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Spirit-Empowered Discipleship

Speakers suggest different models would yield better results.

Pastors and leaders met for conversation, encouragement, and exhortation at the discipleship luncheon Wednesday during the 56th General Council in Orlando, Florida.

The event opened with Roger Gibson, senior national director of Adult and Family Ministries, recognizing Wes Bartel's years of service as Discipleship Ministries director. Bartel retired in December 2014 after 12 years in that position. 

Tom Groot, national Christian Education director, introduced Alton Garrison, assistant general superintendent for the Assemblies of God, and author of Spirit-Empowered Church, as speaker for the event. 

Garrison began by explaining that he serves on a Global Discipleship Taskforce that has been studying Spirit-empowered discipleship for several years. That task force received a report at its recent Empowered 21 meeting that includes this statement: "In our curriculum and conferences, books and articles, we have embraced an ill-defined discipleship process. Though sincerely motivated, most miss the target and produce inferior results. They start at the wrong point, which guarantees a wrong result. In theological terms, they are rooted in anthropology (the nature of man) instead of pneumatology (the nature of the Spirit)." 

When Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research completed a survey for the Assemblies of God a few years ago, he reported that 93 percent of Pentecostal pastors were dissatisfied with discipleship in the churches they served. David Kinnaman, in his book, UnChristian, says, "In virtually every study we conduct . . . born-again Christians fail to display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives." 

Garrison observed it's difficult to get people to practice what they say they believe. 

"Our failure to produce Spirit-empowered disciples has planted seeds in America, and we are now horrified at the harvest," Garrison said. "How do you engage your congregation in a systematic study of Scripture?" 

Garrison further read from the E21 Discipleship task force report: "These models (currently prevalent) call on the disciple to know and do: rational knowledge (learning, memorization, course work) and behavioral activity (how to act, what to do)." He concluded that knowledge and behavior are essential, but do not transform, that knowledge stops short of the Holy Spirit's destination of loving God and loving others, and that behavioral effort cancels grace and creates Pharisees. 

"What's missing is the imperative of life in the Spirit, experiencing the presence and the power of the living God," Garrison exhorted. He asked the attendees to consider this suggested process, currently in embryonic stages and not exhaustive, when a church strives to achieve better discipleship outcomes: 

  • Sequential: An unbroken continuum, from cradle to grave in age and stage.
  • Symmetrical: Holistic recognition of the Acts 2 model of evangelism, discipleship, service, fellowship, and worship, of the first-century Church to still be a relevant model today.
  • Scriptural: Second Timothy 3:16 gives a solid outline for doctrine and behavior: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." 

"These two purposes of truth [doctrine and behavior] are critical for life and ministry, but they aren't sufficient in themselves," he noted. "What they need is to take the center path into loving God and loving others revealed in the Great Commandment." 

Garrison referred to his book Spirit-Empowered Church for further study on living Spirit empowered, and on using Scripture for relational significance, and relational purpose. He concluded, "Relevant discipleship does not begin with doctrines or teaching, parables or principles, church polity or stewardship -- but with loving the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength." 

Mike Clarensau, dean of the College of Bible and Church Ministries at Southwestern Assemblies of God University, and author of Spirit-Empowered Life, was called to the platform to answer questions from Garrison concerning how a Spirit-empowered life begins, and how his book speaks to pastors and leaders.

Garrison concluded the luncheon by encouraging the pastors to carefully choose curriculum with emphasis on being Spirit-empowered.


Darla Knoth

Darla Knoth is is senior editor of Adult and Youth Resources, Editorial Services, at the Assemblies of God National Office.