Discipleship in the Reformed Tradition

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Puritan Board Freshman

It's been a while since I've posted anything here. I've been pretty busy with my 1 year old and pregnant wife. But now we are a family of four, so I guess I have even less time these days.

I was wondering how the reformed tradition has handled such issues as discipleship. It seems like the discipleship that we see in scripture looks more like what today we might call missionary work. If that is the case, what should discipleship look like within the context of our own culture? Sometimes I get to feeling like we expect people to become disciples on their own without investing in them personally.

Is modern reformed discipleship one on one mentorship, Sunday school education, bible studies, anyone or all of these.

I'm not such a new Christian these days but have long desired discipleship, with the intended purpose of inviting involvement into my life by Godly men to correct, encourage, and generally sanctify my walk. It seems like this sort of involvement is foreign to many men in the church. The church was not a part of my upbringing, which I why I now look to the church for such things.

Have you had personal discipleship/mentoring within the context of your churches? What did it look like? Did it work well, building up men qualifying them for office in the church?

Of course the bible ought to be our source of learning but is there a curriculum that might help older men mentor the younger men?

I appreciate your feedback.

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Dear Ken,

I do not have much to say, and I am sure some may say that I, therefore, should not be writing. But here I am.

I just wanted to say how much your request touched my heart. I read you Biography: My Testimony and Confession of Faith and felt something of what you must have gone trough so far. The few words you said about your first marriage says so much of what the Lord has/is bringing you through. Your "long desired discipleship" help reminded me of the gross lack of meaningful discipleship found most places in our modern time. I think the biggest problem in finding men to help you grow is due the sad fact that there is just not many Godly men who can help. Truly wise and humble disciplers are in short supply these days. I am 64 years old and have been through many dangers, toils, and snares, and I think (hope) that the Lord has taught me a few things. I am content, and if you knew me, that is saying quite a bit. I was an elder and Bible teacher for many years and yet still doubt my qualifications to teach others in the intimate way you are desiring. I will at least try to pray for you and your growing family. By the way, I love your name, "Lamb," May you always be as gentle as one, but resolute when you are sure of your course. "Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17)

Your little "church" that is in your home will have more influence on you children than the weekly sermons and Wednesday's small group meetings. They are important, but what you and your wife learn and teach will be what lasts. Teach the Catechism, read the Bible, sing the Psalms, pray--every day as much as is possible. Whatever goals you have, make your chief goal be to love the Lord with all your heart, and pray for its increase. I promise you that life will pass by quickly, so be sure your goals will stand the fire. I know what I want out of life. I want to be ready for my change. Before I die, I want to be able to say that I love God more than anything else. Now that a big desire, and if you knew me deep down you might say that I have an impossible dream. But God is able.

I hope others more qualified will offer you some substantial help for your desire. I have one man, and one only, that I have known for more than 25 years. We speak, on the phone mostly, at least once a week. Only recently have I really appreciated what a help he has been in my life. And I hope also in his. Let me tell you, that in 25 years we have been through a lot. This is a precious thing not to be taken for granted. I find that all we have to do is be honest with each other. I will pray that you find such a man.

God bless,

Ed Walsh
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Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
One helpful way to look at discipleship is that it happens in three main spheres of the Christian life.

1. Bible study and instruction at church, etc. We learn from the Word, are renewed inside by looking at our Savior, knowing his goodness, learning his instruction for us, resting in his mercies.

2. Repentance from sin. We forsake evil desires and actions and replace them with godly ones.

3. Good works. We look outward and spend our lives blessing others. This doesn't have to look like what's traditionally called missionary work. It's especially about helping the poor, needy, outsider... which can be defined in many different ways and can include many forms of service in all spheres of life.

In all these things, there will be going-alone aspects but it's helpful to grow together, alongside other believers. One-on-one mentoring is very helpful. You're right that there isn't enough interest in this in most American churches today.

Also, true growth in any one of these three areas will tend to push us toward growth in the others. As we grow in the knowledge of God's word and his love for us, we will be compelled to repent of sin and to love others. Likewise, as we move out to love others, we will uncover sin we need to repent of and we will find we need constant renewal by the Word, because loving people is hard and reveals our inadequacies. Discipleship that recognizes this interplay is usually most helpful. The typical American approach that suggests you join a small group or attend a class is a good start but has a limited view. If that study and instruction is not pushing us to repent of sin and love others, and is not made urgent by the struggles we face while doing so, it will lack some of the depth it ought to have.

Most good churches have communities within them where this is happening, but you often have to look for them. Ask around. They generally don't advertise themselves.


Puritan Board Freshman
So, while search out this topic, I stumbled on this book and wondered if any of you had heard of it or its author. I actually found the first reference to it on the Challies blog but found this particular article to accurately describe what I think is a prevalent situation in the church. Thoughts? Are godly men intimidated by the idea of personal mentoring or one on one discipleship?

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