Students of all ages regularly attend institutions of higher learning to gain knowledge in a particular field. The objective is usually to acquire accreditation to pursue a desired occupation. However, training programs of this nature do not accomplish the same results when it comes to spiritual ministries. One does not pick a ministry, attend a Bible school, and then, by virtue of graduating from an accredited programme, be qualified to carry out the work of that ministry.
In the secular sense, training generally consists of teaching people how to do something so that they are enabled to do it themselves. Yet, when it comes to spiritual matters, the ability to minister and edify the body of Christ comes from God’s supernatural gifts to His people, Eph. 4. 11-16. Accordingly, there are no training programmes in scripture to ‘make’ evangelists, teachers, or pastors. Scripture does lay out for us exhortations, encouragements, and examples to follow; it also outlines the idea of mentoring. These, however, are not the same as a specific training programme. Therefore, the job of one who mentors new Christians is to assist them to grow in Christ, to recognize their spiritual gifts and divine callings, and then to guide them into those callings.
In the King James Version of the Bible we find the verb ‘train’ only once: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it’, Prov. 22. 6. God does not provide a different child-training manual for different children – one manual (the Bible) is sufficient to properly train each and every child for the Lord. Similarly, there is one training manual to prepare each and every believer to honour God and properly serve Him; that manual is also the Bible.
Although the English word ‘train’ cannot be found in the King James Version of the New Testament, the idea of training is certainly present. The Greek noun paideia and its verb form paideuo convey a similar meaning to the Hebrew word translated ‘train up’, Prov. 22. 6. By examining the portions of Scripture in which paideia and paideuo occur, we can increase our understanding of what biblical training comprises. Paideia occurs in Ephesians chapter 6 verse 4, ‘bring them up in the training’ NKJV, and again in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 16, ‘for instruction in righteousness’. In the NASV, paideia is rendered in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 16 as ‘training’. Paideia, therefore, means ‘education or training, which includes disciplinary correction’. The latter aspect of this training is clearly brought out in Hebrews chapter 12, where four times paideia is translated as ‘chastening’. The related word paideuo means ‘to train up, to educate, to instruct, to teach’. It is found in 2 Timothy chapter 2 verse 25, ‘In meekness instructing those’, and in Titus chapter 2 verse 12, ‘Teaching us that’. Biblical training therefore includes: instruction in doctrine and righteousness, preparation for godly living, and disciplinary correction as needed.
We see, therefore, that the biblical approach to mentoring new believers for Christ does not correspond with the secular educational programmes of our day. It more closely resembles the child-rearing that God commands of parents, Prov. 22. 6. Parents are to train up their children for God through a variety of techniques which include teaching, instruction, encouragement, exhortation, reproof, guidance, and discipline and the home is the prime location for training children.1
One of the training grounds most neglected by believers is the home. If the Bible is not the centre of the home, it cannot be called a true Christian home, even if all the individuals comprising the home have been born again. A Christian family is not a household of Christians, but a Christian household. In such a place, the following training methods might be used:
1 Regular family devotions
Involve the entire family in prayer, reading the scripture, answering questions, and sharing gleanings from the word. Fathers should take the lead in teaching and applying scripture, 1 Cor. 14. 35. Depending on individual schedules, family devotions could take place in the early morning, after a meal, before bedtime, or whenever the family can gather together. After mealtime is also a great time to read aloud from a good Christian biography, a book on church history, or a publication on God’s wonders in creation. Another idea is to assign each son one night a week on which to provide the family with a devotional thought after dinner. The family setting is a non-threatening environment for sons to learn to minister the word to others and pray aloud, and this training prepares them for assembly responsibilities.
2 Daily quiet times
As soon as children can read and write, start them off reading the Bible each day and give them ‘quite time’ notebooks in which to journal. Each day they should record what they learn of God and what they can apply to their lives. Dads are to be the primary spiritual leaders in their homes so they should meet regularly with their children to review these notebooks and to answer questions. As every family situation is unique, mums may have to assist with this work also. This time of review builds parental intimacy and instils children with a life-long pattern of daily devotions and seeking His help for each day.
