Today I continue my 2013 Discipleship Interview Series with Todd Engstrom. Todd currently serves as the executive pastor of campuses and communities at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX.
I’ve heard a lot of definitions about discipleship, and they typically fall into two categories: 1.) being a disciple and 2.) helping someone become a disciple. For this conversation, I’ll use my definition for the 2nd: Discipleship is meeting someone where they are, and taking them where Jesus wants them to go.
This definition has served for me as a fundamental axiom in discipleship, in leadership development, and in organizational leadership. The two essential components that are at the core of my philosophy are the understanding of the individual, and the biblical vision for a life lived under the lordship of Christ. Discipleship is simultaneously intensely personal and thoroughly biblical.
How do you articulate the holy tension in God’s role in transformation and the believer’s role?
Bruce Wesley mentioned this in a talk he gave, and it’s the best summary I’ve heard to answer this question: “Act in a way you can be acted upon by God.”
I like it because I think it retains the tension, highlighting that discipleship isn’t merely our effort at transformation and requires God’s divine action, but at the same time there are things a disciple of Jesus can and should do to be in a position to be transformed. If a disciple isn’t engaging with the Word of God, they can expect to have difficulty hearing from God. If a disciple isn’t living in authentic biblical community, they can expect to struggle in fighting sin. If a disciple isn’t faithfully living on mission, they can expect to feel joyless and purposeless in life.
Who has been influential to you in forming your view of discipleship?
There are too many influences to list here, but I’ll name a few. First, the greatest influence for me has been Kevin Peck, who discipled me, and modeled well what it looked like to make disciples in every day life. I am indebted to him for his conviction, his consistency, and his courage to invest in the few to reach the many.
As far as resources go, The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman is a standard work and the model which I utilize in discipleship. From selection to reproduction, the book outlines the process that the Lord Jesus used to make the first disciples. It’s hard to improve on how Jesus did it!
For the basic tools of discipleship, Neil Cole has been very helpful in helping me cultivate a simple, reproducible and transferrable tool. We simply took his idea of the Life Transformation Group and modified it for our purposes. Everything else we do in discipleship has an LTG at the foundation.
Do you see distinction between personal discipleship (a believer on his own) and corporate discipleship (a believer does in the community)?
I do see a distinction, but I think they are inseparable from one another. I would point back to the idea that discipleship has two parts: 1.) being a disciple and 2.) helping someone else become a disciple. Disciples are committed to discipling, and the church is a community of disciples making disciples. Therefore any ministry within the local church is in some way a disciple helping another disciple, and therefore contributing to discipleship.
I do, however, think there is a difference between ministry and discipleship. Ministry, as I would define it, is primarily reactively meeting the needs of someone as they are presented. Discipleship, on the other hand, is the proactive and intentional cultivation of obedience to the teachings of Jesus over time. Discipleship happens in the context of ministry, but ministry alone won’t cultivate disciples in the way of Jesus.
What has changed, for good and bad, in the practice or methods of discipleship in recent years?
There are primarily two things that have changed for me, having discipled a broad spectrum from new believers to discipling some elders of our church.
First is a firm conviction to never assume anything, especially the gospel. The most fundamental article of our faith, the sacrificial death of Christ for sin, his burial, and his resurrection, is largely lost on many inside the church. If you were to ask a random sample of people to simply articulate the gospel, most would be very confused and have no ability to answer that question. Someone could have grown up in church their entire life, and still lack clarity on the gospel! I’ve also learned to never assume the basic disciplines of reading the Word, communing with God in prayer, and sharing the good news through evangelism.