What Is Distinctive Discipleship?

Calvary Chapel Distinctives

Distinctive Discipleship is a concept that I developed that is hardly unique to me. In fact, the practice of discipleship has been employed since Christ walked the earth and called the 12. Where I have personalized the process is a result of my own walk and experience with the church I grew up in the faith. As with most discipleship programs, disciples are made through the faithful teaching of the Word of God utilizing proven disciplines and ideologies common to and utilized by churches around the globe. Distinctive Discipleship will be unique to every fellowship as there are no two fellowships exactly identical to one another but knitted together by the common architecture that makes churches so effective in the dissimdisseminatione Gospel message.  Is it a program? Not really. It is more of an idea that stems from the need for solid discipleship in the church today, backed by a solution that has stood the test of time.

After having read Calvary Distinctives by the late founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, Paster, Chuck “Pappa” Smith, I have not found another source other than the Bible itself by which I can say the church ought to be run. Pastor Chuck was succinct in his presentation of the materials and thorough enough for a knuckle-head like myself to capture the vision for the church. Distinctives, along with Bible studies like “Self-Confrontation, and other practical teaching from the writings of men like A.W. Tozer, C.H. Spurgeon and then other  amazing teachers that I cut my Christian teeth on, have been very influential in my personal discipleship. I have heard it said that any book that stirs a hunger in you to read your Bible is a good book indeed. Distinctives is such a book.

By combining the principles in the Distinctives with an intense discipleship program it is my assertion that a fellowship could be born that could potentially be a catalyst for the Gospel in our area and beyond. Distinctives points out several things specific to the Calvary Chapel movement, but can be effective in any church organization. Calvary Chapel has not “cornered the market” on these applications but they have certainly delineated themselves from the “universal church brand” that is prevalent in the church of America today.

In Distinctives, Pastor Chuck points out the fact that we are “not renegades”; however, we are unique in many aspects as members of the body collective. The fact is that Calvary’s as a whole embrace a fair balance between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of the full counsel of God’s Word, giving both preimenance to both in the lives of the believer. Each church has unique aspects to it, and there are no two churches alike; this is the where we feel that we or anyone else for that matter, who has a genuine love for the Word of God and the faithfulness to teach it faithfully, could be a unique and welcomed addition to the church family.

As I poured through Distinctives as I have many times before I was encouraged again by the section on “The Call To The Ministry.” Personally, it was again a confirmation of the calling on my life and of the conviction that God has placed upon me to teach His Word. But as it applies to discipleship, I hold to the fact that that all Christians are called to the ministry, and identifying the calling in the lives of individuals, helping them to understand their own personal giftedness, and then further discipling them on the use of their giftedness to fulfill their calling in the body is paramount to the spread of the Gospel and the fullness of the body. As Pastor Chuck pointed out, there must be a sense of calling, but then most importantly, there must be a commitment to that calling. Distinctive Discipleship would be geared towards helping Christians, new converts and long-time believers alike, to recognize that their giftedness must put to the test through action and this active practice of our faith can be realized only through committed service to the body of Christ.

Recognizing that our callings do not make us “more important” than others, Distinctive Discipleship serves to point the long-held belief that I have which can be summed up with the following quote:

“The best leaders are first and foremost servants; it is a matter of the heart. To be a leader of leaders, one must first become a servant to servants.”

Teaching that service to the body comes by example, discipleship,  should show those being discipled that there are phases of growth in service. This pruning, and sanctification process is one that we all must go through. Experience has taught me that there are three primary phases to service, attitudes that must be recognized in order that true servanthood can be engendered in the lives of the disciple. These phases include the following:

    1. I have to serve- generally because I am either encouraged to do so or am made to do so by some authority (ex. parents, leaders, obligation).
    2. I get to serve- the recognition that service is a gift from God to bless the body of Christ.
    3. I have to serve- otherwise I would become undone. My commitment to Christ compels me to do no less

Believers must be shown through example what genuine servanthood consists of and well thought out discipleship plan would serve as “brace” or “cast” (figuratively speaking) to mend a broken bone. Spiritually, our service to the LORD is at best broken, but with the WORD of God and solid teaching, the spirit of man can be ministered to in order that it would grasp a right understanding of biblical service. This can be afforded by a purposeful discipleship program. Ultimately, the disciple should discover that their service is not really “theirs” at all, but it is only by God that they can experience the gift of ministry that comes from Christ alone. They will recognize that it is not “others” they are actually serving but God.

