Ever feel any responsibility for the spiritual development of the group members in your church? I do. And I bet you do too. I had an opportunity this week to ask Eric Geiger a few questions about the importance of discipling people with wisdom, one of the key benefits of LifeWay’s new Bible Studies for Life curriculum.
What is the big idea behind “discipling people with wisdom”?
The apostle Paul said, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Paul wanted to see maturity and development occur in the people he led, and according to this passage, this involved teaching with wisdom. The antithesis of “teaching with wisdom” is a haphazard plan or no plan for developing people in our groups/classes.
As we design ongoing Bible studies from LifeWay (such as Bible Studies for Life), we long for the studies to provide church and group leaders with a wise plan to lead people toward greater maturity in Christ. We are concerned about the long-term lack of impact on people in our groups/classes if there is no plan.
Is there a biblical basis for a discipleship plan?
I believe there is. The apostle Paul described his ministry as skillful building in response to and empowered by God’s grace. He said, “According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder” (1 Corinthians 3:10). In other words, the apostle Paul did not just “wing it.” He did not haphazardly plant churches or disciple people. With great intentionality, Paul faithfully served as a master builder. And likewise, he challenged us to “be careful how [we build].”
A wise builder has a set of blueprints, a plan, and a clear strategy for proactively attacking the building project. A wise builder would never come to the table with a dream of what could be built without a plan for executing it. In the same way, your ministry needs a blueprint. Your church must have a plan to disciple people with wisdom. Your church must be more than a random and disconnected array of programs, studies, and events.
What do you mean when you talk about a “wise discipleship plan”?
I know discipleship is much broader and deeper than information, so I want to be careful to emphasize that I am not suggesting a discipleship plan is equated to discipleship. Ultimately, discipleship is about transformation, not merely information or behavioral modification. I believe local churches exist to make disciples and that the totality of their mission must be to make disciples; thus, they need an overarching discipleship process that undergirds their church. But when I talk about a “wise discipleship plan” for groups or classes, I am talking about the plan for study. Educators would likely call a “plan” a “scope and sequence” of what is studied. Because community is only as strong as what it is built upon, church leaders are wise to give their groups a discipleship plan that over time exposes people to the whole counsel of God’s Word.
So each of our Bible study series (Bible Studies for Life, The Gospel Project, etc.) is developed in community with church leaders we respect, with educators, and with scholars so that we can lay our heads on our pillows at night really believing that we have a plan to develop and mature people over time—that we aren’t throwing a whole bunch of studies on the wall and hoping some of them stick.
What are some essential elements in a discipleship plan?
The most common and essential element in a wise discipleship study plan is the Word: the Living Word (Jesus) and the written Word. Studies must be rooted in Scripture, and over time, people must be exposed to the totality of the Word. Studies must also be focused on Jesus because only He transforms the heart.
The starting point for a discipleship plan may vary based on the group/class, but all studies must get people to the text and to Jesus. For example, with Bible Studies for Life we start with real life issues that people face everyday, and we want to bring the Scripture to bear on those issues. Over time we expose people to the whole counsel of the Word. With The Gospel Project, we start with a systematic plan to show people how all Scripture points to Jesus. With Explore the Bible (our next big launch for all ages), we start with a plan to walk people through all the books of the Bible. A pastor who has been to seminary would say one sounds like practical theology, one sounds like systematic theology, and one sounds like biblical theology. Three different approaches, but all must be centered on the Word.
Eric Geiger serves as one of the Vice Presidents at LifeWay Christian Resources, leading the Church Resources Division. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church.