RS102 Paper - Family & Discipleship Final Draft
THE PRIORITY OF DISCIPLESHIP IN THE CHRISTIAN HOME
Dr. Mark Heinemann
Dallas Theological Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
RS 102 Summary of Doctrine
Gregory A Hinton
The necessity for an increased awareness and attention to Christian discipleship has been on the hearts and minds of scholars, pastors, theologians, and laypeople for years. Just in the past century much has been written, published, and preached on the idea of following Christ and encouraging others to follow the same journey. In his brilliant work on the topic, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the encompassing idea of discipleship is to “Follow me, run along behind me! That is all.” A few years later A.W. Tozer spoke of a major issue facing discipleship in The Pursuit of God:
The whole transaction of religious conversation has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be “received” without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is “saved,” but he is not hungry nor thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and is encouraged to be content with little.
In more contemporary writing one can sense a similar feel of desperation for discipleship from Dallas Willard (The Great Omission), Bill Hull (The Complete Book of Discipleship), and Michael Wilkins (Following the Master). All of these authors, and many others, seek to attack the present issues of contemporary Christian discipleship, or the lack thereof. They discuss the struggle to disciple in contemporary culture and attempt to present possible answers for the modern Christian and church.
In surveying these works and others, there is a key component missing in all of them. Scripture clearly teaches that the starting point for Christian discipleship must be within the Christian home. Likewise, this biblical mandate is missing from the programming and ministry of churches. This biblical mandate is respected for its context and hallowed for its power. What is lost in its context and respect is the sphere of its practicality for Christian discipleship. Somehow this page was taken out of the “discipleship playbook” and must be re-inserted. It might be that Christian scholarship has chosen to ignore this issue based on personal conviction of theologians and scholars; this is one area that they could be greatly lacking.
The thesis of this paper is to demonstrate that although the family exists as the primary starting point for Christian discipleship, contemporary Christianity has largely neglected this biblical teaching in its writings, implementation, and ministries of discipleship. It will give an exegetical interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:1-9 as God’s mandate for the family as the key passage for this concept and expose contemporary Christianity’s lack of emphasis in this sphere of ministry. It will look at contemporary Christian materials on discipleship and show that few, if any, deal with the home as a place for discipleship. Then it will expose the lack of family focused discipleship in American Christian churches and their ministries.
Establishing Expectations for God’s People
The Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is one of the most dissected and respected passages in the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus even quotes it as the greatest command in Matthew 22:37-38. Much study has been written on these verses and the context that surrounds them. The goal for this portion of the present study is to bring to light the proper implementation of the command in that it was meant to be passed on by the parents to their children and their grandchildren. This section will also discuss the practical discipleship principles that can be gleaned from these verses. References to teaching children appear both before and after the Shema in this passage creating bookends or a sandwich out of the greatest command. As the chapter concludes there is also a practical example given to the adult Israelites on how to respond to a child’s questions about the commands.
This portion of Scripture is being given to the Israelite generation that was preparing to cross into the Promised Land and take it for the Lord. They had suffered through a long and painful forty years in the wilderness as a result of the previous generation’s decision not to trust the Lord in taking the Promised Land. The Lord gives these commands in order to help establish how things should be done and what he expects of his people when they move into the land he was giving them. The potential opposition that could come about from other peoples was not the primary concern, but rather the temptation to forget the commands that had just been reinstituted. The only way the commands would last was for them to be taught and engrained on the minds and hearts of the old and young.
Deuteronomy 6:1-3 – Commands for all Generations
Deuteronomy 6 begins with a simple introduction of the commands that Moses was giving on behalf of the Lord to Israel. As they were preparing to enter the Promised Land it was imperative that they understood what the Lord desired of them. The generation leading the people at this time had been through the entire period of wandering because of the rebellious decisions of their fathers and grandfathers. It appears as though the Lord is trying to break the rebellious streak in his people and establish a new order for Israel. The portion worth highlighting from this section is just a short reference to who the expected recipients of these commands were. The immediate recipients of this passage are more than likely the ruling, elder generation of the Israelite people. The small point made to them toward the end of 6:2 is that the commands were not only for them, but also for their children and their children’s children. In this simple specifying statement one can see the importance of spiritual things and religious education taking place in the home.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – The Shema
Most commentators focus primarily on these two verses when they discuss the early part of the chapter. This is probably one of the most revered and well known passages in all of Scripture. The force and hinge of all the commandments fall upon these two verses. They are being brought up in order to attempt to pinpoint why very little has been written about the family emphasis in this passage. Contemporary authors on the topic of discipleship will be discussed later, but here it is worth noting that most commentators and scholars give very little attention to the family ideas presented before and after the Shema. This lack of scholarly, academic emphasis could be a primary contributing factor to why more practical writings also do not focus on the family aspect of Deuteronomy 6.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 – Training the Children
In this short paragraph much instruction is given to the Israelites in how they should approach the commandments in their own lives in order that it will have maximum impact and sustainability with their children. Verse 6 begins by once again encouraging the adults that the commands must be on their hearts. In this command one finds the first emphasis on how parents should disciple their children. First and foremost the parents and older generations must commit to following the Lord before they will be able to train up the younger generations. If parents are not first following the Lord’s commands they will not be able to effectively communicate them to their children. This could cause a complete and total breakdown in the potential spiritual growth and maturity of the people of Israel.
