Don Whitney on Discipleship

My relationship with Donald S. Whitney began long before I had him as a professor at Southern Seminary. As a young pastoral student I was required to read through his books and several of his articles. I immediately found benefit in them both for my own spiritual life and the church. Don Whitney has given his life to thinking carefully about Biblical Spirituality and the spiritual disciplines. He has thought deep and hard about the subject of discipleship and now teaches it regularly as an Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Senior-Associate Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had the chance to chat with Don over the phone last week and discuss the issue of discipleship. I share with you some his thoughts on the subject. Pay careful attention to how simply he defines discipleship and how that simple definition permeates his entire discussion of the subject.

Q: For everyone you talk to about the subject there is a different definition of what disicipleship is. How would you define discipleship?

A Biblical process of following Christ and becoming like Christ. It’s about face to face time and talking about things that matter. You can hang out and play ball together, there’s nothing wrong with that. But you talk about things that matter when you do.

Q: Why do you think that disicpleship is such a problem in the modern church?

For starters, discipleship takes time.  Maybe there’s a lack of vision as to our responsibilities. Navigators taught that discipleship was a Christian duty early on really well. In the church we have so many responsibilities that it is easy to neglect that one. Also in a lot of churches today most people never see the people of the church outside of church. When you’re at church you’re at a sit-and-listen meeting. There’s no engagement with one another. We need some really intentional change there.

Q: In what ways do you think that the church in history has answered this question of disciple-making differently than we answer it today?

Classic puritan model is Richard Baxter. His people worked in their homes and he would go and regularly visit and disciple them while they worked at the loom. That doesn’t work in our culture. The pastor should still  be the key discipler, but it’s harder. 2 Tim. 3:2 – teaches us that we are to entrust the ministry of the Word to faithful men. I am sure that’s always been done; it should still be the practice of the church today.

The megachurch model of the day has negatives and positives to it. At one level it means we can strategize more, we have access to more resources. But disciplers still must live in the various communities from which people are drawn. The downside to this model is the anonymity and the fact that its easy to get lost in a big church. There must be an intentionality wherever you are.

Q: What role do you think that church leadership plays in making disciples?

The pastor is the key discipler. Same principle  applies to him as does to everyone else: face to face with others  talking about things that matter. The pastor has a special responsibility, though, to disciple his staff.

Pastor Buddy Gray, of Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover, Alabama led his staff through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. 600 people have now gone through that book at Hunter Street. It wasn’t complicated, there was no homework. They just read it together and talked about it. After all if all Christians in all places are supposed to do it has to be fundamentally simple. Whether you use a book or study guide or a curriculum or none, make sure it’s more than just socializing. It has to be face to face time with others talking about things that matter.

So who are you discipling friends? With whom are you spending face time talking about things that matter?

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  1. […] See more in this series of Discipleship Interviews: Don Whitney’s Interview […]

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