Editor’s note: In 2022, a Chinese pastor wrote this letter to his congregation, encouraging them to take discipleship seriously, both in their own lives and in the life of the church. The article was first published in Chinese on the Grace to City website.
Today, we are publishing the first half of this letter. This selection has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
The Pandemic Test
The discipleship ministry and culture of a church is like a web. This web of discipleship is woven by constant Scriptural teaching and application from the pulpit; by repeated appeals and examples from the pastors and elders; and by the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of true Christians. The discipleship web may have some threads which are knotted and others which are half-woven and unfinished, but a church’s spiritual discipleship web is both spontaneous and organic.
There are times pastors and elders will need to step in and solve trouble. At other times, leaders may need to intentionally set up structures like small groups to help church members take part in weaving the discipleship web. At times, leaders may need to grab those who are just standing by, and pull them in to be a part of the net. There are also times the net must be divided into two to help church ministry. (I’m speaking here of church planting.) In any case, discipleship is an organic network in which people grow alongside one another. It is not tidy!
The pandemic has brought many challenges to church life. This epidemic has served as an examination of the public health system. In the same way, it has been an examination of the church’s discipleship culture. During this pandemic, the culture of mutuality and considering one another the church has built over the previous five years will be tested and challenged.
The pandemic has also been a test of Christian discipleship relationships. Are your relationships really edifying to others? Even when you cannot see people, is there still a spontaneous concern for the other which stems from friendship? Are you eager to continue to meet and encourage one another? Or – are you glad to realize you have an excuse to not have to fulfill this troublesome Christian responsibility?
Every Christian Called to Discipleship
In this letter, I hope to help you face any misconceptions you may have about discipleship training. Discipleship can be defined as “a thoughtful and intentional exhortation relationship established among Christians, based on loving and edifying people with God’s word.” Discipleship is an important biblical command. It is also the most natural way for the church to grow and be sanctified.
In the New Testament, we see that seeking and discipling followers has been part of ministry since John the Baptist led his disciples to come before Christ. Jesus, in his own ministry, also called and discipled his followers. In the book of Acts, the church sprang up because the first generation of disciples followed Christ’s teaching to make disciples of all nations. Because they obeyed, the church was established.
The more the church understands making disciples of all nations, the more the church will grow healthily. Christ intended that we should multiply, both individually and as a church. The church, Christ’s body, is like a greenhouse made by God, a place where God desires to harvest Jesus’s disciples and bring glory to God the Father.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
The Great Commission says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” From this command, it appears that God calls every Christian to enter into discipleship ministry. Only a small percentage of believers are called to preach; another small percentage lead worship; yet another small percentage teach Sunday school. But every Christian is called to discipleship. Every Christian is called to encourage faith and love in other believers. God wants every single Christian to learn how to build deep, encouraging relationships with one another.
Over the past few years, I have talked with many brothers and sisters. I have also followed up with them about a number of issues. I am thankful for the culture of discipleship in our church. But I also believe we often bring our own ideas, both from the world and from our past experiences, into the church’s discipleship culture. This might lead us to not edify others in our discipleship relationships, or to stagnate and perhaps even to block the church’s discipleship ministry.
I would like to share with you several misconceptions about discipleship I have observed in my communication and ministry. This is the first:
I have always been like this. I do not need a discipleship relationship.
This misconception exists among church members who do not have discipleship relationships. These people may think they are already quite good, or that their personalities are not suitable for being in discipleship relationships with others. They think discipleship is optional, something for outgoing or “normal” Christians. As for themselves, they do not think they need discipleship.
But the Bible does not give this option. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” is a command given to all Christians. Each individual does indeed have different experiences and different personalities. These may create a block to entering into deep relationships, but they are no excuse for being disobedient to God. As Christians, we should allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in everything we do. We should also allow Scripture to change us.
The Bible does not say, “Those of you who are outgoing and have not been wounded in relationship: go and make disciples of all nations.” Instead, the Bible calls every Christian “disciple.” It does not divide Christians, calling some “believers” and others “disciples.” Every Christian needs a discipleship relationship. No one can say, “I don’t need a discipleship relationship; I’m fine being a Christian on my own.” This attitude is against the teaching of Scripture.
Pastor Xie is pastor of a Baptist church in a large Chinese city.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese Christians to believe that they themselves need to be in discipleship relationships with others.