For many people, both the faithful and the non-believers, the question of what it means to be a Christian is an important one. Non-believers may be seeking something for themselves without knowing or understanding what it is they seek, while those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ may feel that simple faith is not enough to make one a true Christian. In a sense, being a Christian is not something you are, it is something you do. Living the truth of the Lord in everyday life, being a true disciple of Christ; that is ultimately what being Christian means. It is not just the essential activity of Christian ministry to make disciples for Christ; it is the essential activity of all Christians to make disciples for Christ.
In his book Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples Dr. Michael R. Mitchell addresses the concept of making disciples within the context of Christian education. Dr. Mitchell discusses a variety of forms that Christian education can take; it can and does include everything from formal education in schools to the education parents provide for their children in the home to the education that ministries share with their congregations and on individual bases. The details of the context are not the overriding concern; Dr. Mitchell does address the subject of shaping education to suit the venue, but what is most important is that Christian education lives up to its name by being Christ-centered1. In truly Christ-centered education, the creation of disciples will follow as naturally as water flows down a river.
Dr. Mitchell uses the opportunity presented in drafting his book to look at the issue of making disciples, and seeks to explore what that entails. Making disciples is not simply a matter of spreading the Gospel, nor is it simply a matter of leading by example. Making disciples is as much a process as is being a disciple; or, more specifically, it is the result of several processes. Education, spiritual formation, and making disciples are all inextricably linked. Taken together, they form a never-ending example of spiritual growth that spreads through discipleship from one Christian to the next.
Discussions about education, spiritual formation, and making disciples are of primary interest to authors, theologians, and ministries alike. Dr. Mitchell addresses the issue of education in concrete terms, discussing the content, context, and processes of education2. Dr. Mitchell also emphasizes the role of leadership in education, making it clear that education is also not something that just is, but something that leaders do. What makes Christian education so important is that it is the process by which leaders and educators prepare people for discipleship3. Like education, spiritual formation is part of the process of preparing for discipleship4. Simply memorizing the words of Christ from the New Testament are not enough to prepare for discipleship; it is also necessary to develop spiritually, to become spiritually mature, in order to bring the words of the Lord alive in discipleship.
Dallas Willard succinctly describes spiritual transformation as “the renovation of the human heart”5. Willard further elucidates spiritual transformation as “the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite ‘form’ or character”6. Spiritual formation is not, however, an inherently positive process. Willard notes that “terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of spiritual transformation”7.What is important to understand when discussing spiritual transformation, then, is the significant role played by Christian educators, be they parents or school teachers or ministers or friends; they are responsible for offering the information and the leadership necessary to guide people towards a spiritual transformation that makes them disciples of Christ8.
When examining the issues of education, spiritual transformation and making disciples, then, is that they are all inextricably linked. In one sense it is possible to see a straight line from Christ-centered education through spiritual transformation to the making of a disciple. But simply providing Christ-centered education will not necessarily lead to the creation of a disciple. While it is possible to see the three components of education, spiritual transformation, and making disciples as three points on a straight line, it may be more appropriate to see them as points on a circle, one that not only goes around but that also feeds off into other circles, spinning outward to create more disciples for Christ. Hunt notes that “we need disciple-making teachers”9.These disciple-making teachers though, must not merely be educators; they must also be disciples. That is the only way they will truly help to manifest the spiritual transformation and the creation of disciples in their followers10.
By looking at the three points on this “disciple-making circle,” then, it is possible to see spiritual transformation at the center. All the education in the world will not be enough to make disciples, nor will disciples of Christ be able to make more disciples without the necessary spiritual transformation within each of their followers. It is the personal transformation, the “renovation of the heart,” that makes individuals open to the lessons of education and allows them to become spiritually mature so they too can become disciples of Christ.
The most essential activity of the ministry is, indeed, making disciples for the Lord. If this is not the core activity of a ministry, then it is failing its followers. This does not mean that other, more concrete concerns or activities are less worthy of consideration; rather, it emphasizes how important it is that ministry serves followers by providing what they need to become disciples. Christian educators have a responsibility to promote individuals to pursue the goal of personal spiritual development, just as they have a responsibility to teach the word of God. They also have a responsibility to serve as disciples themselves, in order to meet their followers in the center of the disciple-making circle. The ministry that lives the experience of discipleship, that recognizes that discipleship is something you do, not something you are, is the ministry that truly lives the word of the Lord.
Barna, George. Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ. Colorado Springs, Colo: WaterBrook Press, 2001.
Hunt, Josh. Disciple-Making Teachers. Loveland, Colo: Vital Ministry, 1998.
Mitchell, Michael R. Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples: World-Class Christian Education in the Church, School, and Home. Bloomington, Ind: Crossbooks, 2010.
Morton, Brooks St. Clair. The Great Comission: Making Sense of Making Disciples. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2013.
Free NET Bible and Thousands of Bible Studies | Bible.org – Worlds Largest Bible Study Site. “Towards a Biblical Definition of Spiritual Formation: Romans 12:1-2 | Bible.org – Worlds Largest Bible Study Site.” Accessed June 1, 2013. http://bible.org/seriespage/towards-biblical-definition-spiritual-formation-romans-121-2.
Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2002.