Summary: It is God's will for people to progress through the stages of discipleship from being spiritually dead, to being a spiritual infant, child, young adult, and parent. We must be able to assess where we are and where others are in the process so we all can grow to maturity.
A. I like the story told of the little boy who was confused about something and said to his Bible class teacher: “There’s somethin’ I can’t figger out.”
1. The teacher said, “What is it, Joey?”
2. Joey said, “Well accordin’ to the Bible, the Children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, right?”
a. “ Right,” said his teacher.
3. Joey continued, “And the Children of Israel defeated the Philistines, right?”
a. “Er – right,” said his teacher.
4. Joey continued, “And the Children of Israel built the Temple, right?”
a. His teacher said, “You’re right, again.”
5. Joey concluded, “So, the children of Israel wuz always doin’ somethin’ important, right?”
a. “That’s right,” said his teacher, “So what’s your question? What can’t you figure out?”
6. “What I wanna know is this,” demanded Joey, “if that’s what the children of Israel wuz doin’, then what wuz all the grown-ups doin’?”
B. What little Joey didn’t understand was that even though God’s people are always described as God’s children, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t the grown-ups.
1. Today, as we continue our series on discipleship, we want to explore the stages of discipleship.
2. When a person becomes a disciple of Jesus, they are born again into God’s family and will be known as a child of God for the rest of their lives.
3. And even though God will always be their Father and they will always be His child, God has created and designed His children to move through a progression of stages of growth.
4. I like the way Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington have defined these stages of growth in their book Discipleshift, and I will be borrowing their model and their descriptions to help us understand how we are to grow as a disciple and how we are to help others grow.
5. Putnam and Harrington suggest that there are five stages of discipleship; starting with a person being spiritually DEAD, then becoming an INFANT, a CHILD, a YOUNG ADULT, and finally a PARENT.
C. Before we look at these stages of discipleship more closely, let’s consider this illustration: Imagine you are a medical doctor in charge of a number of residents at a large hospital.
1. You know that your task is to teach these med students the knowledge they need to be a doctor, which includes appropriate empathy and compassion, as well as the best methods and practices for patient health.
2. This is a huge undertaking, right? How can this task be accomplished?
3. The process needs to be broken into manageable pieces and an appropriate sequence.
4. First, you begin by recognizing that an apprenticeship like this will take several years.
5. Next, you begin to impart the knowledge and training step by step, with each successive year building on the last.
6. The student’s advancement in the program is about more than just their grasp of the information, it’s about how they progress in overall development in the process.
7. Obviously, a third-year student should exhibit more maturity than one in the first-year, because that student has had more time to grow and develop in each key area of growth.
D. This process of becoming a doctor is similar to how people develop in all kinds of enterprises, from the military to sports programs, and is also the way Christianity works as well.
1. Discipleship is a process that works through predictable stages.
2. It might seem strange to categorize people into spiritual development levels and stages, but it is necessary for growth to take place.
3. We need to keep in mind that there’s a big difference between judging people and assessing a person’s spiritual development.
a. Judging implies that we are issuing a final verdict on their character or morality, or are condemning them.
b. Instead of condemning them or placing them in a category that they can’t move out of, spiritual assessment seeks to determine the stage of a person’s spiritual development in order to help them move forward and grow.
4. Jesus made it clear that you can know a tree by its fruit and that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
a. In other words, you can tell where a person is in the stages of their spiritual journey by paying attention to the things they say and do – these things reveal where they are on the road to maturity.
5. So, it is very important and helpful for us to name the stages of growth for a disciple, and understand the basic characteristics and the needs of each stage.
a. The goal is not to simply categorize or label people, but to help them grow.
b. When we understand how a disciple grows, we can be more intentional in the process of growing disciples who make disciples.