Helping Christians Grow
Helping Christians Grow
Juan wondered how Maria always seemed to know just what little Manuel needed and how to provide the right care for his needs. Maria showed Juan a book on infant care written by a noted specialist at the university hospital. Maria’s mother had purchased it for her while they waited for Manuel’s arrival. The book discussed many of the things a new mother needed to know. Maria also explained that she had spent many hours watching her mother care for her younger brother and sister. Sometimes she babysat them while her mother was away. Thus, Maria learned how to care for a baby from the experiences of others and from her own experience.
Christians need to learn how to nurture spiritual growth how to promote the spiritual development of others. The Bible reveals a divine method and some divine resources to help achieve the task.
In this lesson you will learn that disciple-making is the divine method for nurturing young believers and that the divine resources include the nature of the church, the ministry gifts, and the Holy Spirit. You will also discover that there are informal and formal patterns of nurturing spiritual growth. As you become involved in the task of disciple-making and utilize the resources God has provided, you will see lives changed gloriously: those you are helping to grow and your own as well. Such is the benefit of nurturing spiritual growth.
A Divine Method
The task of the church collectively and of maturing Christians individually is to help Christians grow spiritually. You have learned that growth is natural and expected, yet there are conditions more favorable for proper growth. In helping Christians grow, we need to learn how to arrange the conditions to facilitate the natural tendency toward growth. The Bible reveals a divine method called disciple-making.
What A Disciple Is
A disciple is thought of as a “follower,” as one who follows the teaching of another. The word disciple, as it is used in the New Testament, literally means “learner;” however, more is implied than simply being a pupil. The term disciple implies a relationship with another person. Thus, one is a disciple in relationship with a teacher. It is possible for a learner to be guided by a teacher without embracing the teacher’s conclusions and values. But this is not so with a disciple. A disciple learns from the teacher and comes to share the teacher’s attitudes, actions, and values. A disciple becomes an adherent of the teacher. He is devoted to the teacher and desires to become like him. One is a disciple when he binds himself to another to acquire the theoretical or practical knowledge that his model displays. The view of the disciple-teacher relationship is perceived correctly as an informal relationship involving two people: the one living and acting as a model and the other seeking to emulate his example. It is not the same as the formal relationship which exists between a student and his professor.
An apprentice in a trade serves as an appropriate example of what a disciple is. The master craftsman has learned a trade from another who has taught him. He has developed his skills in the trade under the watchful supervision of the master until he has acquired the expertise that sets him apart as a master. When a person does not have these skills but desires to learn the trade, he joins himself to a master craftsman for some time. He learns by observing the master craftsman and applying what he has observed. He strives to imitate the skill of the master, and thus develops his own technique and skills in the trade. In doing so, the apprentice tends to become like the master who teaches him. He follows the master craftsman’s instructional example, and in the faithful application of his knowledge he becomes like the master.
In a sense, the process of disciple-making resembles the development of an apprentice. Because of the nature of their relationship, we can imagine that the apprentice increasingly takes on the characteristics of the master who teaches him. By associating with and by imitating the master, the apprentice learns the style, skills, and knowledge of the master. Similarly, a disciple conforms to the likeness of his teacher. Because Christians are becoming Christlike, they are considered to be disciples of Jesus.
Learned men in ancient times often maintained a group of disciples. Usually these disciples were young learners who associated closely with the scholars to learn from them as well as perhaps to serve their physical needs. The relationship between Eli and Samuel may be understood in this way (1 Samuel 1:21–28; 3:1). Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, had disciples, and the Jewish rabbis likewise had their adherents. John the Baptist was surrounded by a group of disciples, and so was Jesus. In each case, these disciples were bound to the teacher to learn from him, follow his teachings, and imitate him.
The ultimate goal of Christian nurture is to help Christians mature spiritually toward Christlikeness. Another way to state the same thing is to say that the goal of Christian nurture is to make disciples. It is essential to remember that the intended goal is Christlikeness, not my likeness nor your likeness. It is the life of Christ within that is to be matured into a full expression of Christlikeness. The apostle Paul undoubtedly had this in mind when he admonished Philippian Christians to emulate the attitude and spirit of Christ as He addressed himself to His redemptive purpose (Philippians 2:5–11).
