Growth does not occur overnight. Just as a newborn baby develops gradually and only after much nourishment and the proper care, so it is with the new Christian. We should expect to drink milk before we can eat meat and to crawl before we can walk. God understands this better than we do, and He patiently works with us as He conforms us to the image of His Son. We see this principle illustrated in the approach Christ took with His disciples.
Jesus Had A Plan
A careful study of the life and ministry of Christ shows He was deliberate in the way that He related to and worked with His disciples. Because each of the Gospel writers recorded the life of Christ from his own perspective, it can be difficult to see a pattern simply by reading through the New Testament.
A Progressive Process
However, when the Gospel accounts are combined into a chronological narrative, it is clear that Jesus taught His disciples things that were appropriate for each phase of growth, and that He moved them through successive phases. It is also clear that Jesus intended this pattern to be repeated because, before His return to heaven, He commanded His followers to make disciples of all nations, teaching the same things He had taught.
I. Establishing Faith—
The necessary first step for anyone to become a disciple of Christ is to repent of his sins and former way of life and to trust in Christ as his Savior. This event is referred to in Scripture as being born again (John 3). Regardless of whether a person comes to faith at age eight or 88, he becomes a newborn “babe” in Christ.
II. Laying Foundations—
The focus of this early phase in the life of the believer is gaining a better understanding of who Christ is and how to follow Him. As the new Christian learns more of Christ’s nature and character, he learns to trust Him not only for salvation but for other things as well. During this phase, Jesus invited his disciples to spend more time with Him so that He could reveal Himself more fully to them.
III. Equipping for Ministry—
In this phase, the disciple learns to serve others and engages in ministry opportunities under the guidance of more mature believers. Jesus’ call to His disciples “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” indicates that He was moving them to the next phase of growth. Jesus took His disciples with Him as He went about teaching and ministering to people.
IV. Developing New Leaders—
As the believer progresses to this phase, he is ready to take responsibility for the spiritual well being of others. Jesus’ time during this phase with His disciples was characterized by teaching about how to live in His Kingdom. Also, He designated 12 of His closest disciples as apostles and sent them out on their own to preach the Kingdom of God and to minister to people’s needs.
V. Developing Mature Leaders—
In this final phase of the training, Jesus gave His disciples increasing responsibilities for leadership. In addition He instructed them regarding the priority of becoming servants, even if it meant sacrificing their lives for others. Ultimately, He commissioned them to go to the whole world with the Good News and disciple others in the same way they had been equipped.