Verse 7 begins the clear transition from the parents’ hearts to the teaching of their children. The instruction has now shifted from an emphasis on the current, “ruling” generation of Israel to the generations to come. The first command is that the people teach these same things to their children. The Hebrew language is clear in making the point that this is not merely a one-time discussion or lesson. The use of the Hebrew שׁנן (shannon) here is much stronger than simply saying “teach” or “command.” This word has two meanings. The Piel usage found in Deuteronomy 6:7 has the meaning to speak or recite in a continuous manner. It is worth mentioning that the other cognate meaning is to sharpen. Much like the consistent process that one would go through in sharpening a weapon, the same consistency could be expected of the first command given in verse 7. One cannot sharpen a weapon once and expect the blade or point to remain in its sharpened state for very long. It must be re-sharpened consistently in order for it to be an effective weapon in battle. It can be understood that by consistently performing the tasks described that follow this command a parent will have a positive impact on their children’s spiritual personality. This word helps emphasize the continual, consistency that the Lord expects from parents as they teach the commands to their children.
The next command in verse 7 begins the specifying statements of when, where, and how parents are to communicate the commands to their children. The first specific reference is to speak of them as you sit in your house. The first, and most important, place for the instruction of children is in the home. The home is where children spend most of their time and where they will learn much from the instruction and example of their parents. A parent’s pursuit of holy things will shine through the most at home. They can put up whatever front they might want to outside of the home, but the true person always shines through when in the comfort of their own home. This is why emphasis is made that parents teach the commands to their children at home. Authenticity comes when a person is in his or her most comfortable state; their home is usually the place where this comfort resides.
The next specifying statement for the communication of the commands is that parents should speak of them as they walk along the road. This communicates that parents need to be talking with their children about God and his Law not only in the home but also when they are away from home. This is the second piece of instruction that focuses on the location of the teaching of the commands. They are not meant to be only for the privacy of one’s home, but for everywhere that the family goes together. As the Israelite people traveled they would have seen monuments that were erected to commemorate something great the Lord had done. This command reminds parents to take advantage of the presence of these rock piles as they communicate the goodness of the Lord. It would be an incredible detriment to a child’s spiritual upbringing if he or she was taught to only speak of the things of the Lord while at home. This could result in a very private, self-focused understanding of worship for the children which they would pass along to their children. The general idea of these statements is to communicate that the things of the Lord be spoken of everywhere and all the time.
The next two specifying statements in verse 7 deal with the timing of when a parent should be communicating the commands to their children. Many people may understand this as being a reference to only being able to talk with their children at specific times; such in the morning and evening as they wake up and prepare for bed. As discussed earlier it is expected that there is always consistent communication of the commands from parents to their children. These two statements give specifics of as you lie down and as you get up for the timing of when one should discuss the things of the Lord with their children. One can interpret this as meaning at night and in the morning. The Jewish day was understood to begin at night, which explains why the lying down statement precedes the getting up statement. It should not be understood that the Lord is saying to only communicate the commands at these two times. These statements should be understood as a continuous idea rather than two specific times. The Lord wanted the people of Israel to always keep his commands in their hearts and they needed to talk about them throughout the day. From the moment they awoke to the moment they went to sleep, they were to be thinking and talking about the things of God. On a side note, this point blows up the contemporary idea of overemphasizing a daily “quiet time.” There’s nothing wrong with spending a specific time with the Lord daily, but He should be on one’s heart and mind throughout the entire day and not just at specific moments.
