Choosing a Discipleship Curriculum
There is an endless supply of very good discipleship materials out there. The real issue though is not how much is available, but how deep do you want to go with Jesus and how closely the curriculum follows the Master’s plan for discipleship. As you think about your long-term discipleship plans, what are you hoping to accomplish? Take a look at your current discipleship curriculum and evaluate your options.
What is a Discipleship Curriculum?
Some misconceptions about discipleship are that it is thought of as a component of teaching, or the numbers of books you read, or how many Bible verses you memorize, etc. And though discipleship does include these things, it is much, much more. Discipleship is all about becoming Christ-like – becoming a doer of the Word. Think of it as spiritual parenting. Jesus said to go and make disciples. Taking a look at Deuteronomy 6:1-25, you can see significant principles of discipleship:
*The aim of discipleship is obedience to God's Word, not just head knowledge.
*Discipleship is founded on a relationship with God and with others; it is both vertical and horizontal (Matthew 22:37-40, the Great Commandment).
*Discipleship recognizes that one is a teacher and another is a student, both mutually submitted to one another, both on the journey, both learning to walk as Jesus walked.
*Discipleship recognizes that learning involves transparency, safety, confidentiality, content, environment, experiences and relationships. An effective discipleship curriculum is built upon strong foundational biblical principles.
*Discipleship creates an environment where no one stands alone, struggles alone, serves alone, develops alone, seeks alone, or grows up alone.
Discipleship Curriculum Components
Six key questions should be asked to help evaluate curriculum materials:
1. Does the Curriculum Embrace God’s View of Biblical Community?
Scripture paints a clear picture of a God who not only lives in community but embraces and seeks after it. We see this first with Adam (Gen.1:26), then with the people of Israel (Deut.6:4) and in the Godhead (John1:1-3). Since God lives and works in community, and we are made in the likeness of God, then we are created to live in and for community.
Additionally, Jesus and the disciples modeled community. Christ came to provide community and live with us (Matt.1:23) and then He called a small group of disciples to live and walk with Him (Mark 3:7-10,13-14). Jesus knew the multitudes had great needs, but chose to invest His life and ministry with the twelve and especially with the three (Peter, James and John). By walking with and training a few, He ultimately reached many.
Community and unity are Jesus’ prayer for His disciples. It is seen in His prayer for us that we may be one as He and the Father and Holy Spirit are One - He prayed that God would keep His disciples safe from Satan's power, set them apart and make them pure and holy, uniting them through His truth (John 17:11). Further, Christ sees our unity and community as our message to the world that He is love, and if we, the church, fail at community, we fail our mission (John 17:21, 23). Jesus' great desire for His disciples is that we become one - united in purpose and community. He desires that we be unified as a powerful witness to the reality of His love to the world.
As such, a discipleship curriculum should emphasize God’s view toward biblical community.
2. Are Life Needs and Questions Answered Through Your Discipleship Curriculum?
A good discipleship curriculum will focus on building long-term relationships. Relationships are at the heart of God and should be a large part of your discipleship process. To be relevant, your curriculum should connect people to God and people to people. Your discipleship process should ensure that relationships are developed and sustained in a life-giving manner through close, safe, confidential life relationships - “doing life together” where everyone is cared for and no one cares for too many (not more than four). No one should stand alone, struggle alone, serve alone, develop alone, seek alone, or grow up alone. Your discipleship process should provide an infrastructure to assure that the workload is shared (Exodus 18:9-22), that everyone receives care (Acts 6:1) and that leadership is provided (Titus 1:5).
3. Is Your Discipleship Process Academic or Relational?
From the Bible we learn that: 1) God wants people to seek a relationship with Him (Acts 17:24-27); 2) God wants us to have relationships with others (Genesis 2:18); 3) God reveals His emotions to us (Ephesians 4:30; Zephaniah 3:17); and, 4) God intervenes when we can’t communicate (Romans 8:26-27)
A good discipleship curriculum will develop community so that people are strengthened in life’s storms (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10), provide godly, biblical wisdom for making good decisions (Proverbs 15:22), confidentiality and accountability for spiritual health (Proverbs 27:17), and strength, reliability and assurance (Proverbs 18:24).
4. Are Important Truths and Principles Conveyed and Imparted?
Under the direction of a more spiritually mature and trained leader, groups should not simply be academic. They should meet weekly for mutual edification, encouragement, study, and confession of sin and accountability for growing in holiness. The curriculum should provide a structure designed to purposely and closely inspect the condition of the members, to help them through trials and temptations, and to bring further understanding in practical terms to the truth they hear and learn. In other words, the curriculum should integrate a process that nurtures each person’s desire to grow in love, holiness, and purity of motive. The environment should be one of ruthless honesty and frank openness. Accountability should be maintained where everyone answers openly and honestly in the meeting each week.
5. What Will Members Know, Believe and Do as a Result of Your Curriculum?
Theologically, believers should understand and apply sound biblical doctrine. The curriculum should purpose to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, realized as life-long relationships are built in the context of safe and confidential groups of no more than four disciples per group, men with men and women with women. Foundationally, a discipleship curriculum should embrace the following essential elements: 1) Love - the pursuit the Great Commandment - our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with others (Mth. 22:37-40); 2) Christ-likeness - the pursuit of Christ-likeness as we observe the Great Commission (Mth. 28:19,20) - a genuine desire to be conformed to the character of Jesus. The process should embrace Christ-conformity (Gen 1:26; Rom 8:29), grace, and humility (Mth. 11:29); 3) Devoted - a commitment to the four fundamental devotions of the church as recorded in Acts 2:42 - God's Word, fellowship, communion, and prayer; 4) Equipped – a discipleship curriculum should help equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-16); and, 5) Faithful – a good discipleship curriculum should follow Jesus' pattern for discipleship and which Paul presented in 2 Timothy 2:2.
6. Does the Curriculum Focus on the Master’s Plan for Discipleship?
From Jesus we learn that we are to: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mth. 28:19,20). The Great Commission has three participles: "go", "baptizing", and "teaching” and one imperative verb, a command, "make disciples." The main idea of a good discipleship curriculum is to make disciples. The participles tell us how to do that: we make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. So the goal of a curriculum should be to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded.
To be transformational, a discipleship curriculum should answer 3 questions: What must people know, feel, and do? Discipleship is a process – not a program. It should be Biblical, relational, intentional, sequential, transferable, continuous, measurable, have a defined entry point, sustainable, scalable, and reproducible. It’s not just a matter of just getting people all the way through the Bible. It’s about getting the Bible all the way through people.
Choosing a discipleship curriculum is not an easy task, but making wise choices about your curriculum will have an impact for generations to come. Pray and carefully plan, seeking to use the best resources you can find that purposely focus on making disciples who can make disciples.