This fact may be particularly important if you ever find yourself working with people of a culture different from your own. Your goal will not be to lead these people to become like you by adopting all of your cultural ways and values. Instead, your goal will be to lead them to be like Christ as expressed within their own cultural setting.
How Jesus Made Disciples
Through His public teaching and because of the miracles He performed, multitudes followed Jesus and were called His disciples. They followed His teaching, continually learning from Him. From among these Jesus chose twelve men to enter into a very special relationship with Him. His intention was to make them into apostles, sent out ones. He planned to equip these twelve men as leaders and then send them out to continue the disciple-making work He had begun. This unique relationship continued with the Twelve until Jesus endued them with His Spirit and sent them into the world to preach His gospel. We can learn valuable lessons about the importance of the teacher-pupil relationship in disciple-making by observing the example of Jesus as He taught the Twelve.
Choosing the Twelve
Jesus chose the Twelve so that He could equip and send them out in His service, to make disciples of others. Read Mark 3:14 carefully. Two facts are significant in this context: Jesus called the Twelve first to be with Him and second to send them out in ministry. He wanted to equip them for a life of service to Him. To provide this equipping, He used the discipling method. They would be with Him—enter into a special relationship with Him. They would learn from Him by associating with Him, observing Him, and applying the principles He taught. But the special, close relationship was not the whole objective. The intimate relationship, fulfilling as it was, was the chosen means to the end. The end was equipping for service.
Being with Him
Jesus’ reasons for choosing the Twelve to be with Him reflect His goal for them. His goal was not to communicate knowledge alone. Instead, He sought to communicate likeness. Jesus believed that a fully trained person would become like his teacher (Luke 6:40). The word in the original language of the New Testament (koine Greek) that is translated “fully trained” in this verse means to complete thoroughly or to make complete. It carries the idea of making people complete or whole. Therefore, Jesus is saying “When one has been made complete, he will be like his teacher.”
The making of a disciple of Jesus focuses on making one a complete person, a mature believer. Jesus knew that the way to achieve this end was to bring the Twelve into intimate relationship with himself. Then He could be an example to them by doing just what He wanted to equip them to do.
Jesus wanted to imprint himself indelibly upon the Twelve. They must imbibe His spirit, share His passion for lost people, and long for His Father’s will to be done on earth as in heaven. He understood the dynamics of intimate association: to be like Him they must be near Him, feel His compassion, sense the depths of His love, and experience His grace. Being with the teacher results in becoming like Him. Being in His presence progressively transforms us into His likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). Being with Jesus, then, does more than produce people who know the mechanics of disciple-making; it produces a burden, a commitment to His cause, and a desire to see His will accomplished.
Jesus’ involvement with the Twelve, while it can be considered correctly as a teaching-learning relationship, was not a typical school or classroom situation. A typical one-hour class setting would have been insufficient. Jesus and the Twelve lived together. They shared life’s experiences. They interacted on the lessons the Master taught and reacted continuously to life situations which demanded the application of their knowledge skills.
Sometimes Jesus taught and the Twelve listened. They asked questions, seeking clarification concerning His teaching, and He responded gladly to their inquiries. In this environment of trust, Jesus fostered a spirit of openness. And in the course of time these twelve men developed a willingness to expose themselves to Him and to each other.
On many occasions the Twelve observed Jesus as He dealt with people. Often they imitated what they saw Him do. Frequently, however, His words and actions amazed them and they wondered at the wisdom, grace, and power He demonstrated (Mark 4:35–41; John 8:1–11). These occasions that seemed incomprehensible made an indelible impression on the Twelve, and they pondered them long after their Teacher was gone. On some occasions Jesus deliberately included them in His actions, and thus they learned through practice.
