September 24, 2011

The Next Generation Part 2

by Josh Thiessen

Last time, I considered the role of informal discipleship. I wanted to emphasis the reality that you don’t need a set structure to impact and disciple people. Just spending time and investing in their lives is extremely valuable. However, I do believe there is a proper role for formal discipleship.

As a church, what should this formal discipleship look like? Obviously, preaching plays a major role week to week as well as any type of Sunday school. But for those who desire to be future leaders, there should be more available. In a small church, perhaps this is done one-on-one individually and in a larger church, in a group setting. Either way, having a systematic way of instructing a believer is an effective way to train up leaders.

In this post, I want to consider the broader group of leaders in the church. The instruction of this group would include studies in biblical theology, systematic theology (including an emphasis on Christology), hermeneutics, and practical theology. But I would consider this a broad leadership course. The goal is not to make lay or vocational elders but is more basic. Its goal is to assist the church in building up men to be better sons, husbands, and fathers. My church is currently looking to implement something like this in the Spring so I appreciate the feedback and advice.


These classes could take place on Wednesday nights or early mornings before work. I have also seen churches do “block” training on Saturdays for 4-6 hours on a particular subject. Either way, some form is helpful to keep things somewhat uniform.

Secondly, these types of programs should have a beginning and an end. There should be an end in sight with a goal afterwards of discipling others. Personally, I have been working on developing a 2-year program.


Biblical Theology

The most important part of any Christian leadership-training program is how it teaches Scripture. Every Christian, especially leaders, should have a grasp on the redemptive plan of God to save sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But it is important to grasp how the biblical covenants, law, Israel, etc. fit into our understanding as New Testament Christians. You can’t fully understand Romans without the Old Testament.

So any leadership program has to instruct people how to read their Bibles in light of the grand story of redemption seen in the pages of Scripture.

Systematic Theology

Systematic theology is simply looking at Scripture topically. What does all of Scripture (not just one book or testament) say about the character of God? What is the nature of the Trinity, etc.?

Systematics is such a broad field that it can be difficult to imagine that you can cover it sufficiently in a 2-year program. Again, that is why this would be a basic course to ground someone in the fundamentals.


I am convinced that hermeneutics plays the most important part in the formation of one’s theology. It is at the heremeutic level that the battle for the Bible is won or lost. Laying the foundation of grammatical-historical hermeneutic is paramount.

Practical Theology

Lastly, the broad category of practical theology should be considered. Exercising spiritual gifts, prayer, evangelism, apologetics, shepherding, and leadership in the church would be covered in this section. This is where you would hunker down and strive to emphasis the role of a leader in the local church. Theology always has implications for life and ministry.

I’m not sold on strict categories, but I do believe that these disciplines in some form should be present when you are training up leaders and am still working on what is the best way to teach these things in the context of my church. Next time, I want to think through how this could be enhanced, like adding original language study tools and greater theological depth, to aid in the training of both lay and vocational elders.

Josh Thiessen

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Josh is the teaching pastor of Providence Bible Church in southwest Omaha, NE.
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  • Htimothyfortner

    josh i am a 71 year old pastor who has been doing what you advocate for 43 years. praise the lord for young men like you who are doing discipleship in the various contexts of your church life. believe me, it pays off in the long run. i am currently discipling men in my church and students at ole miss in oxford ms. they are hungry for the truth of gods word.god bless you and the hundreds of young men doing the worg of the kingdom. gods work gods way..tim fortmer

  • Anonymous

    These are good thought-provoking ideas on discipleship. Thank you for helping us all carefully think through this important topic. Formal and informal discipleship are both needed. Whether individually or in a group, I think we need to keep in mind that discipleship remains a largely personal task. What I mean by this, is that discipleship cannot be made into a formula where you put the immature through a program and they automatically grow. No matter how to structure discipleship, we need to personally know as best we can those we mentor so that we can help them apply the Scriptures to their individual areas of weakness and help them pursue ministry that is in accord with their spiritual gift(s). If someone needs help getting a discipleship ministry started or strengthening what they are already doing, keep in mind that the Master’s College has put together a collection of courses on DVD that covers many of the areas mentioned in your post. The”Biblical Equipping Collection” from TMC won’t provide the individual and personal part of discipleship but they will help with providing some structure. We are using these to start a Bible Institute as a ministry of our church. They could also easily be used on an individual basis. Visit for more information.