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Disciple Making in the Local Church

Making Disciples: Local Church and Christian Community

            The church along with the Holy Spirit and His Word, make up the primary resources for the spiritual formation of the believer. The process of spiritually forming the believer is disciple making. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have perfect unity with one another in the Godhead. Likewise, believers are to be unified in the body of Christ. It is within this community that believers, who are all disciples, should be growing together in maturity in Christ. In the community of believers is where wisdom is provided, sharpening happens, and where there is support and accountability (Pettit 2008, 83-84). And as II Timothy 3:16-17 states “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of the God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” These verses may be directed more to those that are designated to shepherd the flock, but they also demonstrate what the believers in community will receive. If one is not in community they will receive limited opportunities to be sharpened, supported, held accountable, provided wisdom, corrected, taught, etc. Clearly, believers living is community with one another will have access to every resource that God has provided for their spiritual formation.

            However, what does it mean to be in community? The Greek word “koinonia” which can mean “community” or “fellowship” encompasses the ideals of Christian community (Pettit 2008, 79). Koinonia may be broken down into the four following meanings: (1) community life, fellowship, close mutual relationship, (2) participation, sharing in common, (3) partnership, (4) and contribution, gift, sharing of mutual goods (Pettit 2008, 80). Koinonia is in the Bible for a reason. It is a word in the Greek language that encapsulates all of the above meanings. There is no one word in the English language that is comparable. At best there are English words that focus on one of the aforementioned meanings at a time. Therefore, it can be seen how much has been lost in translation. What has been lost is a monumentally important understanding as to what true authentic community among believers is to be according to Scripture. It is this loss of understanding, and thus the lack of application, that have fundamentally influenced how Christians experience community with one another. While it is somewhat outside the scope of this work, there obviously needs to be a concerted effort to regain authentic community. It is only through the Scriptural concept of community that each believer is going to reach the level of maturation that Christ wants for each of them. Pettit, on the idea of a believer doing the Christian walk alone, bluntly puts it, “The loner is the loser. Life’s journey is difficult and sometimes perilous; it is better that one not face it alone. God designed companionship to shoulder life’s burdens and to share in its pleasure” (Pettit 2008, 85).

Role of Church Leadership in Disciple Making

            There have been many books written about leadership and how to do it. Many seminars have been conducted. It is a word that is banded around quite a bit and for good reason. Everybody seems to be trying to figure out what leadership is and how to do it right. Corporations, church, and other entities all need leadership to function. Without it disorder and chaos would reign supreme. Nothing would be accomplished. Short term and long-term goals would not be achieved. No planning for the future would happen. It would be each individual operating on their own being left to their own devices.

            Leadership skill level will determine the level of success the leader and those around them achieve (Maxwell 1993, VIII). This demonstrates the need for leaders to continue to develop their skills at leading. Because, in turn, it will improve the effectiveness of the entity. This is the same for the church. Churches and their spiritual maturation and ability to make new disciples depends on the leadership. If there are spiritually sick or ineffective leaders in a church, then how are they going to be able to lead a spiritually healthy church? Assuming the leaders are spiritually healthy, then they are responsible to make sure that each and every believer under their care is properly discipled. It is an unfortunate situation that many churches today do not have any clear plan or practice in place for making disciples. It appears that they are waiting on each believer to disciple themselves outside of the Sunday sermon. If discipleship happens it is more by accident, then on purpose.

            Church leaders, not just pastors, but elders also, must be involved in the training and equipping of the saints (Earley 2013, 41). Similarly, Earley states “The pastor’s main job is to ‘equip’ or ‘train’ the members to grow spiritually and use their gift in the proper way in the body” (Earley 2013, 191). Leaders need to have a plan in place that they are executing to ensure that the believers that they are caring for are discipled. It must be intentional. The priesthood of all believers needs to be emphasized (Comiskey 2007, 49). Joel Comiskey is one of the bigger leading proponents to the creation and expansion of cell churches. He believes that cell churches are the best way for disciples to be formed. In Comiskey’s book The Church that Multiplies: Growing a Healthy Cell Church in North America, he talks about the Radical Middle, which is in reference to the radical nature of cell church ministry and the need for it to work in a practical way. More particularly to the point, the first concept that defines this Radical Middle is the idea of the need for senior leadership to have a vision, in this case for cell group ministry, and that the people will be able to determine how important it is by watching the leader (Comiskey 2007, 60). “No matter who introduces small group ministry into a church, that ministry will only go as far as the Senior Pastor’s vision for it” (Comiskey 2007, 60). This illustrates the need for leadership to have a vision for whatever method the church has for making disciples, otherwise, it will be either limited, ineffective, or not done at all.