The relationship which the Twelve had with Jesus involved responsibility. In accepting His call, the Twelve acknowledged His leadership role and committed themselves to obey Him. It was mutually understood that they were under His authority. Initially, the degree to which they were committed to Him was questionable; however, following the Resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, none could doubt their total obedience to Him. His challenge became their battle cry—a battle cry that still inspires contemporary disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:19–20).
Jesus taught the Twelve and they learned; however, His teaching was different from what many practice. It involved interpersonal relationships and interaction within their restricted group, as well as with people in a wide variety of real-life experiences. Jesus was the example which they sought to
imitate. His purpose was to equip them for ministry by making them whole. They must be alert to the issues that concerned all people: equity, social justice, civic responsibility, poverty, loneliness, sorrow, fear, and death. They must see, as He saw, the extent of human need (Matthew 9:35–38). Their field was not limited to religious matters; it was as broad as the needs of the world (Matthew 13:38).
In some respects Jesus’ instruction of the Twelve was similar to classroom teaching. For example, the Sermon on the Mount resembled a well illustrated lecture. At other times He initiated questions that provoked discussion, such as a classroom instructor might (Matthew 16:13). He made use of proven instructional methods and techniques. In other respects His approach was informal (Matthew 19:13–15) and life oriented (Matthew 19:16–26). Yet it must be recognized that the approaches Jesus used were appropriate for His goal: to make disciples, to nurture wholeness.
Not only did Jesus select the disciple-making for His own ministry, but He also commanded Christians to make disciples. Read Matthew 28:18–20 and observe the central feature of the resurrected Christ’s challenge to His disciples: “Go . . . make disciples . . . . baptizing them . . . and teaching them.” The initiative lay with His followers: they were to go. The nature and extent of their mission was clear: making disciples of all nations. The method involved baptizing and teaching. It is expected that Christians will go to share their faith. As they go, they are expected to make disciples. Thus, our Lord passed His method of disciple-making along as the model after which His followers were to pattern their efforts. The following discussion indicated what is involved in performing this central task.
Jesus gave this commission to make disciples shortly before He returned to heaven. By it He committed to His disciples the responsibility to carry on the ministry He began. In making this commission, Jesus included both the task to be done and the method by which it should be done. He made disciples of the Twelve and then commanded them to go to all nations to make disciples. He sent them out to repeat what He had done to them.
Since this Great Commission is the final teaching of Jesus to His disciples before He went back to heaven, we may conclude that disciple-making is the divinely intended method for helping people grow toward Christlikeness. Christian nurture involves making disciples.
The Bible reveals that God has given some divine resources to help accomplish the task of nurturing Christian growth. In this section you will consider three important divine resources: 1) the nature of the church, 2) the ministry gifts, and 3) the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Nature of the Church
Jesus began to build His church during His earthly ministry (Matthew 16:18). The church includes all Christians: those who join themselves to Jesus, seek to grow to maturity in Him, and give expression to the germ of spiritual life He has given them (1 Corinthians 1:1–2).
The church is a living organism. This fact is seen in the Scriptures by the often-used comparison to a body. With this in mind, read carefully Romans 12:1–8, 1 Corinthians 12:12–27, and Ephesians 4:11–16, observing the nature of the church from the illustration of the body.
A body is made up of many different parts. Each part has a particular function. Every part is important because no other member can perform the function of another. The members are interdependent upon each other. If one part of the body fails to develop properly, the whole body is affected adversely. The body cannot be whole and function as it should unless every member functions as it was designed to operate. Because of the interdependence of the various parts of the body, the strength of the whole body comes to the aid of an underdeveloped or sickly part.
You may know of someone who has been badly burned or wounded in some other way. Without proper care the injury can quickly become infected. The result may be that the person becomes very sick. At this point the whole body comes to assist the wounded member, initiating the process of healing, for the healing process is the concern of the whole body. Therefore, after a person has successfully overcome a serious infection, his whole
body, not just the affected part, is weakened and needs rest. This is because the strength and resources of the whole body come to the rescue of the weakened part.
