Loss of disciple-building ministries called greatest threat to churches

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--"The greatest threat to the church today is the loss of disciple-building ministries" through which mature, spiritually transformed Christians "are multiplying themselves through other men and women," Gene Mims told employees in the discipleship and family group of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Evangelism and discipleship must be combined to gain the best of both, Mims said in his April 18 presentation on spiritual transformation.

"The Great Commission [Matthews 28:18-20] has both. It is God's way and God's truth," he said. "Evangelism is foremost; discipleship feeds evangelism."

Outlining what he termed concepts still under development, Mims reiterated a question he has posed in conferences and sermons for several years: "If you were to lead your neighbor to Christ today, in three years would you want that person to be like the average Christian?"

"In all the times I've asked the question, no one has ever said yes," Mims said.

If increased attention is not given to building disciples, Mims predicted, the number of members will drop and evangelism will wane.

He listed seven stages of a disciple's life, beginning with salvation. Others include: 2) basic teaching, assimilation and fellowship; 3) ministry training; 4) leadership development; 5) sacrificial service that includes evangelism, discipleship and multiplying; 6) personal ministry and leadership; and 7) kingdom ministry.

At the final stage, "you find out once and for all why God put you here. This doesn't happen at 30 years of age," Mims said.

Also, he said some Christians are tempted to stop ministering and serving when they're at the peak of their skills.

"You've got to keep building," Mims said. "God is trying to improve your character."

To guide Christians through the seven stages of discipleship requires churches to provide ministry development in four different ways, he said.

With new Christians, churches need to be "teaching about following Christ and ministering," Mims said.

New Christians have a multitude of questions, such as "Why do we have the Lord's Supper? What is witnessing? What is the Book of Leviticus all about?"

"But if you leave new Christians at this stage, they'll just know about Christianity," Mims said. "In the next step, disciples must be given opportunities to observe other believers."

Actual involvement in ministry under supervision of a more mature Christian is the third step.

As a young church staff member, Mims recalled being supervised by his pastor, the late Tommy Lea, former dean of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.

"He told me he wanted me to first learn about ministry and then watch him do it. Then we would do it together and, finally, I would do it. That's what mentoring is," Mims said.

"So one day we went to the hospital. I saw him make a visit. I thought I'd never be able to do that. Another day he told me he wanted me to do the talking and the praying," Mims said.

Supervision helps the believer to overcome the natural fear of ministry, he said.

The final step in ministry development occurs as believers minister independently and multiply themselves in and through others.

"Multiplying through others is not a gift but a responsibility," Mims said. "This is the call of the Great Commission. You can't have transformation if you don't build disciples."

As an example, Mims cited the FAITH Sunday school strategy. New FAITH participants begin by going with experienced team members to witness and minister. Next, they practice with a supervisor. Then they witness on their own and finally multiply themselves through others as they become team leaders.

"FAITH teaches people how to do evangelism and how to do ministry. It works for any size church and puts evangelism at the forefront," Mims said.

The process of spiritual transformation that takes place through building disciples involves seven dimensions or what Mims termed "stones."

The stones include:

-- New identity in Christ. "Without new life, there cannot be the transformed life."

-- Kingdom of God. "When you build a disciple, you extend the kingdom."

-- Spiritual warfare. "You can have the power to overcome temptation."

-- Relationships. "Leadership cannot be built without understanding biblical authority and submission."

-- Church, its nature, purpose and functions. "The Holy Spirit bears spiritual fruit in our lives and gives us spiritual gifts. Without the fruits of the Spirit you can't exercise the gifts of the Spirit for the building up of the body.

-- Biblical view and purpose of work.

-- Biblical worldview.

To meet the needs in churches for building disciples, Mims said a renewed commitment is needed to the Great Commission. That must be followed by development of a strategy incorporating evangelism and discipleship and a strategy for multiplication. Finally, a prescription for discipleship is needed.

"I don't believe any longer that you can have transformation in a church if you don't invest in building disciples," Mims said.

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