In alignment with Distinctives, it is also apparent that the purpose of the Church is to bring the message of Salvation to a lost and dying world, a world that we were once a part of when we walked in accordance with our flesh. Pastor Chuck points to the fact that the Church in the book of Acts was the model by which the modern church should run. In fact, he says, “Looking at the book of Acts, I believe we see the church as God intended it to be. The model that we find in the book of Acts is a church filled with the Holy Spirit, led by the Holy Spirit, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It was a church where the Holy Spirit was the one directing its operation and ministry.” Teaching the church practical ways through Scripture to continue steadfastly in the doctrines taught by the Apostles, teaching the importance of Christian fellowship and prayer and then providing a venue of opportunity for gathering together to “break bread,” and pray is of the utmost importance to any discipleship program.

“Looking at the book of Acts, I believe we see the church as God intended it to be. The model that we find in the book of Acts is a church filled with the Holy Spirit, led by the Holy Spirit, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It was a church where the Holy Spirit was the one directing its operation and ministry.” -Pastor Chuck Smith

As for discipling leadership, Distinctives is clear on the biblical response to how leadership should be developed. These criteria are spelled out succinctly in the Word of God. As it pertains to discipling, it should be the practice of any discipleship program to teach its disciples the principles of godly leadership, whether the role is practiced in the church, home, workplace, or playing field. A church that emphasizes discipleship will provide adequate opportunity for new leaders to emerge. I believe personally that the Scriptures concise portrayal of the qualifications of leadership are not arbitrary, but have a function in protecting the body. I once stood by and affirmed the “Moses Model” which is held by Calvary Chapel as the most effective form of church government, but having experienced other forms of church governance since my time with Calvary has revealed that other forms of church governance can be equally effective. By providing opportunities for the growth and development of leaders that God is calling, then we serve the church as a whole. I agree with Pastor Chuck who said, “It is my belief that everyone should be a deacon.” It is through leadership in various roles that callings are tested, and spiritual giftedness flourishes. I like what my old pastor says about discipleship to leadership, “I do, you watch. You do I watch, You do someone else watches, they do you watch,” and the cycle continues.

“I do, you watch. You do I watch, You do someone else watches, they do you watch.” -Pastor Ron Hindt  

Distinctive Discipleship begins after conversion, and we hold to the Scripture and Distinctives, (not as a corollary in the sense that Distinctives is by any way as authoritative as Scripture, but that it is in agreement with Scripture) that the Holy Spirit is present just prior to the conversion experience, but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit comes afterwards and is evidenced by an outpouring of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Discipleship with regard to the Holy Spirit would then involve teaching and developing a right understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. The current state of the world has been successful in dulling the senses of the church corporately, to the point that many believe the gifts of the Spirit are no longer functioning today in the church. I would suggest that the Holy Spirit and the gifts are very much alive in true believers today. Our role as a church body, especially as teachers, is to bring the Word of God to the people in its entirety. In one particular illustration in the Self Confrontation Bible Study by the Biblical Counseling Foundation, the author writes, “The LORD uses His children to disciple newborn believers. Sadly, many churches leave newborn Christians on the delivery table and assume their work is unfinished after someone becomes a believer. Then, they are surprised when the new believer stumbles and falls, or goes back to his old ways.” The fact that discipleship in the church is very much needed should come as no surprise. Yet, discipleship is often left to the pastor of the church to be administered from the pulpit. Yes, many in the body are discipled by the teaching of the pastor from the pulpit; however, the need for a more individualized program of discipleship is ever present. I need only to look back at my own life growing up in the faith. I desperately sought some sort of spiritual mentor but few were readily available, and even fewer willing to go the distance. I was forced to disciple myself to some degree, and praise be to God that He did not allow me to wither away by depending on my own resourcefulness, but by the Spirit, I was given a fervent passion to study for myself and then to sit under a spectacular teacher for nearly 20 years of my Christian life. True, all disciples should study for themselves, but a program of discipleship is imperative to the growth of a believer. I believe that this form of discipleship should be the church’s priority.