In the body of Christ, the church, the strength and resources of all the members become a resource to help underdeveloped or weakened members achieve health, wholeness, and maturity. Weaker or less mature members can draw strength from stronger, more mature members of the Body.
The nature of the church, an organism of interdependent parts, which mutually strengthen the body, is a valuable resource in helping people grow
toward spiritual maturity. The fact that the church is a loving composed of people who love, care, and give sympathy is a valuable asset in nurturing spiritual growth. Properly, Christian nurture is a ministry of the church which seeks to lead converts into active, meaningful relationships within the local church, the expression of the body of Christ in a given place.
The Ministry Gifts
God has given each believer a gift (or some gifts) to be used for spiritual ministry in the body of Christ. Four biblical passages teach that Christians have received such enablement for ministry: Romans 12:1–8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11–16; and 1 Peter 4:10–11. Study these Scriptures carefully. They contain a whole philosophy of ministry. The following statements form a summary of the important truth they teach:
1. Every believer receives one or more of the ministry gifts.
2. These gifts are given by the Holy Spirit.
3. Not everyone receives the same gift nor should he or she seek to exercise the same ministry.
4. The body needs the proper exercise of all the gifts.
5. The gifts are equipment for effective Christian service.
6. Proper exercise of the gifts results in the upbuilding of the body.
7. Individual believers are interdependent members of the body; therefore, they have a responsibility to all the other members of the body.
8. The gifts are to be exercised in the spirit of Christian love.
Proper exercise of the various ministry gifts results in the upbuilding of the whole body. In this way the ministry gifts help the spiritual growth of the different members. The church is a mutually ministering body. Each gift contributes to the edification of others. These ministry gifts are resources for the nurturing and upbuilding of Christian life. In this broad, general way the ministry gifts nurture spiritual growth.
Specifically, it should be observed that teachers are God’s special gifts to the church. God has placed them uniquely in the church to nurture the spiritual life of others. Teachers bear special responsibility to help other Christians grow toward wholeness in Christlikeness.
The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
When Jesus gave His command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), He promised His presence and power as enablement to accomplish this task. This order and the matter of the Holy Spirit’s relation to the Twelve were given to the disciples shortly before the Crucifixion. As charter members of the early church, the Twelve were representative of all those who would subsequently respond to the gospel. And what the Spirit’s relation was to them He will be to us also.
All newborn Christians need spiritual food (instruction) to grow. We lack spiritual understanding, spiritual appetite, and the incentive to learn spiritual truth. But we have the Holy Spirit, the Counselor and faithful Teacher, who stands ready to supply each of these and many other needs.
You discovered in Lesson 1 that the Word of God is the foundation of Christian nurture. The Scriptures, which reveal God’s nature, plan, and will for humans, are quickened by God. Second Timothy 3:16–17 and 2 Peter 1:20–21 disclose the Holy Spirit’s role in superintending the process of Scripture
writing. First, the Spirit revealed the mind of God to the men He chose to record His truth (1 Corinthians 2:10–15). This revelation disclosed things to them they could not have known otherwise. As they wrote, the Holy Spirit guided and helped them, inspiring them to write exactly what God wanted them to write. While He employed their vocabularies, learning, and experience in the process, what they wrote was God’s Word, not their own. This enablement is referred to as inspiration and means literally “God-breathed.” Thus, God revealed His whole plan to us by His Spirit, and this we have in the sacred Scriptures.
In a sense, though, we share in this revelatory process, because the Holy Spirit illuminates and explains these truths to our hearts also. However, He does not come to reveal new truth to us, for God’s truth has been revealed finally, personally, and objectively in Christ. Experience shows that an outward revelation of truth is inadequate, because our knowledge always precedes our application of the truth. We just do not do by nature the things required to grow spiritually (Romans 7). But the Holy Spirit, who is the Teacher, carries on the ministry of Jesus as His representative on earth. And just as He illuminated the minds of the disciples and reminded them of the truth Christ taught them, so the Holy Spirit illuminates the truth of the Scriptures to us. He brings new understanding, new comprehension, and new illumination. However, He does more than show us the truth; He brings us into the truth, helping us put it into action, making it real and significant in our lives. In this way Christ dwells within us and we carry on Christ’s work in a way that glorifies Him. Thus, the Holy Spirit instructs us through the Word and nurtures us toward Christlikeness.
