Today I continue my 2013 Discipleship Interview Series with Mark Marshall. Mark serves as lead pastor at Clearview Baptist Church here in Franklin, Tennessee. Prior to going at Clearview in 2007, Mark spent a decade as the Director of Leadership Training and Enrichment Events here at LifeWay.
Discipleship is such a broad term, often a junk-drawer term that has been used to describe many things. How do you define it?
For a long time the answer to this would be, “I’m not sure, but I know one when I see one.” Recently, we have adapted the definition given by Jim Putman in his Real-life Discipleship book. A disciple knows and follows Christ, is being changed by Christ, and is committed to the mission of Christ. A key for us is that a disciple is someone who is duplicating themselves.
How do you articulate the holy tension in God’s role in transformation and the believer’s role?
God has promised us He will finish the work He has begun in us. Transformation is a supernatural process that only God can bring in our lives. However, we (Christ followers) are not passive. Through spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible study, church involvement, stewardship, etc.) we seek to become disciples pleasing to the Lord.
What has changed, for good and bad, in the practice or methods of discipleship in recent years?
We are moving from an understanding of discipleship as a program to understanding discipleship is the end game. Everything we do is to make disciples. We are moving away from discipleship as an academic exercise to discipleship as life on life. Discipleship happens best in the context of a small group because small groups are where we connect lives. We are moving beyond information dissemination to life transformation. It is not about what you know as much as it is about what you do with what you know. If we are not seeing life change, we are not making disciples. We are also moving from making disciples to making disciple-makers. Replication is what we are looking for.
How would you sense if a church or ministry is straying from discipleship?
If there are not individuals investing their lives into others discipleship is no longer central. If there are no new groups being started discipleship is not the focus of a church. And if hall conversations are more about structure, policies, music preference or even sermon critique than a church has lost its focus on disciple-making.
In terms of discipling new believers, what is of chief importance?
The most important thing in discipling a new believer is to connect them with someone who can and will walk alongside them. We recently asked a group of people in our church who discipled them. Only a handful could name someone who had invested the time and energy to disciple them. Most of these people had been in Sunday School and some discipleship “program” or “class” for years. But when they were asked to disciple someone else they did not know where to begin. This is because they had never had someone disciple them. How can we know where an individual needs strengthening if someone further down the road is not building into their life? Discipleship is relational.