How Does a Christian Approach Service in the Body of Christ?

“Count others better than yourself.”

Philippians 2:3

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Romans 12:6-8  

Service can take many expressions both inside the body of Christ and beyond to our world of many needs. Within our Christian groups, communities, parishes, and congregations there are many opportunities to serve the Lord.

Wherever we serve, however we serve, our Christian mindset and attitude can make a huge difference: We serve with humility and patience as we “count others better.”

How Does a Christian Approach Mission? 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

Matthew 28:19-20 

In Matthew 28, we are given an over-arching picture of the call to mission: whether serving in a soup-line or setting up chairs, we are all called to actively contribute in the work of raising up disciples who are taught and trained in the ways of Jesus. Our service, our mission all focus on growing the eternal family of God.

Why? Our Heavenly Father Wants a Family!

What Do I Need to Know About the Bible and Christian Doctrine?

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints, and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is 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 Timothy 3:16-17

We need to know the Word of God, especially the New Testament, for at least two reasons: 1) We grow as we study, understand, and live his word; and 2) we have enemies who would lead us astray from knowing and following God’s plan for our lives. 

Two thousand years of Christian understanding of God’s word has created an orthodoxy that protects, renews, and transforms the disciple in the mindset and character of Christ. 

Orthodoxy is under assault today by modern constructs which are opposed to God and his commandments – Christ’s disciples are substantially protected by being steeped in the Word of God. 

Conclusion(s)

We have touched on six significant areas for a disciple. Each area deserves in-depth study, and they are identified for further investigation and understanding. Looking at them as a snapshot, one can make a few additional observations:

  1. It is fairly easy to find someone to join with you in one or two of these elements. You can usually find someone willing to study the Bible with you, or to pray with you in times of need, or even to march with you in a pro-life rally. 
  2. Groups, even denominations may focus heavily on one of these areas. I know of a church that focused solely on worship. Great worship, some basic repetitive preaching – but no training, no small groups, no mission, no biblical way of life, no corporate life… primarily worship. While their times of worship were great, their membership proved transient. One of the lessons that I learned as a prayer meeting leader is the tendency for people to attend for a while and then move on. We worshiped together, but no relationships formed that were strong enough to support stable membership. When I then left to begin building Christian community, I returned after few weeks as a guest speaker. I was taken aback by how much the group had changed in a few months.
  3. Most of us have experienced human relationships outside of our families – high school, college, neighborhood, career/work relationships, etc. Most of those relationships served for time of life. They often faded quickly when the activity or function ended. 
  4. It is quite a gift to find a group that develops all of these, or nearly all these areas, especially if it includes covenant relationships. The Sword of the Spirit international network of covenant communities is such a group.

My personal testimony starts with faith in Christ and continues with membership in a Christian body which embraces a biblical way of life. One net result of my being in such a group for forty-eight years is that I have many life-long relationships – people that I have served with, grown with, done mission with, and learned with. We have been to retreats and conferences together, had Lord’s Day celebrations together, camped together and prayed together. 

Those life-long relationships are to me a gift of the Spirit and I pray that more and more Christians will be blessed in this way!

 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
    running down upon the beard,
upon the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life for evermore.

Psalm 133

In the New Testament, we see the blessing of Pentecost leading to unity in the early church. Often, we hear of the search for the “blessing” of Pentecost or a renewal of the baptism in the Spirit. The blessing we often search for is ushered in by the “brothers and sisters dwelling in unity.” So, the Pentecost experience and Psalm 133 are linked. Pentecostal experience is meant to lead to life together in Christian community and the ultimate blessing is “life for evermore!”


Top image: Graphic illustration of disciples from various nations following Christ by © by Rachel Chung

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