Without a vision for active participation in the life of the local church, this is a Scriptural lack in the disciple’s vision. The church is a God-established gathering center for believers as collective members of His family. This goes beyond being simply a separated or individualized member of the general or “universal church,” made up of believers from each century of “the church age.” New Testament churches received the epistles (letters of the apostles), not varied organizations or ministries which did not even exist then.
The situation today has developed a great deal, to include Sunday School and youth classes, adult Bible classes, and varied other ministries. The local church can be truly a discipling center. It can have a New Believer’s class, small group fellowships, visitation, evangelism training, caring ministry, and “core groups” for committed young teenagers, single adults, and couples.
The local church is the principal unit of God’s people on earth. It is the God-ordained gathering center of the believers in any locality where it exists. It is the place where believers are to be shepherded, fed, guarded, and developed, and where they worship together. It is the pillar and ground of truth (I Tim. 3:15). Church revitalization is of major importance in the progress of the Gospel. No true disciple should ignore the importance of the church or fail to be functioning as a part. We are not to forsake assembling ourselves together as a company (Heb. 10:25).
The word church is a very poor translation of the word
ekklesia, which means a “called out company.” It is better translated as assembly or congregation. It is an ordinary word used in the Bible to describe a heathen mob at Ephesus (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). It is also used in connection with the wandering Israelites in the wilderness (Act 7:38). It becomes definitive when applied to Christians.
The word for church or assembly is used in a local sense. New Testament letters are addressed to believers gathered in localities such as Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, and Philippi. They are called “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16), “churches of God” (I Cor. 11:16), and “churches of the saints” (I Cor. 14:33). The word is also used in describing the totality of all believers gathered to Christ, among all nations, in all ages, as one Spiritual body. This is sometimes called the Universal Church. It is called “the Body of Christ.” The church of Christ is “one Body” (Eph. 4:4), and believers became a part by being born again and incorporated into it by the baptism of the Spirit, starting at Pentecost (Acts 2). The church of Christ contains both Jews and Gentiles, without distinction, a departure from the history of Israel. It was a mystery until fully revealed in the New Testament (Eph. 2:11-22, 3:3-6).
The church has a very high standing in the eyes of God, regardless of weaknesses on earth. We are seen as “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3-4), united with the Lord Jesus (Rom. 6:5; Eph. 5:23-32), a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle. It is valuable because Jesus purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The Lord loves His church (Eph. 5:25).
Early believers were added to the church and baptized when saved (Acts 2:41). They continued there in the apostles “teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer” (Acts 2:42). Titus and I Timothy prescribe its governmental form, and I Corinthians supplies details of discipline and function. The church was the ministry center (Acts 12:24, 16:5), training center, and church multiplication center (Col. 1:28-29; Acts 13).
The church should be a work-center for active believers, not a warehouse for sermon listeners merely sitting in pews or chairs. Believers must be converted from spectators to ministers and encouraged to use their spiritual gifts within the local body of Christ (I Cor. 14). They must learn to depend upon Christ and His Spirit, not on heard knowledge with little more than mental agreement. Over-dependence on the pastor-hired staff or elders for all major functions is not the pattern of the New Testament. The increase of pastors and workers suffering what is called “burn out” is a testimony to an unhealthy situation. The church should be a functioning unity of all its members, not a hierarchy of “clergy and laity.”
Growth by disciple-making and team function may be hindered by several factors.
1. Being paralyzed, or polarized, by existing leaders unwilling to change or “move-on.” These sometimes dictate the lifestyle of the church.
2. Having too many believers who are falsely motivated, emotionally controlled, or manipulated by others, especially by fleshly (carnal) Christians.
3. Being polarized by divisions, often on secondary issues, leading to constant internal strife, which is not of the Spirit. Those seeking control, prominence, and agreement with their spiritual viewpoint (masked by scripture quoting) contribute to this atmosphere.
4. Inability or fear of offending, preventing the resolution of problems and divisions so you can “move” to primary responsibilities. This may necessitate separating contributors to this situation from the fellowship.
Discipling Ministries in the Local Church
A new believer’s class is important for any church. This also can minister to “Inquirers” and those needing Biblical “basics.” Use small classes (12-15) with interaction to meet the special needs of newly committed Christians (discussion groups with a trained discussion leader). One method is to have 7-13 weekly, one-hour sessions during the Sunday school hour (generally).
1. Give the Scriptural basis of salvation. Have them memorize them.
2. Assurance of salvation.
3. Assurance of answered prayer.
4. Assurance of victory over sin.
5. Assurance of forgiveness of sin.
6. Biblical review of responsibilities of members in normal church life.
All graduates are then encouraged to attend further adult Bible classes on Sunday.
Small group fellowships within church function can help discipling.
To build Christ-like qualities into each member (II Tim. 3:16-17).
1. Mixture of ages, maturity, background, singles, etc.
2. Husband and wife involvement as members.
3. Husband and wife involvement as leaders.
Have them personally study approximately 2 hours each week, plus occasional informal and recreational times together.
1. Bible discussion – together weekly.
2. Share joys and concerns.
3. Give outreach training and orientation.
• Low key.
• Equipping for opportunities.
4. Prayer – conversational, audible.
1. 12 optimum size; 6-8 even better.
2. Selected from volunteers and discovery class graduates.
It is important to develop effective evangelism leadership for the church and to systematically evangelize everyone in the church’s sphere of influence (visitors, inactives, parents of Sunday school children, etc.).
Weekly three-hour training class:
a. 13 weeks as a trainee.
b. 13 weeks as a trainer.
2. Presenting Christ to those without clear testimony of conversion (prepare and use your own testimony).
3. Assisting pastoring believers within the church or visiting others.
4. Scripture memory (beginning with evangelistic verses then others that may be needed).
Disciple should consider participation in some form of ongoing caring ministry for the disciple. This is to help minister to the practical needs of people in church and community. Caring is evidence of the believer’s love for God and man. People with needs are everywhere. God designed the church to function as a ministering body with varied abilities to meet varied needs (elderly, widows, handicapped, needy).
1. Identify, within your church and community, practical, unmet needs which people are not able to meet themselves.
2. Establish a system to bring together those with abilities and those with needs.
3. Select a person to coordinate the system. The coordinator puts the system into action as needs come in.
4. Encourage widespread participation of church members.