Most church leaders agree that the church’s mission is to “make disciples,” as stated in Matthew 28:19. The question remains, how do we effectively accomplish that? God has preserved for us in Scripture a great template of a disciplemaking church that was planted by Paul in Thessalonica. Paul came to this coastal port city in Greece in AD 50 and stayed there for just a few weeks to provide birthing instructions for this new church. We see a straightforward process of making disciples that Paul demonstrated in 1 Thessalonians, chapters 1 and 2.
This process made a major spiritual impact and a new lifestyle of disciples making disciples. The first step of this process is described in 1 Thessalonians 1:6: the believers became imitators of Paul and the model he provided. Even in the midst of much opposition and persecution, Paul set the pace. In verses 7 through 10, we see the results of Paul’s modeling with the Thessalonian believers:
- The Thessalonians “became examples to all the believers.”
- The Word of God rang out from them, and their “faith has become known everywhere.”
- They “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”
- They were “waiting in anticipation for God’s Son, Jesus.”
This new modeled lifestyle resulted in this young church living out their faith in God and becoming examples to everyone they met. In two years the church was motivated to share the gospel and help believers grow as far away as Macedonia and Achaia (which is 190 miles from Thessalonica).
It is evident from 1 Thessalonians 1:7 that disciples reproduce disciples through modeling. Modeling can be described as one person pouring truth into another person’s life during ordinary daily activities. We are all models. Matthew 7:17-18 tells us that we can only reproduce what we are. What kind of models are we?
In 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, we see the second step, which is living out the life of a disciple in a new daily routine. Paul tells us that he encouraged each believer personally, he comforted like a father to his children, and he urged the church to live lives worthy of God.
Often in Paul’s writings, we see him using a threefold process of building up the new churches he started. He encouraged the believers and that built confidence in God. As a father does with His children, God calls us to His side to stimulate and motivate. Then, Paul comforted by meeting the personal and emotional needs of those he ministered to. Lastly, we see him urging on the saints by giving the proper motivation at the proper time. Paul often testified to the believers out of his own experiences with the Lord.
We must remember that instructing believers is not the same as living out the life of a disciple, as Paul did. In 2 Timothy 2:2, as well as other writings, Paul reminds Timothy of the things that he has seen and heard, but also shared in experiences.
The third step in Paul’s pattern was to pass on the baton of spiritual reproduction to those he was discipling. It is clear that the Thessalonian church systematically prioritized building relationships with non-believers. In the course of daily routines, the gospel was lived out, shared, and then the new life in Christ was modeled. As one life spiritually impacted another life, new disciples matured and quickly reproduced this process with their friends. This resulted in many generations of disciples made in a two-year period spread over 190 miles. Repeatedly in Scripture, we see Jesus and His disciples passing on the process of making disciples to those they are discipling. Jesus talks about passing it on to the disciples in John 17:18, and Paul built this same culture into his work with Timothy and Titus.
Notice the steps of disciplemaking that continue to this day as we live out the Great Commission. First, believers become imitators of their disciplers and the godly models they provide. Next, believers live out the life of a disciple in a daily routine. Finally, they pass on the baton of spiritual reproduction to those they are discipling.
Oswald Chambers sums up God’s call on our life in his book My Utmost for His Highest:
“Our work begins where God’s grace has laid the foundation; we are not to save souls, but to disciple them. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God’s sovereign grace; our work as His disciples is to disciple lives until they are completely yielded and surrendered to God. One life wholly yielded to God is of more value to God than 100 lives awakened by His Spirit. God brings us to a standard of life by His grace, and we are responsible for reproducing that standard in others.”
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