Verse 8 and 9 introduce creative examples of how one should be expected to communicate the commands of the Lord and demonstrate personal commitment to their children. They tied pieces of the commands on their hands and heads and inscribed them on their houses and city gates. These were symbolic expressions of reminding themselves of what the Lord commanded. By wearing these symbols parents demonstrated to their children a public expression of their willingness to follow the commands. It showed that they were not ashamed to be known as one who followed the Lord. Similarly, they marked their homes and their city gates with the words of the commands. This demonstrated a unity of the people and the families in choosing to honor the Lord’s commands.
Concluding thoughts on Deuteronomy 6
As has been demonstrated, Deuteronomy 6 provides a biblical model for discipleship within the home. It is worth noting that even within most academic commentaries on the passage very little is emphasized about the family emphasis. With so much attention being given to the Shema, little is given to the principles surrounding this command. It is clear that parents and grandparents are responsible for communicating the commands to their children and grandchildren. The model is one of indoctrination and immersion. The adults’ demonstration of their obedience should have permeated every part of the culture as an overwhelming example to the children of what it meant to be committed to keeping the Lord’s commands. The most important thing to notice is that the adults were expected to model this obedience, day and night, for their children. Following this discussion it can be concluded that Deuteronomy 6 provides a clear model and emphasis on the family and home being a primary starting point and foundational necessity in the discipleship of a person.
Contemporary Discipleship Trends
As one examines many of the contemporary discipleship trends they seem to all be solely focused on discipleship within the church. Few if any materials or resources on discipleship deal with the ideas conveyed in Deuteronomy 6. Most resources in contemporary scholarship have a distinct leaning toward discipleship in a fashion similar to that of the Lord Jesus. There is no one better to follow in establishing a new ministry that would need to last through the ages. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to follow the model that Jesus gave for discipleship in one’s church or ministry. In no way should there be criticism directed toward anyone trying to follow the Lord’s example in discipling others. This being said, it should be noted that the Lord Jesus provided a very unique example of discipleship. He is the Lord Almighty, and carried a weighty responsibility on his shoulders. No one in contemporary Christianity is ever going to be solely responsible for the future of the Christian Church. Jesus had that distinction. No modern scholar, theologian, or pastor will be the only person responsible for the spread of the Gospel to the entire world. Jesus was. His methods are worth studying and extremely practical in contemporary ministry, but they are not the only examples given in Scripture of how to disciple.
In order to better understand the lack of emphasis on the family as a priority in discipleship this paper will offer brief summaries and reviews of some works on discipleship. These works are great resources and nothing should be detracted from them, but the point here is that none of them deal or emphasize the idea of the family being a primary starting point for discipleship.
The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work on discipleship could be considered as one that brought to life the modern discipleship movement. Written over 50 years ago this work has greatly influenced many modern scholars and authors in the area of discipleship. Bonhoeffer’s approach is simple and direct. His focus throughout the work is to portray the idea of “costly grace” in a Christian world that had learned to thrive on “cheap grace.” He makes several strong statements throughout the book about discipleship and how the lack of it brings about a “cheap grace” perspective of Christianity. After commenting on his observations of his culture and surroundings, the German scholar/theologian moves into his description of discipleship. Like most other writings on discipleship he immediately moves to the example of Jesus. Once again it should be emphasized that the model that the Lord Jesus provided for discipleship is incredible! It is also worth noting that this is not the only model given in Scripture.
As Bonhoeffer moves through his work he explains the call to discipleship, the Cross, and the individual as they are involved in discipleship. He uses Matthew’s depiction of the Sermon on the Mount to establish the rest of his argument. He moves through the Sermon section by section depicting what each pericope means to one desiring to be considered a faithful disciple of Christ. Bonhoeffer completes his work with reference to the sacraments and the disciple’s involvement within the Church. It appears as though his work was not to provide a “how to” guide for discipleship, but rather to bring to light the churches lack of discipleship. The Cost of Discipleship is a primary resource and reference for most contemporary books on discipleship, which might help to explain why the neglect of the biblical principles found in Deuteronomy 6. So much of Bonhoeffer’s work focuses on the example and teachings that Christ gave which in turn has lead to others who have followed him to have a similar focus in their writing. Although it neglects the biblical principles that this paper is looking for, the work is brilliant and extremely practical for all Believers!
