Follow me. The inspired gospel writers indicate that Jesus used those two simple words to enlist his original twelve disciples. As we contemplate the simplicity of those two words, we may imagine that Jesus said more as He called his first disciples. Surely, he carefully explained His agenda. Surely, He entertained the disciples’ questions as they contemplated their response. We will never know in complete detail all that Jesus and his disciples discussed about those two words. What we do know is that those two words seem to form the essence of Jesus’ simple recruitment strategy. Could it be that Jesus wasn’t looking for dialogue? Passages such as Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24, and Matthew 19:21 seem to support the idea that Jesus was mainly interested in the action of an affirmative response. In east Tennessee, we ask the question this way: are you in, or are you out?
Jesus began his three-year ministry by proclaiming the Kingdom of God was at hand. This pronouncement served to signal that Jesus’ mission on earth would fundamentally change the way man relates to God. Jesus called the group of twelve. He spent three years teaching them the principles of the Kingdom, how to connect the Kingdom with the OT, and how to be ambassadors for the Kingdom in their first-century world. In short, Jesus taught them how to be effective Kingdom workers and how to make additional effective Kingdom workers.
Jesus’ training of those first disciples resulted in the rapid spread of Christianity throughout first-century Palestine and around the Mediterranean rim. Jesus taught them two enabling sets of information. First, he taught them the truths about the Kingdom, God’s plan for mankind and his own role in that plan (becoming a Kingdom citizen). Second, he taught them the skills necessary to live as an effective Kingdom citizen in their first-century world.
The accomplishment of these two tasks is the primary purpose of the church until Jesus’ second coming. This was Jesus’ charge when he said,”Make disciples.” Making disciples comprises these two tasks: telling people how to become Kingdom citizens (based on biblical truth) and telling people how to effectively live in and engage culture as a Kingdom citizen (based on the application of biblical truth). Living in and engaging culture is how disciples become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
For the past decade, western church leaders have bemoaned what they describe as the lack of discipleship. For various reasons, the church has slowly moved its focus away from discipleship. The result has been detrimental to the work of the Kingdom. Immature believers, weak leadership, and inward focus have been some of the negative consequences. In his book Deep Discipleship, author J.T. England argues that the western church has opted for a shallow approach to discipleship because authentic discipleship takes time and effort. England points out that the western church has adopted philosophies of ministry that focus on growing crowds instead of growing Christians.(1)
Using concepts gleaned from England’s book, The Grove Church in Kingston, TN, is currently in the second semester of an experiment to build a process that will grow effective disciples who possess both kinds of Kingdom knowledge. They will know biblical truth (Bible-centric or Kingdom-truth knowledge) and they will know how to apply biblical truth in their community (skills-centric or Kingdom-living knowledge). Disciples will obtain biblical truth through small group Bible study, Sunday School, worship, and self-study. The church has established the Grove Institute to provide training related to the application of biblical truth in the context of its community. This training is based on several modules that are currently being developed and implemented. They emphasize topics necessary for successful Kingdom living. Fulfilling Jesus’ expectations as the church and as individual Kingdom citizens requires both a strong foundation of biblical knowledge and a skillset to use that knowledge to make additional disciples. Jesus continues to issue the call to follow Him. Without delay, we must make sure we are equipping the saints so they can step in faith to respond and follow Him.
GROVE INSTITUTE MODULES
Module One-SAYING YES
The first, and most important, step needed to acquire Kingdom living skills is not about skills at all. The first step is making the decision to become a committed follower of Jesus. Guided by scripture and Idleman’s book Not A Fan, participants will be challenged by Jesus’ statements to those who claim to follow Him. They will discover that real joy and excitement belong to those who break from the patterns of nominal Christian living and become “all-in” followers of Jesus.
Module Two-LOOKING OUTWARD
People, ideas, and concepts found in today’s culture can be challenging and confusing. Committed Jesus-followers will encounter some of these challenges as they live as Kingdom citizens in their community. Module Two provides knowledge and skills needed to understand worldviews and the biblical response to our contemporary pluralistic culture. Relevant biblical principles and resources by authors Darrell Bock, James Sire, and Francis Schaeffer provide guidance regarding successful Kingdom living in a challenging and confusing society.
(1) England calls for a serious overhaul of the church’s discipleship process. Although there are several authors currently writing about discipleship, England’s approach has resonated with our church. England, J.T. Deep Discipleship: How the Church Can Make Whole Disciples of Jesus. Nashville: B&H Books, 2020.
Gary is the Scholar-in-Residence at The Grove Church in Kingston, TN. He is a PhD student in Biblical Exposition.