“The LORD uses His children to disciple newborn believers. Sadly, many churches leave newborn Christians on the delivery table and assume their work is unfinished after someone becomes a believer. Then, they are surprised when the new believer stumbles and falls, or goes back to his old ways.” -Biblical Counseling Foundation

Distinctives also points out the benefit of having a more relaxed environment in comparison to many other churches. I feel that this approach is conducive to an environment that is ripe for discipleship. By not getting wrapped up in all of the “spiritual-hype,” but allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work, I feel that more can be accomplished. People being properly discipled are more apt to introspection as it applies to the sanctification process without being inundated with legalism that prohibits the true practice of faith, dulled by mundane phenomenalism which desensitizes the Christian, or enticed by sensationalism which decieves the believer. I want to teach disciples of Jesus to allow Him to carry the burden of His church. My responsibility is to be obedient to the direction of the Holy Spirit. My focus is on spiritual growth and not the latest program or catch phrase (and so it is my earnest prayer that Distinctive Discipleship is never “coined”). Being true to the Gospel and working as if unto the LORD is our priority as the church. I believe that providing an environment where the believer is free to enjoy their walk while they are “sweetly broken” through the recognition that “He who began the work will be faithful to complete it…” will only further the process of discipleship.

This outlook roles perfectly into my own personal agreement with Distinctives, that grace is of the utmost importance. We are all sinners saved by grace. The fact that God bestows grace upon us is what is so amazing about grace! By discipling the church on the principles of restoration through faith we feel that we can accomplish much towards the effective spread of the Gospel. Discipling the church on the need for mercy towards others and removing the ritualistic and often times legalistic fixtures from the body, we set the precedence for forgiveness and grace amongst all. Of course this does not mean turning a blind eye to sin. I understand the liberties of grace are balanced by an real recognition of the price of that grace by which we have been set free.

Of perhaps most vital importance is the teaching of God’s Word. I hold that Distinctive Discipleship can only come from the faithful presentation of the Word of God. What makes it distinctive, in part, is way in which the Word of God is taught. Many churches today teach line-upon-line, precept-by-precept through the whole counsel of Scripture. Occasionally it becomes appropriate to teach topically. I agree that this style of teaching is the most effective for both learning and discipling the student of God’s Word.  As a minister of God’s Word I understand that His Word will bring the results. I am in it for the long-haul and recognize that my “success” comes from simply going and doing what the LORD has called me to do for the day before me. If in two years, three years, five years, I find the congregation has not grown to what many would call “successful,” I will and must continue on knowing that the days behind me were successful by virtue of my obedience to Him who called me. To have had this attitude modeled before me when only the faithful few were in attendance at any given function has been a testimony to the faithfulness of the pastors who, despite the numbers, carried on as if one were one-hundred and ten were a thousand!

As I continued through Distinctives I saw another element of Distinctive Discipleship that is important to recognize. I do not want to impede the work of the Holy Spirit in the course of worship, but I feel that worship is orderly and purposeful, the preeminence given to Jesus Christ and not what we “get out of it.” I want to disciple the church to understand that while we benefit from drawing close to the LORD through worship, our worship is for Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the central focus of our worship. What I have enjoyed about the more contemporary “style” of worship is that it is the most liberating. Literally, the practice of singing a new song to the Lord is employed. I value traditional hymns, at one time they too were the “new song,” but a majority of the worship music, in my humble opinion, should be current. But there is more to worship than just the music. I want to disciple the church in the conduct of worship, the importance of worship, the attitude of worship, and the spiritual ramifications of worship. I believe that worship is our offering to our LORD and when I give my offering the LORD it then prepares my heart to receive His Word. This is why many churches will begin services with worship music. This is not a show, or a band, for the purpose of entertainment, but rather it is a time of dedication to break the soil of our hearts in preparation to receive the seed of God’s Word. I recall a time in my own life where the assistant pastor of my old church (Pastor Dan Loiza- Formerly of Calvary Chapel Houston) explained to me what true worship consisted of. I found his description had come to life for me one day as the worship team played a song called “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman. It was at that very moment I was broken by the simplicity of true worship and recognized at once that pure worship had nothing to do with me at all. I understood exactly what the assistant pastor was describing as everything around me melted away and I stood in the presence of the LORD.

