Plenary Session Focuses on Creating Solid Church Growth Through Discipleship
Jesus used some radical methods in the "contact sport" of spiritual discipleship, and today’s churches must adopt those methods if they want to see lives changed, the Fellowship’s commissioner on Discipleship said Saturday morning.
"We’re not really disciples until we’re discipling others," Dr. Deborah M. Gill, who is also national director of the Division of Christian Education, told an audience at the MCI Center.
"Any species that fails to reproduce will become extinct. The Great Commission is not an option. It is a core commandment for all believers," Gill said.
Gill reminded her audience that the Bible records how crowds were amazed by the authority of Jesus’ teaching, which resulted in personal transformation and perpetual replication.
Jesus didn’t invent the idea of discipleship. The Ancient Greeks had disciples — though the followers were not told to imitate their leader’s character. Judaism did encourage that extra step for disciples, emphasizing the importance of character.
But Jesus was able to take discipleship to an even higher level because He set a perfect standard with His flawless character, Gill said.
Effective discipleship, she said, is marked by five key characteristics that could be found in the ministry of Jesus: the authorities of grace, creativity, the supernatural, obedience and multiplication.
Jesus displayed grace to the people he encountered, she said. He reached out to those who had been rejected.
"When we don’t think we need God’s grace, we tend to think others don’t deserve grace," Gill said, "and without the Lord’s grace, we can become unresponsive and insensitive to human need."
(Foreground) Stanley Praimnath, Thomas Trask and LeRoy Bartel bow in prayer during the Saturday morning plenary service.
Creativity was also evident in how Jesus taught and how He ministered to people. Judaism had become rigid, exclusive and irrelevant, Gill said, but Jesus broke through those barriers and became proactive in reaching out to those in need.
"We don’t have to be stodgy or reactive," she said, reminding her audience that "sacred cows make great hamburgers."
In the area of the supernatural, the Bible promises that believers would be able to do even greater works than Jesus performed, because of the power of the Holy Spirit, Gill noted. That means the process of discipleship should be marked with God’s supernatural transformation in a person’s life.
Discipleship has its cost. The authority of obedience forces believers to respond to conviction, she said, adding that "transformation often comes in response to conviction." Living "in the Father’s love is worth any price," she said.
And the authority of multiplication will keep a church or ministry focused on the right kind of growth: multiplying believers through mentoring and coaching, Gill said.
"Your life-on-life investment is making a difference," she said. "Our purpose is to help Jesus’ followers become His closest friends, and it is your continuing love for Jesus that is the catalyst that causes much more to be caught than taught."
Gill emphasized that the process of discipleship never ends. The church must always be evangelizing but it also must always be discipling, she said.
"It’s a lifelong lifestyle, not just a momentary flash in the pan," she said.
Saturday morning’s session also featured a testimony from Stanley Praimnath, who survived the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.
"We serve a God who is great and might and capable of all things," Praimnath said.
Praimnath told of his experiences that day, which began with a stronger than normal prayer of protection for his family as they were all leaving their home in Queens, New York.
Just a few minutes after he began his work day on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower, the first airplane crashed into the north tower. He and a co-worker decide to leave their building, but a security guard tells them it’s safer to remain in their offices.
At 9:03 a.m., the second plane strikes — this time, the south tower.
Praimnath recalled for the audience how he managed to escape from the building after the crash, as God provided strength and exits along the way.
And when his family was finally together that night, he experienced a time of joy.
"I left home with a prayer, and I’m returning home with a thanksgiving," he recalled.
Also Saturday, leaders presented the Billie Davis Christian Educator of the Year Award. The award honoring excellence in Sunday School education was given to Russ and Sandy Conner, from Westside Assembly of God in Davenport, Iowa.
"The children of today need to know that Jesus loves them and that they’re special to Him," Sandy Conner said, noting that they do their best to make sure students learn how to use and apply the Bible in their daily lives.