The Complete Book of Discipleship
Bill Hull takes an overarching look at the concept of discipleship from its earliest beginnings and traces it all the way to modern times. He begins with the biblical perspectives on discipleship, choosing to primarily focus on Jesus’ discipleship ministry. In this section Hull explains what discipleship is not and provides several definitions for key terms about discipleship. He continues his study by focusing on the origins, story, stages, approaches, and distinguishing characteristics of discipleship. He also provides major sections of his book to the roles of small groups, pastors and congregations in discipleship. Within a couple of these chapters and sections there are some titles and subtitles that may catch ones attention. In his referencing of the history of discipleship he has a section that deals with ancient Hebrew discipleship, OT discipleship. As one turns to this section he or she will find a great perspective and discussion on Moses and Joshua’s relationship and how the Lord used Moses to prepare Joshua to lead his people. Another chapter is actually titled “Spiritual Generations.” Surely this section of a book entitled The Complete Book of Discipleship would discuss the importance of building the disciple through his or her home life. Another disappointment awaits the reader looking for reference to the family and discipleship. Instead of referencing Deuteronomy 6 as an example of reproduction and building Spiritual Generations, the author refers to the relationship of Paul and Timothy. This is a very unique illustration and a good one, but it does not seem to fully encompass the idea of building Spiritual Generations. What better place is there for building future generations for Christ than in a godly home? Hull concludes his book with his predictions of the future of discipleship and five effective models for discipleship. In this massive amount of writing there does not appear to be even one mention of the family as a primary starting point for discipleship. This book is incredible, and Bill Hull does a wonderful job of emphasizing that discipleship is not about programs or preaching. He completely neglects to give any attention to the benefit of discipling within the Christian home which forces one to conclude that his complete book on discipleship is actually incomplete.
Following the Master
In this biblical theology of discipleship, Michael Wilkins traces discipleship through Scripture to the point of Christ. He then uses Jesus’ model with the Twelve to build an ideal for how contemporary Christianity can do discipleship. It is obvious through simply reading the title of the book that Wilkins is seeking to follow the trend that has been set by other authors in seeking to establish his discipleship model based on the model that the Lord Jesus used in the four gospels. As one reads through this work he will notice that in presenting a biblical theology the author provides no specific reference to the family emphasis in Deuteronomy 6. The only mention of the passage comes as reference to the Shema as the fundamental truth of Israel’s religion. Dr. Wilkins continues his walk through Scripture emphasizing the discipleship model that Jesus portrayed by providing the specifics from each of the four gospel accounts. He then moves to Acts and the epistles dealings with discipleship, always referring back to the model that Jesus set. Wilkins presents some great points and makes some very astute observations, yet his book completely neglects any reference to discipleship in the home.
The Great Omission
In the subtitle, Dallas Willard establishes his premise for the book: “Reclaiming Jesus’ essential teachings on discipleship.” Willard, like most contemporary authors, chooses to focus his book on the model and teachings of Jesus in order to instruct on the area of discipleship. He begins by seeking to dismiss some of the myths that might accompany the idea of discipleship among most Christians. He emphasizes an “apprenticeship” to Jesus and challenges the reader to question who they are modeling in their lives and in their ministries. Willard offers brilliant observations about the attitude that should accompany a disciple and how one might evaluate personal spiritual status. He offers an entire section to the topic of Spiritual Formation and he also deals with issues of the soul and the mind. He discusses the spiritual and mental aspects of Christianity. Throughout all of this there is no mention or emphasis on the family as a starting point for discipleship. In fairness to Willard, and other authors mentioned in this paper, the thrust of his book is not to provide an all-encompassing model or theory for discipleship. He is noted though, because he is a well respected scholar, teacher, and author that makes no mention of the importance of the family in discipleship. This work is another brilliantly written piece, but in its deficiency helps to support the primary thrust of this paper in that it does not mention anything about the home or family in reference to discipleship.
Growing True Disciples
The well known researcher and respected analyst, George Barna, attempts to discuss discipleship based on his own personal observations from years of statistical data. He begins with an overview of the “fundamentals” of discipleship. In this chapter he does not provide a program, but tries to define how one should qualify a person who claims or desires to be a disciple. Barna then moves to discuss the state of discipleship, in a chapter that provides some incredible statistics. He offers statistics that cause an increased awareness and support for the lack of parental focus on discipling their kids. In listing the personal spiritual goals of born again adults, Barna reveals that only 7% of the adults surveyed wanted to improve the spiritual state of their families. Interestingly enough, Barna later records that 29% of adults rank being a good parent as the single most important thing in life; followed by 20% who said their personal spiritual condition and raising their kids to be Christian was most important. This is approaching half the people surveyed by Barna desiring to have some spiritual impact on their children. He continues to show that of adults surveyed only 6% listed having a healthy spiritual family as something that would make them spiritually successful. Barna’s statistics demonstrate that there is a need to increase awareness of the family’s impact on a potential young disciple. He also brings to light that there is not enough of an emphasis on the spiritual aspect and importance of the family.
