Interview by Eric Geiger, Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. This post originally appeared on his blog. Roger Davis serves as the president of Student Life.
Discipleship is such a broad term, often a junk-drawer term that has been used to describe many things. How do you define it?
I get people that often ask me about Student Life, “are you guys about evangelism or discipleship?” Kinda seems like a trick question as many have put those on opposite sides of the spectrum of ministry. I usually respond with, “we are about spiritual growth, regardless if that is someone taking their first step toward Jesus or their next step with Him.” Discipleship is all about the process, anyone in ministry needs to be reminded that we should not be about one without the other. With discipleship we all become learners and teachers. Every true disciple should learn, follow, become and in turn make disciples…all a lifelong process.
Do you see distinction between personal discipleship (a believer on his own) and corporate discipleship (a believer does in the community)?
I don’t think that either can exist in a healthy way without the other. They are like the two tracks that a train runs on. One has limited value to deliver you to the desired destination without the other. No doubt that much of our relationship with the Lord is private as He works and speaks within the depths of our soul, but the Christian life was not intended to be lived in “holy isolation” all the time. The desire and need for community was hard-wired into our DNA by the very one who created us. Personal and Corporate discipleship have unique yet complementary roles. Usually when a Christ-follower is out of balance in these two areas they are not experiencing healthy spiritual growth and therefore are not becoming healthy disciples.
How would you sense if a church or ministry is straying from discipleship?
Often the go-to answer is numbers. Church attendance, people in Bible study, baptisms, numbers going on mission trips, etc. While those in part may reflect how healthy a body of believers is, when I talk with youth pastors and other ministers I like hearing what those under their care are doing as they respond to passages like Matthew 28:18-20. What is happening after the lights in the big room go off or those that identified with Christ in baptism dried off.
In terms of discipling new believers, what is of chief importance?
This conversation should begin and ends with the gospel. I think that if we have truly presented Christ and all he is and all he has done, that hopefully a new believer literally falls in love with him and wants to grow with him. So from the onset, I think at the core we have to be making disciples of Jesus and what he was and is all about. I meet a lot of young people that want to be like their youth minister or they are simply becoming “disciples” of a church or a particular faith, rather than true disciples of the one and only Jesus the Christ. Without that focus we fail in the mission we have been called to. And I also want to note, that I think it is awesome that many young people have great mentors and examples to look to (we need more of those) but we always have to remember if they don’t see Jesus in us and through us and grow to be more like him, we are just giving them t-shirt collection and some good times.
How should a ministry define success in terms of discipleship? What does “winning” look like?
So many people define success in numerical aspects…while I don’t think this is bad in totality if we are not careful it can be a poor gauge of success. I love when I hear leaders tell me that they have many young people coming to their churches and Bible studies and many of those are being baptized at their respected churches. That is awesome…but I always want to know who the students are that are being sent out from their ministry. Are students moving from our “Christian meetings” to movement where they are going out and making disciples, not just inviting friends to church but literally being the gospel in the flesh, loving and proclaiming the truth to their peers with a sense of urgency, serving their community and going to the nations in Jesus name. Success in ministry is all about impact both personal and corporate…both here and there. The commission of Matthew 28 is pretty clear on this subject. Success is obedience and obedience is going and making more disciples.
Is there such thing as “fully-discipled” in this lifetime?
Like I said before, we are all in process. The goal would be to be a lifetime learner and while we can be disciples all along the way, we are still a part of this beautiful process of becoming more and more like Jesus.
Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church.
Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.