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Introduction

One of the dangers in discipleship ministry is an inordinate focus on methods.

The focus of most discipleship curriculum is on methods, strategies, and techniques for making disciples. The problem is that methods are not universal and methods that work well in one situation, often do not work in others.

We need to understand essential principles regarding discipleship that are rooted in the Bible and universal in application. Principles represent an objective reality that transcends cultural contexts.

Drawing on these principles, we can work with people in our unique situation to help determine the most effective discipleship methods. Let’s examine a few of the principles.

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The Sovereignty of God

One of the most foundational principles regarding discipleship is recognizing God’s sovereignty. There is no simple template for discipling people.

Everyone does not become a mature, devoted follower of Jesus Christ in exactly the same way. Our sovereign God moves in mysterious ways to raise up devoted followers of Jesus for his church.

Nevertheless, there are some valuable generalizations which can and should be made regarding the best means for discipling Christians.

The Grace of God

Another foundational principle regarding discipleship is rooted in the grace of God in the gospel.

Jesus commanded us to take up our cross and follow him in radical obedience. But there are wrong motivations for obeying Jesus’ commands, such as out of sinful fear and pride. While this kind of obedience may look good on the surface, it’s superficial and doesn’t ultimately result in transformed lives.

Biblical discipleship presents the person and work of Jesus as both the motive and means of obeying his commandments.

Tim Keller describes this as the difference between religion and the gospel. Religion says “I obey, therefore I’m accepted.” But the gospel says, “I’m accepted, therefore I obey.” Religion is based on fear and insecurity. But the gospel is based on grateful joy. Religion says “I obey God in order to get things from God.” The gospel says “I obey God to get God, to delight in him and cherish him.”

Christianity is not an external, self-help religion. It is a community of people who are in relational union with God through Christ and who are being renewed from the inside out by his Spirit as they keep drawing near to him in repentance, faith, and obedience.

The Church of God

God normally develops his disciples in community, more particularly in community of his visible body, the church.

At its core, Christianity is a communal religion. This doesn’t mean we should downplay the importance of individuals coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ and having a personal relationship with God.

But we must be concerned about an unbiblical view of the Christian life that is mostly personal and individualistic.

Therefore our plan for the discipling believers should be church-centered. It should include the ongoing experience of Christian community with a high priority on the believer’s relationship with a local church body.

The primary means God provides for discipling followers of Jesus is not discipleship curriculum. It’s the biblical means of grace. This includes the preaching of sound doctrine, the proper observation of the Lord’s supper and baptism, and prayer, all under the nurture and shepherding care of local church leaders.

Personal Discipleship

But devoted disciples do not normally develop on their own in a church body. Instead they are most often developed in the ongoing give and take of face-to-face relationships with more mature leaders.

Frequently, as is seen in Scripture and the subsequent history of the Church, God uses mature leaders to nurture the growth of emerging disciples. This is not to denigrate the value of disciples learning from their peers. In fact, peer mentoring is also an effective way to make disciples.

However, people usually grow in wisdom through the guidance of those who are more experienced. In previous periods of history very natural relational and vocational networks typically allowed younger, less experienced people to be apprenticed or mentored.

This allows for more personalized discipleship. The personal background and life experiences of disciples vary broadly. Some may have a high degree of personal and spiritual maturity early in their Christian life, while others are very immature personally, spiritually and theologically.

Each individual Christ-follower is unique and is therefore best discipled by processes that can be as individualized and personalized as reasonably possible.

Holistic Discipleship

Emerging disciples must be renewed not only in their understanding (knowledge) but also in their heart affections (motivations) and behaviors (actions).

These three emphases of head, heart, and hands are not unrelated. Instead, they are inseparably interwoven ways of learning. For effective discipleship to happen, there is a need to integrate all three.

Intentional Discipleship

Developing believers in knowledge, skill, and character is accomplished most effectively when the goal of that development is clearly expressed.

The more precise the “final product” of a mature Christian can be described, the better emerging disciples can be nurtured toward that goal. Later we’ll take a look at the marks of a mature disciple.

One of the primary reasons many churches are not making mature disciples is because they don’t have an intentional plan to make disciples. Or they may have a plan, but it’s outdated and not working.

Next, we’ll begin to examine practical ways that you can develop an intentional discipleship plan that is effective in your unique situation.

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Read The Transcript

One of the dangers in discipleship ministry is an inordinate focus on methods, strategies, and techniques for making disciples. The problem is that methods are not universal and methods that work well in one situation, often do not work in others.
We need to understand essential principles regarding discipleship that are rooted in the Bible and universal in application. Drawing on these principles, we can work with people in our unique situation to help determine the most effective discipleship methods. Let’s examine 5 of these key principles.

In this 6-part series you’ll be equipped to:

This brief video (7:04) will help you work with people in your unique situation to help determine the most effective discipleship methods.

Preview New Course: Discipleship

Registration closes February 15

Help under-served church leaders
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Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong

Editor’s note: Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong wrote this letter to Early Rain Covenant Church twelve days before they were arrested on December 9. They are still in prison in secret locations on charges of “inciting to subvert state power.” Please pray and share. English translation provided by Jason, Ryan, and the China Partnership translation team.


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

For us, this year has been a very long one. The Lord has led us to realize what it means by “as your days, so shall your strength be”. This year has also been a very fierce one. Four times Wang Yi was taken to the police station, especially the first one when he was taken together with Jiang Rong to the police station, where they were detained for twelve hours. Everything we had was taken away, including our wedding rings, and we were stripped naked for body exams 

This proved two things to us:

First, we shall leave everything behind to follow the Lord. If necessary, we shall even leave marriage out of the Holy of Holies, where we will face the living God alone and be faithful to the Lord. Second, we deserve all the shame and be treated as sinners; yet we have been saved by Jesus and delivered from the coming, eternal shame. He has endured all these and much more than we have. With such, we have been led by the Lord into deeper faith and joy this year.