As Barna completes his book he provides five models of discipleship in churches from around the U.S. Within his description of each model Barna provides an overview of how the model works and what makes it an effective model. Each model has pros and cons listed in the descriptions. In reviewing these models one will find that there is no reference to or emphasis on the family as a crucial part of discipleship. Even in his discussion of the cons of each model, Barna makes no reference to a lack of focus on the family. Barna does provide several revealing insights, but like the other works cited he makes not particular emphasis on the family as a priority in discipleship.
Like a few of the other books already discussed, Greg Ogden begins by attempting to identify what is wrong with the state of discipleship in American churches. He argues that the church has lost its focus on what it existed for and that programs and programming have become too much a part of what churches are doing to work toward discipleship. He then moves, like other authors, to discuss the model that Jesus provided for discipleship. He discusses Jesus’ choice of a few people to disciple and how he empowered those who were around him. He then moves to a discussion of Paul’s ideology for discipleship. The model he uses to describe Paul’s discipleship is a “parenting model.” Ogden walks through the different stages of growth that a child goes through and makes the comparison to a Christian. He discusses what a child will need as he or she grows and matures through each life stage and compares it to the spiritual “life stages” that believers each go through. Ogden brilliantly walks through each of the life stages describing how a person should grow and what takes place spiritually at each stage. It is incredible that someone could be so close to making a point, yet still completely neglect it. Ogden discusses spiritual parenting at great length but does not emphasize the spiritual aspect of parenting and effective discipleship.
Jim Peterson begins his book like several of others mentioned earlier with an analysis of discipleship’s current state. He concludes that after years of discipleship programming and ministry the contemporary Christian church is still not discipled. Unlike other books, Peterson does not build his model solely on the teaching and example of the Lord Jesus. He broadens his perspective and attempts to correlate more than just Jesus’ model into his ideology of discipleship. He provides one chapter that draws particular interest for the discussion of this paper.
Peterson’s fourth chapter is titled “Spiritual Parents and Growing Children.” At first glance it provides a glimpse of hope for one seeking to find reference to the family’s importance in the discipleship process. As the chapter is approached and read, disappointment awaits. Much like Greg Ogden (Transforming Discipleship), Peterson is using the family as a model to compare discipleship with. He examines the life stages and maturity of a person and makes the association with the spiritual person. He compares the development of a Christian to that of a child. He references Paul’s writing in I Thessalonians 1-2 as the primary model and almost repeats the ideas that Paul conveys. Peterson presents three stages from the passage; the Newborn, the Child, the Mature brother/sister. Each category comes with a corresponding reference to a similar life stage in I Thessalonians. It is much encouraged that this model be used because of the practicality that Paul provides for the discipler. Peterson presents yet another brilliant model for discipleship. It is troubling that his presentation could use the references and models of familial upbringing and not refer to the necessity of seeing this happen in the Christian home!
Contemporary Church Discipleship and Family Ministries
The discussion of this paper will now move from an analysis of materials to an analysis of ministries and programs. Many contemporary churches have ministries dedicated to discipleship. It is not the intention of this paper to critique the effectiveness of these ministries, but rather to reveal the lack of attention given to the necessity of the family as a starting point for discipleship within these ministries. Many of them give great attention to personal discipleship and spiritual growth, but most do not connect the idea with the family. The first church ministries to be discussed will be those mentioned in Barna & Hull’s books on discipleship. The purpose is to provide a brief analysis of the churches’ discipleship focus and demonstrate the use or neglect of the family aspect within these ministries.
Barna presents Pantego Bible Church and their thirty dimensions of discipleship. Their model divides the Great Commandment and Commission into three sections with ten dimensions in each. These competencies are things which a disciple should be and every church ministry is focused on developing these competencies within the people of the church body. Sunday school, small groups, and worship services are committed to encouraging the people to grow in each of the competencies. Reviewing Barna and Hull’s discussion on Pantego there is no mention of the family playing a crucial role in the discipleship process. Surprisingly, Barna and Hull’s information is outdated and inaccurate concerning the discipleship ministry at Pantego Bible Church.