Moreover, the Spirit teaches us by inward illumination. He speaks to our hearts by His own personal influence and prompts us at certain times to do certain things. On occasion He convicts us when we have said or done something that is not consistent with true Christian character.
He teaches us in response to our sincere hunger for truth as we pray. He is the inerrant, the incomparable Teacher. Significantly, the Holy Spirit uses us to help others grow as we fill the office of teacher (Ephesians 4:11–12). As you teach God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will enable you to understand this truth. Since He is present in every teaching-learning situation, you can be confident that He will help you communicate God’s truth effectively. Then those you teach will receive the truth which nurtures spiritual growth. His divine energy strengthens and supports those who teach and those who receive spiritual truth. Christian nurture is unique because of the Holy Spirit’s ministry:
1. He caused God’s Word to be written.
2. He helps us understand God’s truth.
3. He empowers and enables us to communicate God’s truth.
4. He helps us apply truth to our daily lives.
5. He prompts, influences, and convicts or reproves us.
The Holy Spirit is present to help both the teacher and the learner. The result is that Christians are nurtured, equipped, and empowered to grow toward Christlikeness.
Patterns of Nurturing Spiritual Growth
The church collectively and believers individually are challenged to nurture spiritual life, helping people develop toward Christlikeness. In many churches this task of nurturing has been centralized in a Christian education program or department. Other churches have tended to view this ministry of disciple-making a bit differently, believing that nurturing arises out of the regular ministries of the church and the informal associations provided by the church. While approaches to Christian nurture differ, the fact remains that Christian nurture requires both formal and informal methods.
Regardless of the approach, God’s Word is the spiritual food which nurtures spiritual growth. Intimate, caring Christian relationships also promote spiritual growth. Communicating the truth of God’s Word is often done by more traditional, formal approaches to teaching-learning. Relational teaching is accomplished through more informal techniques, in which a more mature Christian associates with less mature Christians and becomes an example to them. The less mature Christian learns by identification and imitation. We, then, can say that the ministry of nurturing spiritual growth requires both informal and formal patterns.
Informal patterns involve nurturing spiritual growth through activities other than traditional schooling methods. The relationships Jesus established with the Twelve, the way He approached the task of making disciples of them, is an excellent example of the informal pattern of Christian nurture.
The relationships which exist in the body of Christ, the exercise of the mutuality of ministry as each uses his ministry gift for the development and welfare of all other members, clearly show that the church is equipped for the relational teaching that is characteristic of informal patterns of Christian nurture.
Formal patterns of nurturing Christian growth are intended more for communicating facts and information. Learning Bible content, doctrinal information, and material that can be classified as knowledge can be taught well through formal patterns. Formal patterns closely resemble schooling. In the process of making disciples Jesus sometimes used traditional, formal patterns of teaching information. He did not use a schoolroom as the setting, but He did make use of the approach and is considered to have been masterful in its use. While the goal of Christian nurture is not a head filled with facts and knowledge but a life lived with Christ as the center, some factual information must be learned. Classes, seminars, and similar activities are excellent means of transmitting knowledge to less mature Christians. This knowledge becomes an agent of change, enabling Christians to increase in spiritual stature and become more Christlike.
Effective Christian nurture will include both informal and formal patterns. If you are helping another Christian grow spiritually you will want to build an intimate relationship with him. You will want to model the Christ life in such a way that he can see an example of how it is meant to be lived by watching you. You will also want to help this person understand biblical and doctrinal truth. You may find yourself teaching classes in the formal tradition of education. Christian nurture involves both informal and formal patterns. Neither alone is sufficient. If you are helping Christians grow spiritually, you will need to make use of both patterns.