Role of Spiritual Gifts in Disciple Making

It is an unfortunate thing nowadays in the church that spiritual gifts, and really the emphasis of the Holy Spirit in the spiritual formation, which is also the maturation of the believer, is understated. Both are talked about to varying degrees of frequency, though there is often not enough emphasis or outward signs of what should be their prominent role in the local body. This is lamentable. As Bonheoffer puts forth, “It is the Spirit who builds up the church by gathering the individuals, even though in Christ the whole building is already complete. The Holy Spirit creates the community of the members of the body” (Bonhoeffer 2003, 221). As can be seen, the Holy Spirit brings together the individual members of the body, thus creating a community out of them and unity among them.

Within the body of Christ is where disciples discover their spiritual gifts as listed in I Corinthians 12:4-11, and thus their way to edify the body. Ephesians 4:11-13 shows the spiritual gifts of office which, if a believer has one of them and it is discovered will show their role within the body. Believers who have discovered and use their gifts within the body of Christ are participating in the priesthood of all believers. Though, if the concept of the priesthood of all believers is to truly happen then ministry cannot be left to be practiced by only the elite people in the church (Comiskey 2009, 91). The way Comiskey puts it in relation to the theory and practice of this concept is that “As children of the Reformation, most Protestant Christians today would agree that every believer is called to minister. From a practical perspective, however, most people sit back and watch the paid clergy do the work. Often the church settles for the priesthood of all educated believers-only ‘gifted’ or ‘highly educated’ people use their gifts in any significant way” (Comiskey 2009, 92). Tying in the idea of the priesthood of all believers with disciple making, Comiskey states, “The spectator nature of the Church does not turn members into ministers or make disciples of the multitudes” (Comiskey 2009, 92).

So, the discovery, development, and utilization of a disciple’s spiritual gifts is essential for their spiritual maturation. However, for them to discover their spiritual gifts, which the Spirit has given at least one to everyone, they need to be in a community of believers. It is within this community that the gifts are not only discovered, but are also developed, and used. Some of the best ways for these things to happen are for the believer to be connected with a small group of believers. It is within these small groups that each believer has more opportunities to use their gifts to edify each other.


            All of I Corinthians 12 discusses spiritual gifts. It is within this chapter that it becomes evident that spiritual gifts are not to be kept to the individual Christian alone. They are meant to be used in the body of Christ to edify all. It is within this community of believers that a disciple spiritually matures. And part of this maturing is the discovery and usage of their spiritual gifts. However, for these things to happen there needs to be leadership that places importance on developing disciples and helping them discover and cultivate their spiritual gifts for the benefit and unity of the body of Christ. The disciples themselves must be part of a community of believers for them to have access to all of the resources that the Lord has provided for their spiritual formation.


Bonhoeffer, Deitrich. Discipleship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Comiskey, Joel. The Church that Multiplies: Growing a Healthy Cell Church in North America.         Moreno Valley: CCS Publishing, 2008.

Comiskey, Joel. Discover: Use Your Gifts and Help Others Find Theirs. Moreno, Valley: CCS    Publishing, 2008.

Comiskey, Joel. The Spirit Filled Small Group: Leading Your Group to Experience the Spiritual    Gifts. Moreno Valley: CCS Publishing, 2009.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making is: How to Live the Great Commission with        Passion and Confidence. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013.

Maxwell, John. Developing the Leader Within You. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993).

Pettit, Paul. Foundations of Spiritual Formation: A Community Approach to Becoming Like Christ. Grand Rapids: Kregal Academic, 2013.

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