The Connecting Church, a book by Randy Frazee, the former pastor at Pantego Bible Church, provides a very different perspective about the discipling ministry of the church. In analyzing Frazee’s description of the ministry of Pantego, it seems as though Barna and Hull classified the wrong church as the “Neighborhood Model” in their books. Perimeter Church in Atlanta (to be discussed later) fits the Neighborhood idea, but Pantego seems to be setting the standard for doing a model based on geographical community ministry. Frazee discusses the competencies model, but much more of his emphasis is on the way in which they develop these competencies. Pantego intentionally integrates the children and youth in the complete opposite way that most churches do this. Most churches use the Sunday morning worship services as a way to integrate children and youth into the church community while segregating them for smaller gatherings and groups. Pantego chooses to integrate the children and youth at the small group level instead of the worship service level. Much like the adult grouping, the children and youth are also grouped together based on geographical location. The hope of this is to integrate children and their parents with other families, couples, and singles in their same geographical area in order to impact the surrounding communities. The leadership at Pantego feels that the only way to experience and reach true community is to associate grandparents, singles, couples, youth, and children together. Frazee describes it as a picture out of an album for the “First Church of Jerusalem” in which all people were together, not segregated by age or life stage. This model is one of the few that can be found that is very intentional about associating and integrating children and youth with adults in order to better disciple them. Of all the models researched and discussed in this paper, Pantego’s discipleship model does in fact encourage and emphasize the home as a primary place for discipleship.
The Missional Model
Barna next moves to discuss Fellowship Bible Church of Little Rock and its ministry. Barna qualifies the title of “Missional” as his own description of the church that is not specifically used by the church. The entire church discipleship plan revolves around each individual and his or her Personal Development Plan (PDP). This is a tool introduced in a small group setting that allows each person to focus on the six core values of the church and how these core values are being cultivated in their own lives. Each person chooses which of the core values to focus on over the next year and the small group acts as a support group to encourage and challenge each person to grow in these areas. It is worth noting that one of the six core values of the church is being deeply committed to having a healthy family! This is reflective in their ministries in that the PDP ideas are introduced to children in the first grade. Instead of the small group setting, children are introduced to the PDP ideas in Sunday school classes. Children are encouraged and guided to focus on one area within the six core values over the year. This tool has incredible potential for maximum impact in a child’s life. If parents are consistently committed to the PDP and they model it for their children, then the children will hopefully grow up with a similar commitment to the church’s model of developing Believers through the PDP. It appears as though FBC Little Rock has taken the initiative to emphasize discipleship and growth for all ages through the PDP and their six core values. The one question for the model is how much emphasis is placed on the family working together as they grow? If parents are working with the PDP in their own lives and the children are focusing on the core values in Sunday school, what is being done in the home? Are families encouraged to discuss these things at home? A possibility to encourage the family aspect of this model would be to suggest that an entire family decide to focus on one core value together over the year instead of each person having a separate focus. It is difficult looking from an outsider’s perspective to provide a good analysis of what is happening at the church, but it does seem that FBC Little Rock is making some effort in the discipleship of young people.
After searching the church’s website and talking to a few staff members at FBC Little Rock, it has been found that the PDP plan is no longer the primary focus of the church’s discipleship ministry. No reasons were given to why the focus shifted from the PDP to their new strategy of “Reach, Build, Release.” This is somewhat disappointing in that this church and ministry had tremendous potential for discipling through the family.
The Neighborhood Model
This model is used by Perimeter Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The label is given by Barna in his book as a descriptor and is not used by the church. Its ministry focuses on developing small communities, or mini-congregations within its larger membership. The church attempts to take new members or visitors and slowly associate them with the rest of the church body. The individual, couple, or family will begin by attending a few classes to orient them with the church and its purpose and ministries. If they choose to commit to making Perimeter their home church then they are assigned to a Neighborhood Church made up of no more than 20 other people who live in close proximity to each other. These Neighborhood Churches are the primary means by which the people are nurtured and given pastoral care. Within these groups people are also encouraged to get involved with a smaller, discipleship group. This allows further growth and encouragement to each person as they are being poured into by a more intimate group of people. The church has a strong discipleship focus and surprisingly it actually does emphasize discipleship in the home! When viewing their website one will be able to navigate his or her way to the “Marriage & Family” page. On this page there are links to several other pages that contain resources and information about discipleship in the home. It is unclear how much the ministry and resources are used, but the church is providing materials and training to help parents raise their children in a godly manner.
The Worldview Model
Chase Oaks Church in Plano, Texas is given as the example for the Worldview Model of discipleship. Like many other churches, this model is based in a small or community group environment. These Life Groups are intended to associate people with other Believers in the church so that he or she can become established in the Christian Faith. Anyone can be a part of these groups and often the church sermons are directed toward getting people to join a Life Group. The goal of these groups is to develop in people a truly biblical worldview. This biblical worldview is evident in the lives of the members and in their involvement within the ministries of the church.
