Today I am excited to post an interview with my friend, Robby Gallaty. Robby is the Senior Pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. He was radically saved out of a life of drug addiction on November 12, 2002. The Lord is using Robby in significant ways at Brainerd and Robby is deeply passionate about discipleship. I encourage you to get his new book—Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples. I found the book both challenging and encouraging and I am grateful for Robby.
1. “Discipleship” is a broad term, often a “junk-drawer” expression, that has been used to describe many things. How do you define it?
Before defining “discipleship,” let us ponder for a moment what it means to be a disciple? At the very core, a disciple is a learner, one who is set on growing and developing. In nearly every sphere of life, people learn specific skills from others who have previously developed such abilities. An electrical certification is attained only after an extensive apprenticeship with a more experienced electrician. When a prospective doctor finishes medical school, he or she invests several years in a residency, during which time he or she shadows an experienced physician.
If a psychiatrist bases his or her practice on the teachings of Sigmund Freud, we might say he or she is “a disciple of Freud.” If a musician, following the methods of Wynton Marsalis, plays jazz in the same style, we might comment that he or she is “a disciple of Wynton Marsalis.” This concept of learning directly through the expertise and experience of another is the foundation of what Jesus envisioned when He used the term “disciple.”
In this manner, being a disciple is different than being a Christian. “Christian” is a stative term. That is, it describes someone’s continuous state of believing that Christ was and is the Savior of man and the God of the universe. Therefore, “Christian” is stative and not dynamic; the term describes one’s state and not one’s actions. “Disciple,” on the other hand, is a word that implies action. The English word “disciple” is a translation of the Greek mathetes, the word from which we have derived the term “mathematics.” It could also be translated “learner” or “student.” It designates one who actively learns, through hearing and practice, the teaching of his or her teacher. As a Christian, we believe Christ is Lord. As a disciple, we live in light of his lordship and are actively conformed to the image of Christ through our actions and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Christ is our teacher, and by interacting with him through the written Word and prayer we identify ourselves as more than mere followers—Christians—but disciples like the Twelve. Hence, to summarize in the most simplistic of manners: a Christian believes, whereas a disciple does.
So what is discipleship?
Let me begin by explaining what discipleship is not: It is not a class. It is not a seminar. It is not a degree you earn. It is not a program. It is not a 12-week Bible study. It is not a 40-day home group. It is not a quick process. It is not a quick fix. It is not reserved for super Christians. It is not hard. It is not an option!
We could say that discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships that are empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ. When people become disciples, they learn what Jesus said and live out what Jesus did (Matthew 28:19).
Did you catch the five components of a discipling relationship?
A disciple is:
- Intentional about equipping others for the work of ministry;
- Studious of and obedient to the Word of God;
- Accountable to other believers;
- Empowered by the Holy Spirit;
- Actively teaching others what he was taught.
Discipleship is about reproduction. The process is not complete until the disciple becomes a disciple-maker. How else will the message of the gospel go forth? Jesus said in Mark 1:17, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” He didn’t say, “Follow me, and I will make you ‘wise,’ or ‘holy’ or ‘happy’ or ‘smart’ or ‘successful.’” We glean three insights about discipleship from this one verse: a disciple follows Jesus; a disciples is formed by Jesus; and, a disciple is focused on others. At the conception of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he implanted the seed of multiplication in his disciples.
The gospels record Jesus ministering in five group sizes: the crowd (multitudes), the committed (72 in Luke 10), the cell (the twelve disciples), the core (Peter, James, and John), and close-up encounters (one-on-one). Making disciples cannot be abated to a particular group meeting; however, a regular gathering time is mandatory for maturity, for without it, accountability is virtually impossible.
2. Who has been influential to you in forming your view of discipleship?
After the Lord saved me in 2002 from a $180-a-day drug addiction, I wandered aimlessly in my Christian life for the next few months, uncertain of how to proceed. My Catholic upbringing did not promote Scripture reading, memorization, or unrehearsed prayer.
Sensing my desperate frustration, a friend suggested that I pray for God to provide a mentor to disciple me, just as Paul had discipled Timothy. Because I had never read the Bible, I was unfamiliar with Paul and Timothy’s relationship. But in spite of my nervous skepticism, I began to pray for God to send someone to help me.
I began attending Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans. After a few weeks, a church member by the name of David Platt invited me to meet weekly with him for Bible study, prayer, and accountability. When he asked me to pray about joining him, I excitedly responded, “I have already been praying. When do we start?
I couldn’t believe that God had heard my sincere plea for help, and had prompted David to offer to disciple me in the Christian life. For the next five months, I met with David every week to discuss the glory of God, the lost nature of man, and the good news of Christ. Throughout this time, David constantly encouraged me to share my story with others. The following month, I enrolled in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to prepare for a lifetime of ministry. We continued meeting, enlarging our group to seven other seminary students, every Tuesday and Thursday mornings for the next eighteen months.
Shortly after, God graciously brought another key person into my life. Tim LaFleur, a campus minister at Nicholls State University, invited me to work with him for the summer in Glorieta, New Mexico, helping hundreds of college students grow into mature followers of Christ. We spent those three months discussing the essential doctrines of the faith, the power of the Holy Spirit, the equipping of saints for service, and the assurance of salvation. He straightened out my faulty theology, always correcting me with grace and love.
3. In your mind, is discipleship one aspect of church ministry or the totality of all a church does?
Sadly, if ministry is reduced to a class, discipleship is the elective that no one chooses. Making disciples was not an option for the twelve. Since they had been discipled, the command from Jesus was not a theory. Unfortunately, many pastors have not been presented with the opportunity to be discipled, leading to a misunderstanding of the importance of and need for discipleship. Discipleship is actually a model for evangelism that is often overlooked.
In essence, the D-Group (i.e., “discipleship group”) is designed for the player to become a coach. Leaders must communicate this purpose at the outset of the group. If it is not discussed early on, members in the group will adopt a consumer mentality, with a narrow-sighted, self-serving focus. The heart of discipleship, as Christ modeled and instituted it, is that you are not learning only for yourself. You are learning for the person whom you will mentor in following Him.
The Great Commission is designed to be a team effort. Instead of the pastors/leaders/Sunday school teachers/deacons performing all the duties of ministry in the Church, the saints are equipped to carry out the work. The ministers cannot carry out the command alone, as Paul clearly stated:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11 [ESV]).
Greg Ogden, in his book Transforming Discipleship, expounds this point by graphically illustrating the contrast between someone personally seeing one person come to the Lord every day for a year, as compared to investing in the same two people for an entire year. The evangelist hits the streets every day with the goal of sharing the gospel with as many people as needed to see God save one person. In contrast, the disciple-maker walks two people through a year of intensive discipleship.
The slow-moving discipleship process creeps forward with only four people being impacted in two years compared to 730 converts through the solitary work of a busy evangelist. However, this radically changes with the passing of time. After sixteen years of the same activity, the evangelist would have seen almost 6000 people come to faith in Christ, while the disciple would have impacted 65,536 people.
Every person on the planet would be reached multiple times over after thirty years. It is a ministry shift from a strategy of addition, where the clergy performs the ministerial duties, to one of multiplication, where believers are expected and equipped to personally participate in the Great Commission.
Multiplication—not addition— is Jesus’ plan for reaching the world with the gospel. And multiplication is the purpose of the D-Group. If the body of Christ would accept this plan, embrace it, and faithfully obey it, then the Great Commission could be accomplished.