Having established that the content of discipleship is the gospel in all its riches and depths, what is the method to deliver this content?

As a pastor and follower of Jesus, how do I communicate and apply discipleship as gospel re-presentation in ministry? The starting point is personal repentance. I have too often found myself lacking the faith to trust in the message of the gospel and the means of God to transform people’s lives. I must turn away from my confidence in my ineffective and supposed “extraordinary abilities and gifts” and trust in the “ordinary” means of God in the gospel which have the power to “destroy strongholds” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Seeing Myself as a Patient
Discipling is not about being a guru or modeling the all-together life. Where I have not lived transparently, I have communicated that I do not need a Savior. Instead, I must be convinced of the reality that I am a patient and God has called me to be a physician of souls as well. As I look to care for the souls God has entrusted me with in ministry, I see myself as needing the same cure they do.

The remedy that I commend to them in the gospel, is the same remedy I must partake. We must together soak the wounds of our sin, in the living water of the gospel.

Part of being a physician of souls is to carefully examine my own life in the light of Scripture and see where I could be “always able out of Christ’s fullness to select the spiritual remedies required.”[1]  Archibald Alexander noted how he was inspired by the medical students of his day with “the alacrity and perseverance with which [they] attend upon anatomical and physiological lectures” and how “the men of this profession make experiments are highly worthy of imitation.”[2]  Such effort is doubly worthy of pastors and disciple-makers today that we might see the Great Physician cure people’s souls through “inculcat[ing] clearly, fully, and practically, the grace of God as manifested in the Gospel.”[3] For until I learn this skill I can expect “no vigorous growth of piety among professing Christians”[4] or in myself.

Becoming a Spiritual Midwife
In gospel discipleship, my primary role is to facilitate and assist in the work of the Holy Spirit in another person’s life. In this role, I am believing that God is already at work by the Holy Spirit in effectual calling or in sanctification (depending on whether a person is a Christian). This knowledge gives me tremendous confidence in the transformative power of God to affect change in spite of my failings and inability.

The Spiritual Birthline[5] graphically displays the spiritual reality that there is a process or gestation period where the Lord is bringing people to Himself. This gestation period culminates in the new birth experienced in conversion (John 3:3). However, by understanding God’s place in the process we are cured of our arrogance and confusion because we know we are not able to do that which only God can accomplish. Just as the midwife does not create the life or cause the birth, the spiritual midwife is primarily a facilitator of a process initiated and governed by God alone.

The Spiritual Birthline also helps to erase some of the false distinction that has arisen between evangelism and discipleship. This false distinction prevents people from knowing that the power that brought them to Christ, is the same power they need to live for him. In re-presenting the gospel, we are giving someone more of what they truly need. It was the power of God through the gospel which saved them, and it will be the power of God through the gospel which sanctifies them.

Starting with the gospel and staying with the gospel is the reality explained in Colossians 2:6-7: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

The New Discipleship
The new view of discipleship as gospel discipleship or gospel re-presentation puts an emphasis on a “depth presentation of the gospel.”[6]  This is the presentation and the re-presentation and application of the fullness of all that Christ has done and will do in the life of a believer. The Spiritual Birthline is a helpful tool here. The Birthline assists in helping a person grasp all that God is doing in their life, no matter where they are at spiritually. In addition, I can present the Birthline and ask where a person is in their spiritual pilgrimage as a diagnostic and, in listening to them, build a relationship and get to know them on a deeper level.  Spiritual Birthline interpretation is soaking in the gospel as I assist people in recognizing God’s work in their life.

Giving myself to gospel discipling, begins with the Spirit enabling me to “be a man whose inner life has been gripped through and through by the message of the Cross.”[7]

In being gripped by the cross, I can become the pacesetter, “who motivates an ingrown church to outreach by setting the example.”[8] How does this happen? It is a transforming work of the Spirit who utilizes the meditation on gospel truths in Scripture, prayer, and faith-filled experience in ministry, to revive my own heart and renew my pastoral and leadership abilities.[9]

As I lead out from being centered on the gospel and Christ, the effect overflows into the faith community. Our confidence rests with God’s sovereign calling, so we are engaged in the process of seeing faith form in others. We do not feel the pressure to coerce or manipulate decisions for Christ, but give people the freedom to belong before they believe.[10] We can be tremendously open and hospitable as a church plant, or established church, and yet maintain our commitment to the “exclusive nature of the Christian faith.”[11]

When we embrace our calling as a faith forming community, the distinction between evangelism and discipleship disappears.

People are welcomed into the process of becoming a follower of Jesus and we affirm that the way we come to Christ is the way we live for him. Our emphasis shifts from narrowly defined Damascus road type testimonies to embracing diversity in the process of coming to faith.[12] We shepherd and midwife the people who are in process from the understanding that both the greatest resource for evangelism and the greatest resource for discipleship is the gospel.

This is Part 2 of the 3-Part Series, Discipleship in the Moment by Allen Taha.


[1] Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, Vol II, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 213-215, quoted in Stephen Smallman, The Pastor as Physician of the Soul. Grace-Centered Discipleship class notes.

[2] Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience, Third Edition, (London: Billing and Sons, 1967), 43.

[3] Ibid., 166.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Stephen Smallman, Spiritual Birthline: Understanding How We Experience the New Birth, (Wheaton: Crossway,

2006).

[6] Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press), 72-74, referenced in Stephen Smallman, A Vision for Renewal, Grace-Centered Discipleship class notes, 13 January 2006.

[7] C. John Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 115.

[8] Ibid., 15.

[9] Ibid., 118.

[10] “The missional church…evangelizes primarily by immersing the unchurched in the experience of community…the medium [of evangelism] is the community of believers themselves.” Webber, Ancient-Future Evangelism,  62.

[11] Weber, Ancient-Future Evangelism, 56.

[12] The Apostle Paul’s conversion “has provided the model of what Christian conversion is supposed to be like.” This taken with the fact of “how we conceive of conversion determines how we do evangelism,” leaves us little room for allowing time for people to reflect on their spiritual state even though conversion for the twelve was “a process that unfold[ed] over time.” Richard V. Peace, Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 19, 286.

Dr. Allen R. Taha is pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Boerne, Texas. He also serves as a chaplain and firefighter for the Boerne Volunteer Fire Department. He graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis (M. Div., DMin.). He likes to bowhunt the backwoods of Texas in his spare time.