This model hinges on a two-year process in which groups will study through The Discovery Series discipleship curriculum. The series is broken down into four books, with weekly lessons provided for each session. A person is expected to study the issue or topic provided in the curriculum and to evaluate possible biblical responses to the issue. This model seems to be effective, but has no mention of association with the family. In viewing there website one can find a single reference to a small group that is focused on parenting, but other than this there is no focus on development of discipleship within the home.
The Lecture-Lab Model
The example for this model is North Coast Bible Church in Vista, California. The basic idea is that the Sunday morning sermon is directed in such a way that it can facilitate small group discussion during the week. The people are given outlines during the sermon and homework to work on during the week leading up to their small group meetings. The entire ministry of the church is Word-focused. Everything they do is centered on the Bible. The small groups help provide community, accountability and service opportunities. The ministry of North Coast Bible Church seems to be very effective for the people they are attempting to reach. Their website claims that over 80% of the adult attendees enroll in their Growth Groups. A careful examination of the church’s website will find that there is no reference to discipleship within the family. The only possible association could be if the children were getting similar homework that their parents were, but this does not seem to be the case.
As one reviews the discussion of this paper it is clear that the church and contemporary Christianity is “leaving one of its best players on the bench” in the pursuit of Christlikeness and healthy spiritual growth. The family unit is a crucial component that must be nurtured and harvested for its potential of effective discipleship. This paper has demonstrated that the contemporary Christian culture has neglected this biblical principle. It begins with the scholars who choose not to focus on it in their writings. The neglect then moves through the practical theologians and ministry “experts” who choose to focus on building authentic community without the least bit of focus on the family. From here the infection moves to the pastors and leaders of churches across the country and the world.
In a review of Deuternomy 6 one can identify as a major issue the lack of focus that scholars place on the clear family emphasis for bringing up future generations. So much of their focus is on the explanation of the Shema and descriptions of phylacteries and mezuzots that they neglect to even mention the theme of family. In their synthesis of the passage they place too much emphasis on the force of the commandment and neglect the practical application of it. This trend moves into more practical theological writings as well.
As one engages with the more modern ideas and writings of discipleship it will be found that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship seems to set the trend for most other authors and theologians. His focus is strictly on the discipleship model of Christ and he places special emphasis on the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. As was demonstrated, most other contemporary authors have chosen to focus primarily on the model of Christ as the preferred way in which discipleship is accomplished. In doing so they have completely neglected to even consider the family as a tool for discipling Christians and encouraging spiritual growth. They present a very good model, but it is so over-emphasized that all other possibilities are lost in the shadow of this one model. These writings’ overwhelming emphasis on the model of Christ leads pastors and churches into a place where they believe it is the only model for Christian discipleship.
The drive of many contemporary Christian churches’ discipleship programs is to see people learn to wholeheartedly pursue Christ. They develop curriculum, sermons, and other programs to encourage spiritual growth and development. As has been discussed, these churches are choosing to follow the trend set by scholars, theologians, and authors in only pursuing this one model of discipleship. They leave the family “on the bench” at “crunch time” in the game of spiritual growth. There are a few exceptions to this, Pantego Bible Church, but for the most part the family is not a focal means of church ministry or a place in which discipleship is encouraged. There is no reason for churches and contemporary Christianity to neglect the family as a foundational place for discipleship to occur.
It seems as though the last fifty to sixty years has helped build this trend. With the modern family being a mess both in the church and out, it may be easy to understand why churches have shied away from emphasizing spirituality within the home. What better way could the contemporary church impact modern culture and the world than by reestablishing a core focus on the family? If the church emphasizes and upholds the Lord’s model of what a family is to be then it can effectively use the family as a model to disciple its people. This idea is not “the answer” to building the perfect church or reaching the world, but it is one answer to how the church can better encourage and build true followers of Christ. The contemporary Christian church cannot continue to allow this vitally important, very skilled player in the game of discipleship to remain a mere spectator. The evidence is clear that the leadership must reinsert one of their most valuable resources into the ministries that the Lord has called them to.
George Barna quotes, “Having devoted more than two decades of my life and all of my professional skills to studying and working with ministries of all types, I am now convinced that the greatest hope for the local church lies in raising godly children.”
Barna, George. Growing True Disciples. Ventura, California: Issachar Resources, 2000.
Biddle, Mark E. Deuteronomy. Smythi & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys, 2003.
Black, Wesley and Sandra Taylor. Discipleship in the Home. Nashville: Convention Press, 1985.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrick. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949.
