Jesus told us to make disciples. But how? We might answer, “by teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded.” Again, how? And where do we start? The dilemma facing the church is this: How can a church create disciples who know when they’ve been discipled, and upon completion disciple others in the same manner? My name is Thomas McCuddy, and I intend to address these questions and the issues presented below in my talk at the National Conference on Christian Apologetics 2016.
Typical church discipleship looks like (1) Experiencing God, (2) book studies, (3) thematic studies from the Christian book store, and (4) studies produced by big name Christian writers. Current discipleship methodology teaches disconnected disciplines, pieces of the Scriptures, and topical studies. With such methodology, how do believers know when they are ready? How does the church know? If a believer’s spiritual walk is lacking or training is deficient, how would the church accurately evaluate the believer to assess how to help? And when in the world does the church integrate apologetics and how?
I have worked in the church in different capacities since 1997, and I have often asked myself these same questions. Having ministered in small to medium urban and rural churches as well as large suburban churches, one theme is clear: most churches don’t know the answers either. As a result, many believers go unequipped, they stagnate, and many either drop away forever or continue to attend as a manner of routine, not worship.
This talk gives church leaders a tool to disciple believers from salvation to “fully equipped” by exploring a “spectrum of discipleship” to fully equip the believers. I do not say “completely equipped” as if any model could be sufficient by itself. But I do offer elements on the spectrum that are necessary if churches are going to reach the goal of fully equipped disciples. Additionally, this talk integrates apologetic content naturally and seamlessly into such a spectrum of discipleship. Finally, this talk uses apologetic methods to do more than make disciples information sponges but to be critically thinking in all areas of the faith.
The advantages to this method are several.
In short, this spectrum of discipleship will walk through eight stages to develop a disciple from understanding salvation to being able to disciple other believers. Consider this analogy: children grow through stages. They learn to eat solid food, they are potty-trained, they learn to dress themselves, they navigate puberty, earn a driver’s license, and then move out. If a child skipped one or more stages, the difficulties that would follow are obvious.
It is the same way with spiritual children who try to grow up or mature in the faith and skip or miss critical developmental stages. This spectrum of discipleship will explore eight stages critical to making one mature in the faith or in other words, “fully equipped,” and it will demonstrate how apologetic thinking and content integrates within the spectrum as well as guides the other stages.
We will spend our hour outlining the concepts, offering ideas and considerations often overlooked in the church discipleship and apologetics ministry, and emphasizing the union of discipleship and apologetics as fully equipping the person, not just as “academic pursuit” as apologetics is often wrongly characterized and implemented in the church.
I strongly believe in these concepts and have spent almost 20 years in church and para-church ministry honing this spectrum and teaching through in various capacities. I have served as a youth pastor, associate pastor, and now senior pastor within the church as well as currently serving as a Bible college professor of apologetic in a school that emphasizes the practical training of pastors and lay leaders. I received an MA in Biblical Studies and Apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary and am currently pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry in Apologetics from SES. My ministry and life goals are simply to “fulfill the Great Commission by defending the gospel and equipping the saints,” so I am fully invested in helping any church in any way I can accomplish these same goals.
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