Revisiting Discipleship (Fruit That Remains)

With the missional emphasis in the past decade, there has been a renewed emphasis in defining the mission of the church.  The Great Commission is all about making disciples, but how do we do that?  Within the missional genre of literature, there’s a growing stream of resources revisiting the practice of disciple-making, and I’m encouraged to see this take place.

Growing up, I only understood discipleship in one sense: discipleship training.  That is the 5:00PM time slot where the really dedicated church members attended church (that is, after Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, then discipleship training).  During that time, I participated in things like bible drill and youth choir.  For all I knew, it was another period and program provided by the church that dedicated Christians should participate.

Going off to college, I did not understand the relationship of evangelism to discipleship, and I was making converts, not disciples.  I would make it my goal to lead X number of people to Christ and was determined to do whatever it took to see that happen.  When the goal was reached, I thought I was really getting somewhere as a Christian.  But then I began to look back and realize that hardly, if any, of the people I led to Christ were discipled, growing, and flourishing in their relationship with God.  There was little to to no “fruit that remains.”

It was “fruit that remains” that was a central concern to the ministry of the apostle Paul.

To the church in Corinth, he warned them not to believe in vain (1 Cor. 15:2) and not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

To the church in Galatia, he was deeply concerned that he may have labored over them in vain due to their waffling on the gospel (Gal. 4:11).

To the church in Philippi, he pleaded with them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling so that “in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Phil. 2:16).

To the church in Thessalonica, he sent Timothy to this church facing persecution out of fear that their labor would be in vain (1 Thess. 3:5).

It is clear that one of Paul’s overarching concerns and fears is that his life and labor among the people of God would be found useless and bear no fruit in the end. If we were to embrace this kind of concern for the souls of men and women, how would this affect our evangelism and disciple-making?  What measurables would need to change?

Whatever might be said on this topic, we are dealing with souls that will never die.  We must hear the words of Jesus who said that we have been appointed to go and bear fruit and that fruit should remain (John 15:16). The Great Commission is not just about sinners being made Christians, but sinners made saints and ushered into the presence of God.

Perhaps one of the most glaring failures in evangelical life today is the absence of Paul’s concern that Christians remain faithful and finish strong to the end so that no one would “receive the grace of God in vain.”  His concern was not so much how many were being converted in but that not a single “child” in the faith would fail to make it to maturity. Like a father, he could not envision a single child orphaned and departing from the faith. Perhaps this is what Paul was talking about when he said “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28).

Fathers don’t bring children into the world and leave them once they are born. Shepherds don’t ignore the one sheep leaving the ninety-nine. Soldiers don’t abandon the trenches when fellow comrades are in battle. Athletes don’t beat the air or run aimlessly when training others to win the prize. These are all illustration of discipleship from Scripture intended to remind us of the Great Commission. Make disciples. Run. Labor. Fight. Shepherd. Because all of them are people for Jesus shed his blood and appointed to bear fruit that remains.

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4 Comments on “Revisiting Discipleship (Fruit That Remains)”

  1. Colin Says:

    Timmy, This is simple and very good. In light of Phil 1:18, do you think Paul would have been concerned as to the motivation of discipleship over the task of seeing that it be done? Or Jesus, for that matter, given John 14:15? In light of how I have discipled, and the books that helped me at the very beginning of my discipleship adventures (Tozer, Coleman, Bonhoeffer), I am having trouble distinguishing the new approaches to discipleship from the old. Granted, I have not experienced nor witnessed discipleship being commenced with motivation other than the gospel. I do love the brothers for the new emphasis on discipleship and glad it is being taken more seriously, I just don’t yet see the differences. Nonetheless, what you write here worthy of remembering: it is about the person continuing in maturity. And for pastors, this is a ministry of repetition and reminder in the lives of those we set out to love (2 Pet 1:12).


    • Thanks for the comment, Colin. Yeah, I’m not sure what the major differences are, only that it seems that the key issue seem to swing back and forth from time to time. For a decade, it will be evangelism. Another discipleship, Another leadership development. And so on.

      As for motivation in discipleship, in one sense you have a point, but in another, Paul lays so much of the impetus for obeying in the gospel. The indicatives drive the imperatives. So I would say the motivation is very important, and Paul uses his letters as gospel-saturated fuel for believers to press on in their pursuit of Christ.

      Speaking biographically here, I did not grow up with an explicit gospel in the church or discipleship strategy including the gospel. It was well-intentioned training that was, in my opinion, misguided and not very biblically informed. I think the guys writing on discipleship nowadays are seeking to bring discipleship beyond the classroom and into the rhythms of life where Christian maturity happens more organically and less through programs, more through relationships and less through curriculum.

      And yes, there is something glorious about redundancy, repetition, rhythms, and reminding one another. The good news about discipleship is how ordinary it is. But that does not mean it is easy, as all hell, flesh, and world will try to keep that from happening.

      • Colin Says:

        Timmy, Thanks. I think you are right. I assumed the gospel-centeredness based upon the fact that those preaching out of envy would still be preaching the correct gospel message. Nonetheless, I agree that for him, and for Jesus, motivation would be assumed. Perhaps we have lost the correct motivation; I just haven’t witnessed it personally. My background differs from yours in that I did not grow up in the church. I began discipling college students a few years after I was saved, and those times were at lunch, at their workplace, as we went on mission, serving low-income areas, or out for recreation. So perhaps the reaction is against something I missed entirely.


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