Brueggemann, Walter. Deuteronomy. Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Bryan, Gary William. “A Church Program for Training in the Christian Home.” Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1962.
Christensen, Duane L. Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9 revised. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 6a. gen. ed. Gruce M. Metzger. OT ed. John D. W. Watts. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.
Craigie, Peter C. The Book of Deuteronomy. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. gen. ed. R.K. Harrison. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.
Dark, Daniel Herber. “An Examination of a Correct and Godly Role-model for Parents Today.” Th.M thesis. Dallas Theological Seminary, 1982.
Driver, Rev. S. R. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Deuteronomy. The International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1895, 1965.
Frazee, Randy. The Connecting Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2001.
___________. Making Room for Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2003.
Harman, Allan M. Commentary on Deuteronomy. Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2001.
Hull, Bill. The Complete Book of Discipleship. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006.
Littauer, Florence. Raising Christians – Not just Children. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1988.
McConville, J. G. Deuteronomy. Apollos Old Testament Commentary, vol. 5. series eds. David W. Baker & Gordon J. Wenham. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Miller, Larry E. “Instruction regarding the Training of Children in Deuteronomy.” Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1971.
Nelson, Richard D. Deuteronomy A Commentary. London, England & Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.
Ogden, Greg. Transforming Discipleship. Downers Grove, Illlinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Peterson, Jim. Lifestyle Discipleship. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993.
Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God. Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, 1993.
Wilkins, Michael J. Following the Master. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992.
Willard, Dallas. The Great Omission. New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2006.
 Deitrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, The Macmillan Company (New York, New York, 1949), 51.
 A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Christian Publications, Inc. (Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, 1993),12-13.
Larry E. Miller Th.M. thesis “Instruction regarding the training of children in Deuteronomy,” Dallas Theological Seminary, 1971
Daniel Herbert Dark Th.M. thesis “An examination of a correct and godly role-model for parents today,” Dallas Theological Seminary, 1982.
 The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. II, Leander E. Keck, ed., Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998, 342.
 Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 6a, gen. ed. Bruce M. Metzger, OT ed. John D. W. Watts & James W. Watts, Thomas Nelson Publishers (Nashville, TN, 2001), 142-3.
Richard D. Nelson, Deuteronomy A Commentary, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville/London, 2002), 89-92.
Mark E. Biddle, Deuteronomy, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., (Macon, GA, 2003), 124-30.
J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy, Apollos Old Testament Commentary, vol. 5, series ed. David W. Baker & Gordon J. Wenham, Apollos (Leicester, England, 2002) & InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, Illinois, 2002), 140-2.
 Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, Abingdon Press (Nashville, 2001), 84-5.
 Ibid., 85.
 Ludwig Koehler & Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, vol. 2, trans. ed. M.E.J. Richardson, rev. Walter Baumgartner and Johann Jakob Stamm, Brill Publishers (London/Boston/Köln, 2001), 1607-8.
 Brueggemann, Deuteronomy, 85.
Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, gen. ed. R. K. Harrison, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1976)170-1.
 Allan M. Harman, Commentary on Deuteronomy, Christian Focus Publications (Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain, 2001), 90-91.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, tr. R.H. Fuller, The Macmillan Company (New York, New York, 1949).
 Bonhoeffer is quoted and referenced as a primary source in three of the books that will be discussed in this paper.
 Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, NavPress (Colorodo Springs, Colorado, 2006).
 Hull adapts these five models from Barna’s Growing True Disciples which will be discussed later in this paper.
 Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master, Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992).
 Ibid. 58.
 Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, HarperCollins Publishing (New York, New York, 2006).
 George Barna, Growing True Disciples, Issachar Resources (Ventura, California, 2000).
 Ibid., 34.
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid., 37.
 Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship, InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, Illinois, 2003).
 Ibid., 41-45.
 Jim Peterson, Lifestyle Discipleship, NavPress (Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1993).
 Ibid., 55.
 Barna, Growing True Disciples, 108 & Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, 303 & www.pantego.org.
 Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church, Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001).
 Ibid., 104.
 Ibid., 168.
 Ibid., 237.
 Barna, 111 & Hull, 304 & www.fbclr.org.
 Barna, 117-18; Hull, 306; & www.fbcnorth.org.
 Barna, 119-21; Hull, 307; & www.northcoastchurch.com.
 Quote by Mark Heinemann, Dallas Theological Seminary, Christian Education Department office, April 17, 2008.
 Today’s Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah, daily email devotional, Weekend February 9 & 10, 2008, accessed online at: http://www.turningpointonline.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=16402.0&dlv_id=18764.