3 Bible study
I recommend that fathers take each of their children through study guides which cover the gamut from basic truths to the finer distinctions of doctrine. Believing children should learn the fundamentals of the faith early and then build on that foundation with the deeper teachings of God’s word. Do not succumb to under-challenging your children; they often understand more than you think they can. Raise the bar and challenge them to jump; you will be surprised what they can achieve!
4 Character development
The following are a few suggestions to stimulate the character development of children. Develop a list of godly and ungodly character traits from Proverbs, and systematically teach these to your children. Teach biblical gender roles in the family and in the assembly. Read missionary stories and biographies of faithful men and women of God. Have regular one-on-one discussions with your children regarding their character bents which need to be corrected, and then work on it together. In our family, we refer to these bents as giants which need to be slain. It is important not to try to correct too much all at once; David and his mighty men conquered Goliath and his four giant brothers, one at a time.
Titus chapter 2 verses 1-7 identify a host of discipleship opportunities for men and women of all ages. Although the local church gathers for weekly teaching, these meetings are not to be the main means of training children, new converts, or young believers. We read that the first believers in Jerusalem continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, Acts 2. 42, and they gathered daily, Acts 2. 46. Paul, speaking to believers from Ephesus, said, ‘I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house’ Acts 20. 20 NKJV. True shepherds commit whatever time is necessary to train up others for Christ. I call this one-to-one mentoring ministry ‘trench work’. Pulpit ministry has its place, but, on a personal level, trench work is a far more effective means of discipleship. This fact is quite evident in the Lord’s ministry to His disciples. As mentioned earlier, young believers cannot be neglected. Key activities in their spiritual development are:
1 Learning Christ
The Greek word for ‘disciple’ is mathetes, which literally means ‘a learner’. The pursuit of the disciple is to learn Christ, Matt. 11. 29, and to be like Him, 10. 25. Guilt trips and accountability may work for a short time, but only love for Christ will propel the new believer onward in growth and service. Be sure to put good devotional books into the hands of new converts – teaching doctrine without learning Christ is deficient training.
2 Studying the Bible
Young believers need to be in as many weekly Bible studies as possible without neglecting the meetings of the church and family responsibilities. I have found periodic weekend men’s or women’s studies to be profitable also. These events not only provide a good atmosphere for intense study, but also encourage the development of meaningful relationships within the body of Christ. These associations tend to increase the new believers commitment to the challenging task of learning sound doctrine. Another practical idea connected with Bible study is the questions notebook. This teaches the new believer that the Bible is the source of wisdom to live by and that it is best to seek God’s counsel to resolve all of life’s dilemmas.
3 Church involvement
Involvement builds commitment to the local body. Challenge those you are discipling to serve to the greatest capacity that they are able. Incidentally, observing their active service will also assist you to both recognize spiritual gifts, 1 Tim. 4. 14-15, and stir these up, 2 Tim. 1. 6. Elders should ensure that all those in fellowship have functional roles in the local church.
4 Discipling others
Witnessing for Christ strengthens one’s profession, Rom. 10. 10, and a disciple learns the most while teaching others. The more time a mature believer spends with a new believer, the more evident his or her spiritual gifts becomes. This enables the shepherd to guide the young Christian into service which will exercise and develop these gifts and assist him or her to fulfil his or her personal calling in the body of Christ.
Just as every local church should have a vision for evangelical outreach and for seeing new church testimonies established, every shepherd should implant this same vision into those they disciple. Truth must be passed on, ‘the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also’, 2 Tim. 2. 2. The Greek word translated as ‘men’ in this verse is anthropos, which means human beings; it is certainly not gender specific, both men and women are to be trained to teach others.2 Neither are there age limits for discipleship. Making and training disciples is Christ’s plan for building His church; may we all do this in His way and for His glory!