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“What is a Disciple? Part 1”

First Baptist Church https://fbcbartow.org

Ok, help me out church . . . “We exist to develop disciples who love God, love the church, and love others.”

We exist to develop disciples. That’s been part of our vision statement for nearly six years.

We’ve spoken several times off and on about what it means to be a disciple over the years. Yet, some of the leaders of our church, including the pastors, feel like some of our church family may not fully know what it means for us to be disciples.

As Jesus prepared to go back into heaven, He left us with these words, which we call the Great Commission.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:19–20, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So, we exist to develop disciples. Before Jesus left, He commanded us to make disciples.

Yet, when we recently took a church health survey among our church family, out of the categories of worship, prayer, ministry, fellowship, discipleship, and evangelism. Our second lowest score was in the area of discipleship (show chart) (by the way, the lowest was in evangelism, so you’ll hear more about that as well).

So, we want to be more intentional as a church to focus on what it means to be a disciple.

We’re starting a short sermon series called “What is a Disciple?” Today is part 1.

Join me in prayer as we prepare to dive further into this sermon.


Church: We must be determined to make disciples. That is what Jesus told us to do, and that is why we exist as a church. So, let us be committed to learning about discipleship and about pursuing discipleship.

Ok, we’re going to learn a bit about what a disciple is in general, but we’re more concerned with learning what it looks like to be a disciple at First Baptist Church Bartow. How do we see this process lived out in our church?

So, let us now discover what a disciple looks like at First Baptist Church Bartow.

At First Baptist Church Bartow, . . .

‌I. A disciple experiences spiritual growth.

Generally speaking, a disciple is a student or follower of someone. So, when we speak of someone who is a disciple in the context of the church, we are talking about someone who is a follower of Jesus.

So, at our church, we believe that as you follow Jesus, you should begin to look more like Jesus. You should grow in your spiritual life as you are filled and led by the Holy Spirit of God.

That process begins by first being changed by the work of Jesus.

On the card that we passed out regarding what it means to be a disciple, you’ll see under the first identifier a little descriptor that says, “A disciple is made new by the saving work of Jesus.”

You can’t grow in your new spiritual life until you are first made new by Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

To be a disciple, you must first be a new creation. You must be rescued from the bondage of the slavery of sin. You must be spiritually raised from the dead. You must be adopted into the family of God. You must be changed by the work of Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit into your life.

The saving act of Jesus is where it all begins.

Then, as we grow spiritually, a disciple is becoming more like Jesus.

Many of you know that we call this process sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made holy, or becoming more like Jesus.

This process of being made holy is a journey for us, isn’t it? We’re not perfect, but each day, we’re seeking to become more and more like Jesus.

The apostle Paul spoke to this in Philippians 3:12–14. He said, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”

So, being a disciple at First Baptist Bartow does not mean that you are perfect. However, it does mean that you are seeking to be more like Jesus.

Becoming more like Jesus would include so much, but nothing less than turning away from sin, turning toward God and His ways, knowing and obeying the Word of God, being baptized as a sign of submission to God, loving God, and loving others.

So, first, a disciple experiences spiritual growth.

Also, at First Baptist Church Bartow, . . .

‌II. A disciple is part of a big group.

What do I mean by a big group? Well, you are here now.

What we first mean by this is that a disciple is part of a local church.

Let me be very clear: we believe that followers of Jesus should be part of a local gathered body of believers (also known as a church).

We believe in church membership, and we believe that it should mean something to be a member of this church.

That’s why we have a process to be a member here, and that’s why we encourage people to become members: because we believe disciples should be joined together with a big group of other disciples.

A big part of what it means to be part of a church is that we gather together.

Hebrews 10:24–25 says, “And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

It’s important to meet together as a church; it’s so important that the Word of God tells us not to neglect meeting together. So, a disciple meets together with other disciples.

Also, a disciple is a regular part of a worship service with others.

Listen to what the early church did (by the way, we’ll learn about this more as we journey through Acts later).

Acts 2:42–43 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.”

Acts 2:46–47 continues, “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

So we see a few elements in these two passages, including gathering together, receiving the teaching of the Word of God, praising God together, praying together, and fellowshipping together. These are acts that we still do today when we gather together as a church for Sunday morning worship.

Listen, church: I believe that the Sunday morning worship service is the most important thing that we do at our church. I often tell folks, if you can only do one thing at our church, come to the worship service. Obviously, we want you to do more, which is why we have this card that talks about what it means to be a disciple. However, we believe that gathering with other Christians in worship is essential to being a disciple of Jesus.

Ok, so we believe a disciple is part of a big group.

We also believe that . . .

‌III. A disciple is part of a small group.

We not only want you in big group worship, we also want you in a small group.

Big group worship is important, but there is something unique about the ability to gather in smaller groups and pray together, learn together, discuss together, laugh together, cry together, and share your lives together.

Though our church is certainly not a megachurch, it is large enough that you will have a hard time developing close relationships in the big group meeting. That’s why we encourage every member to be a part of a small group.

We have a structure already built in for Christians of every age to be part of a small group. That takes place at 9:15 AM every Sunday morning. We traditionally call these groups Sunday school classes.

At First Baptist Church Bartow, we think it’s important to be a part of a small group.

You see, in a small group, a disciple is learning from others.

It’s true that disciples learn the Bible on their own, and they learn the Bible from their pastors, but they also learn the Bible from other disciples.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 instructs us, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.”

In a small group, you can dig deeply into the Word of God. You can ask questions, you can answer questions, and you can talk about how the Scriptures apply to your daily lives.

We believe in Christians sharing the Word of God with one another, and we believe that this task takes place effectively in small groups.

Also, a disciple is in relationship with others who are becoming more like Jesus.

Remember, we read earlier in Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works.”

Our small groups are designed to create relationships with other people who are also seeking to be more like Jesus.

Have you ever noticed that when you are in an airport or a shopping mall, sometimes traffic patterns develop among those who are walking around? People will often join in with others to walk the same direction.

You see, when you are joining someone who is going the same direction as you, it should be easier for you to go in that direction. So, if you join others who are pursuing Jesus, it will help you pursue Jesus.

By being a part of a small group, you can consider others and develop love and good works in one another through godly relationships and through a mutual pursuit of Jesus and His ways.

Now, I want to be sure to point out that some of our folks serve in different areas during the small group time at 9:15 on Sunday mornings. I’m so grateful for all of you who volunteer and lead with babies, preschool, children, youth, safety team, greeters, and more. Thank you!

When folks serve during small group, they make it possible for others to participate in that experience. I also encourage those who serve to take advantage of other opportunities to meet with believers in small group settings for the purpose of learning and developing.

So, there’s more to being a disciple, but for today, let’s remember that being a disciple involves spiritual growth, being part of a big group, and being part of a small group.

As we go through this entire study, remember this bottom line:

‌Bottom Line: Discipleship is intentional and important.

We believe that we need to develop disciples in and through this church. That is why we exist. That is what Jesus told His followers to do. So, it’s important.

We also believe that we must be intentional to develop disciples. You won’t become a godly follower of Jesus by accident. Likewise, our church will not be filled with disciples by accident. You must be intentional as an individual, and we must be intentional as a church.

‌Weekly Challenge #1 – Consider where you stand as a disciple.

Look over these first three aspects of discipleship and ask yourself where you stand as a disciple.

How are you doing? What do you need to work on?

Remember, discipleship begins with being changed by Jesus.

(Gospel presentation)

(closing prayer)

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