What we are most grateful for is that the Lord has led us through this year together with the church. We spent most days in persecution or rumors of persecution. Besides his published works, Wang Yi has also written other documents, including his testament and will. We two spent many evenings talking about the possibility of arrest and preparing for every situation. Even in the midst of our busy ministry in the church, we found time for just the two of us go on more dates than usual. These evenings and dates have led to our deeper union and sweeter love in the Lord.

This year, Shuya (son) has grown taller than mom (Jiang Rong). One time Wang Yi left home wearing Shuya’s gym shoes by mistake. We were shocked and amazed that our children are growing up much faster than how we had imagined. During the second half of the year, he studied harder than he did in the first half of the year. He developed new interests and breakthroughs in his piano lessons, and he has given more attention to spiritual things. We are grateful for the prayers and guidance of his teachers, and for the Lord leading him to grow up with His church in a time such as these. We are earnestly praying that the signs of his salvation and regeneration will become more apparent soon.

After her baptism, Ruolin (daughter) has also been growing and serving this year. She transferred her Muji sales internship to being an assistant in a designer firm, and she has gradually entered into a profession that she likes. Praise the Lord, who consecrated her from her first breath in the world and placed her under the influence of many elders and companions in Christ, so that she would long for deeper spiritual growth.

If by the end of the year, God still has not allowed the government to take more severe action toward Wang Yi and Early Rain Covenant Church, Wang Yi will take two months of sabbatical after the congregational meeting in January 2019 and then a third month off in the second half of the year. This plan has been postponed for two years. If God is willing to put Wang Yi in prison for a prolonged sabbatical, we will also receive it as abundant grace.

On May 28, Wang Yi and several co-workers were taken to Caojiaxiang police station for detention and beating. That afternoon he made a resolution before God that before he reaches the age of fifty-three (the age at which John Calvin passed away), he would devote the next ten years to a new gospel movement. If he is imprisoned, he will entrust everything to the Lord and start his personal prison ministry. If he is free, he will be even bolder in preaching and asks God to transform him into a preacher that will “turn the world upside down”.

He also asked that if Lord willing, before he turns sixty-four (the age at which Martin Luther passed away), he would devote his next twenty years to this new gospel movement. He hopes to see the Lord Christ’s new revival within the Chinese church in the next twenty years, like the Shandong Revival from 1927 to 1937, when a group of preachers, faithful pastors and theologians would rise up.  Wang Yi asked God to work through him for the next twenty years. After the age of sixty-four, he will be ready to go to his Heavenly Home any moment.  

This year Wang Yi once again made this resolution before God, a second important prayer about his lifelong ministry, that in the coming years, whatever the situation, he will not participate in any debates within the church, and he will not respond or denounce any criticism, slander and opposition against himself. He will imitate Pastor Stephen Tong: do not seek justice for himself; use all God-given grace to defend the gospel rather than someone named “Wang Yi.”

May the Lord lead our family, that in our lifetime we will focus on the frontline between the gospel and culture, the church and the world, that we will face and die at the frontline of the gospel movement while entrusting everything behind us to the Almighty Lord.

This year we have continued to experience much weakness and sorrow, especially for Jiang Rong. In the face of many slanders, attacks and opposition against Wang Yi and the Lord’s church, she had shed more tears for the state of the church than for the distress of persecution. Spiritually she has also been through a very long year. Yet the Lord’s comfort and power have always been with her. We are also grateful that the Lord has surrounded us with many co-workers who treat each other with sincerity, pastors and mentors who comfort and deal gently with us, and all the details of God’s grace and blessings.

Due to the restriction on his travel, he cut his ministry outside the city. But this year our church founded the Covenant Mission and hosted two preaching conferences in city A and city B. Next year Wang Yi plans to cut his work in lecturing and devote more time to domestic revival preaching. As long as God allows him to be free to move around, may the Lord use up this freedom until we no longer have this freedom.

This year Wang Yi has tried several social media platforms, including a WeChat Official Account and Jianshu. Almost all of them have been shut down over ten times. So far, besides publication on the church platforms, he has almost no personal publishing platforms except one ZINE account that he used to publish hymns. Since 2004 when he started the “Wang Yi’s Microphone,” there is now only a WordPress version of the “Wang Yi’s Microphone” account that requires readers to get around the firewall to access.  

This year, three of Wang Yi’s books were published: God’s Power and State Power: A Dialogue about Chinese House ChurchMobilization of The Souls: Devotional Letters from The Shepherding Field, and The Shorter Catechism (poems), with one more (A Union of Angels: The Survivor’s Guide for City Church Planters) still in process. Wang Yi plans to spend the sabbatical next year to finish editing and revising a collection of sermons and Rise Up: Ten Lectures on Chinese House Church History, and to make preparations for writing The Triumphant Return: Ten Lectures on Political Theology.

Praise the Lord that you are walking on the earth with our family. What we long for the most is to see and commit ourselves to the gospel movement of Christ’s church in China over the next twenty years. We want to place ourselves in the middle of the lasting conflict between the gospel and the Chinese culture, and personally witness the spiritual warfare between Christ and Pharaoh. We pray that the Lord will, according to His own will, propel and send us to move forward continuously and steadily until the day of the Lord’s victory.

With love in Christ,

Pastor Wang Yi, Jiang Rong, and family

November 27, 2018

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