Discipleship: cutting through the buzz

Adventist Record's Kent Kingston sat down with Dr Leigh Rice, who leads discipleship ministries at the South Pacific Division, to find out what discipleship really means and how you can get involved.

(Photo: iStock)

Kent Kingston: This idea of “discipleship” seems to be going viral among Adventists around the South Pacific region. Why?

Leigh Rice: The Church in the South Pacific Division (SPD) has been rediscovering her roots as the disciple-making church-planting movement of the 1800s. It’s an exciting time as the SPD reflects on the New Testament church where disciple-making also went viral and “turned the world upside down” for Christ.

How has this happened? During 2014-15, Dr Barry Oliver, who was then Division president, led the SPD Boards and Executive Committee through a process to focus the Church strategically on accomplishing her God-given mission: to “make disciples of all people” (Matthew 28:19). These leaders agreed on a strategic focus of discipleship utilising Comprehensive Health Ministry and Comprehensive Media Ministry with a specific focus on Mission to the Cities where there are large numbers of people without faith in Jesus.

Our current Division president, Pastor Glenn Townend, is passionate about re-creating the early Advent movement and under his leadership the Division is financing and structuring to fulfil this mission to “make disciples”. This was also the focus of the recent Discipleship Ministry Team advisory meeting with the ministry leaders from the four SPD unions.

KK: Sorry to harp on about this but I get the sense that a lot of people are still confused about exactly what “discipleship” means. Is it evangelism? Mentoring? Something else?

LR: A disciple is a person who in every way is becoming more like Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:15). So discipleship is the process of making better and more disciples. In the narrow sense we could say that mentoring is making better disciples and evangelism is making more disciples. But Jesus’ model of making disciples was very relational and this is perhaps the defining focus of discipleship. Disciples who make disciples, who make disciples—a disciple-making movement. Or as the parable in Mark 4 says, multiplying “30, 60 and even 100 times”.

KK: Is it possible that Adventist individuals and congregations have already been putting discipleship principles into practice but are not aware of it?

LR: Yes, some individuals and congregations are making disciples. But on the whole the focus of the Church has been on making members and keeping them safe in the church. Re-badging what the churches are already doing will not change them into a disciple-making movement like the first century church or the early Advent movement.

The five activities framework from Mark 4 will enable individuals and congregations to evaluate the process they are following as they allow Jesus to be Lord of the multiplying harvest. Leaders who follow Jesus’ model will make disciples and mentor these disciples to make disciples who mentor those to make disciples. One of our catchphrases is “we become disciples as we make disciples”.

KK: So do you mean that congregations who are serious about being disciples and making disciples might need to actually re-examine their weekly activities, their yearly calendar and even their church offices and structure?

LR: If what we are doing and how we are doing it today was as effective in growing the kingdom as the early days of the Advent movement, then it could be business as usual. But alas it is not. Little in nature grows without following the process of preparing the soil, sowing the seed, cultivating the plant, harvesting the crop and multiplying the harvest. You cannot skip a step.

Churches need to reflect on their ministries and see if they really are taking people through the process and have ministries in all five of the disciple-making activity areas. Also our members need to know how they can be involved in the process personally. Some will be good at preparing the soil, others better at cultivating and the like.


KK: But what does it look like in practice? Can you give some examples of individuals or churches who are successfully implementing the full discipleship cycle?

LR: I see it happening in places across the South Pacific Division, both with individuals and in congregations. New disciples and church leaders are taking seriously the mission to make disciples. A young pastor from Vanuatu who went on the Discipleship Study Tour last year has grasped the role of leadership in “preparing the saints for ministry” and is seeing his churches begin to multiply. He is multiplying the harvest.

I hear of church members and young pastors planting churches in Sydney and the North NSW Conference. I am inspired by churches meeting at 5:30 every morning to pray and are seeing miracles happen as they make disciples. They are preparing the soil as are people in Tasmania who are feeding the homeless and sharing Jesus. I know of church members in Adelaide who are visiting their community and offering people Beyond DVDs. The number of people who will take a second and a third DVD on subsequent visits is amazing. They are sowing the seed.

Little in nature grows without following the process of preparing the soil, sowing the seed, cultivating the plant, harvesting the crop and multiplying the harvest. You cannot skip a step.

I see it happening with Pastor Nick Kross here at the SPD office who, as he launched the World Changers Bible and trained youth across the Pacific to become disciple-makers, was convicted that he needed to be making disciples himself. His simple prayer was, “Lord, You know how busy my life is; You will have to bring interested people to me.” And God did. Nick has seen people baptised each year as the Spirit has created these divine appointments. He is harvesting the crop.

Many of the young people trained across the Pacific could tell more stories of how the five activities process is working for them. The Church will become a movement as more and more members, leaders and conferences/missions grasp the mission of making better and more disciples of Jesus Christ.

KK: So if there’s someone reading this article who’s fired up by what you’re saying and wants to be a disciple, to make disciples and to help their church understand and embrace this mission, where should they start?

LR: Disciple-making is best done in community. This is true both for making better disciples and more disciples. This was Jesus’ method. So the starting point for me is studying Jesus’ method. Pray for God’s guidance and the power of the Spirit as you begin this journey. Seek out like-minded members who want to be part of a disciple-making movement. As a group commit to exploring the Gospel of Mark with one or more non-believers that God has led to you. Follow the relational Bible reading approach of reading the story in three different translations, re-telling the story and then asking the questions, What is new to me? What surprises me? What will I apply to my life? What will I share with a non-believing friend?

Certainly seek support from the pastor and leadership team in your congregation and the conference/mission, union and Division offices are also here to help and resource. Together let’s pray to the Lord of the harvest and live with optimistic hope that this is the final generation—a disciple-making movement.