In Distinctives, Pastor Chuck captures the essence of the Word and his stance regarding the Rapture of the Church. This is of importance to me personally as my emphasis on discipleship will be centered around the understanding that Christ’s return is immanent. It is the single greatest hope that I have in this life and one that I am very excited about! On the biblical time-table, the Rapture of the church is next. I believe that it will happen sooner rather than later and so I plan to express a sense of urgency in salvation and the spread of the Gospel to the point that it becomes the most pressing issue of the church. Now I can try to balance that with living a life that is filled with joy and peace, yet the joy and peace that I have are in the return of Christ! And so I seek to disciple the body to live like there is no tomorrow since that could very well be true in light of the Rapture of the church. Much can be said about the position held by many churches today, which I am completely in agreement with such as a Pre-tribulation Rapture, The absence of the church during the tribulation, etc…) but as it pertains to Distinctive Discipleship, I desire to light the fire and press the urgency of the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ knowing that His return will be soon. I can hardly wait!

I also agree with Distinctives about the motivating factor of our ministry: love. I understand that without love towards those I serve that my ministry would not be a ministry at all but rather something twisted and unfruitful. Is it possible to Disciple love? Absolutely, discipling the fellowship on right attitudes and how to live a life of love towards others and showing preference to others over oneself is consistent with a balanced view of Scripture. I would instruct the church as Pastor Chuck put it, “That loves needs to be demonstrated by our own actions, attitude and life.” In other words we would hope to disciple by example. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is a prime example of this, as the Apostle Paul, under no obligation save his love for Christ, speaks about becoming all things to all men. Love demonstrated requires that we open ourselves up to the point that we move beyond our comfort zones to embrace people from all walks of life, no matter their spiritual level of maturity. I am to meet them where they are, and like my own children, train them up in the way that they should go. I believe that with genuine love, agape love, that the infusion of the Word of God is more feasible. The old adage, “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is appropriate here. So Distinctive Discipleship is based on love, as is every facet of the Christian walk.

“That loves needs to be demonstrated by our own actions, attitude and life.” -Pastor Chuck Smith

Distinctive Discipleship involves balance in the presentation of doctrinal material. I have already covered the importance of a balanced view of Scripture being imperative to a functional and godly church. But there is the ever present risk of division when the church begins doing what my former pastor Ron Hindt describes as “majoring on the minors.” Pastor Chuck, in Distinctives, states that, “An important characteristic of Calvary Chapel Fellowships is our desire not to divide God’s people over non-essential issues.” I affirm this statement and agree that there are areas of God’s Word that are non-salvational, or in other words have no direct bearing on a persons salvation. I do not take a dogmatic stance one way or the other on materials presented in Scripture that can be debated. In fact, there are instances where we can agree to disagree, agreeably. I say this with one caveat, that I will not budge from my position where the Bible does not budge. I believe that the Bible is clear and succinct. In instances where the Bible teaches, “thou shalt not,” you better believe that we will hold the same conviction. In other areas where issues are debatable, I will generally make known the various positions and perhaps point out the position that I feel is most likely based on the whole of Scripture. As it pertains to discipleship, I will disciple in the same manner, teaching the essentials of the faith with the same resolve that its Author intended, and let the balance find its appropriate place, so long as it falls within the pale of orthodoxy. In my experience one of the most debatable topics is over the issue of Calvinism vs. Armenianism, both of which I feel take an unbalanced view of Scripture and prove our stance is the more preferable. Are there some facets of each view that are Scripturally sound, certainly. The problem is not with the truth’s they expound, but their failure to apply the full counsel of the Word of God. My former pastor, Ron Hindt posed this question once pertaining to Calvinism when he asked, “How much cyanide do you want in your coffee?” We desire to teach the full counsel of the Word of God so that these kinds of quarrels over non-essential doctrines do not result in the creation of yet another denomination.

In the last section of Distinctives, Pastor Chuck addresses the point of stepping out in faith. As a part of Distinctive Discipleship, I feel that this principle is best caught and not taught, and so that is what I have decided to do, to step out in faith. If God is for it, then it cannot fail, if He is not, then it was never meant to be. I believe that Jesus would have me put my hands to the plow and not look back. And so I present this material in earnest as the down payment, mingled with prayer, on an investment that will cost me the rest of my life. This I do in faith, in love, and in the Spirit of the LORD. I trust in His guidance and value the community, fellow Christians, as mentors and sage counselors through this process. I do not presume to know what the LORD has in store for me on this adventure, but I am certain that it is not for me to know all of the wonderful details, and yet I know that I will be a recipient of many blessings that will come as an overflow of His grace towards me in this endeavor. The sacrifice will cost me everything, but the investment pays eternal dividends! Revelation 10:9

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