Letter to Pastors and Leaders


Adding the Disciple Paradigm Back in with the New Creation          

Is there a search going on?

As pastors and leaders, we understand we must be about our Father’s business: making disciples. Less understood is the Scriptural definition given by Jesus: What is a disciple?

Two former staff pastors of a church of 10’s of thousands shared the following: in various team discussions the staff attempted to define a disciple and was unable to come up with an answer.

How do those that profess Christ self-identify?

Churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike today self-describe using the word Christian, and readily provide a variety of definitions. Even though the word Christian is a legitimate term in Scripture, and will continue to be used, it was coined by those outside the church, isn’t well defined in Scripture, and was used only three times in the New Testament (two of the three times by outsiders).

By contrast, the word disciple is used 300 times in the New Testament and is the primary term in the Gospels and Acts for describing Jesus’ followers. The term disciple is not generally used today when people self-identify, so it’s possible we’re not clarifying the following core values.

The three core (defining) values

Jesus called his followers disciples and gave us his expectations in the form of three core values:

  • abide John 8:30-32 As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
  • love John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
  • serve John 15:8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

There exist two broad paradigms of a New Testament Christ-follower

  • PARADIGM ONE, THE EVENT PARADIGM: The New Testament teaches an event paradigm: the event of what Jesus Christ did for us, and the resulting event of the new birth for the person who believes the good news, resulting in a new creation, and a new identity. This is the gate of Matthew 7:13-14 (below).
  • PARADIGM TWO, THE PROCESS PARADIGM: The New Testament also presents a process paradigm: growth comes from embracing the three core values presented above: to abide in his word, to love the others, and to serve. Jesus calls this person his disciple. This is the way that is referenced in Matthew 7:13-14 (See verse below.)

Matthew 7:13-14 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and [b]difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Focusing only on the event paradigm could produce a passive individual experience and church culture. Likewise, the process paradigm by itself could produce a works-based outcome. Both truths must be kept in balance. However, when a born-again Christ follower gives account at the judgment, it will be for applying the three values as his disciple, the process paradigm.

Ways leaders can apply the Process Paradigm in making disciples

1 How you see you: Leaders can see themselves as a disciple embracing the core values.

2 How you see them: Leaders can see their members as Jesus’ disciples, who will stand before Him on that day to give account for abiding in his Word, loving the others, and serving others.

3 How they see you: Leaders can ask and remind their people about these things:

  • abide | Jn 8:30-32 – Are you connecting with Jesus regularly in his word?
  • love | Jn 13:34-35 – Are you loving the other disciples the same way He loves you?
  • serve | Jn 15:8 – Are you acting on this love by serving in his body?

Shepherds examine their sheep for health. Likewise in the church, leaders can look for the application of these values by their people without being judgmental. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Since leaders will give account for their souls, it’s natural to have some sort of criteria for it. (Hebrews 13:17)

4 Sermons can include both paradigms and how they’re connected, with:

  • sound doctrine, including the things imparted to them through the new birth (the event paradigm)
  • teaching on how disciples can embrace the core values (the process paradigm)
  • how the new creation is fulfilled by embracing the core values

5 Small groups: Small group culture can encourage the three values among its members if the leaders are made conscious and trained.

Training people to be his disciples fulfills the mandate (Ephesians 4:11-14) to prepare the saints for the work of the ministry. This also prepares them for being healthy small group members. (Acts 2:42) They’ll keep each other attentive about living for eternity:

  • by abiding in his Word
  • by loving the other disciples as he did
  • by bearing fruit through serving others

“The church needs to raise the bar for being a disciple and lower the bar for being a leader,” from Leading Advanced Small Groups, by Carl F. George, Kingdom Publishing, Mansfield, PA, 1997.

Work through pastors

My friend Pastor Jorge in Houston said, “You must work through pastors to accomplish your task.” If God is in this Paradigm Add, to add into our church cultures the values of a disciple (the process paradigm), then leaders should be able to expect:

  • Consistency with the Scriptures
  • The witness of the Holy Spirit
  • Life change in those who embrace it as disciples

Growth and substance gained

When born again people adopt the three core values of a disciple, they will become stronger and more effective; therefore the local church will become stronger as well.

When a disciple faithfully abides, loves and serves as Jesus taught, it will produce individual growth in him or her. The three following words represent the substance gained through that growth:

  1. doctrine Sound doctrine will gradually develop as an internal structure in a disciple who abides in his Word and is under solid leadership.
  2. relationships Godly relationships will form when a disciple faithfully loves the others in community according to the New Commandment.
  3. ministry Unique and fruitful ministries will emerge when disciples serve the others in the local church and outside.

Jesus’s three “if-then” statements plus one

We can view these three verses in John as “if-then” statements, giving their causes and outcomes:

Jesus If Then Statements

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David Christian