Building Church Culture Around Discipleship

If we want to build churches with a strong discipleship culture, we must first know what that might look like. A great start is to examine how the Apostle Paul built a discipleship ministry in the early Church. For instance, the church in Thessalonica became a place that Paul could be proud of because of how they accepted God’s Word and put it into practice.

We learn from Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1 that the church there joyfully welcomed the message given by the Holy Spirit through Paul and his companions. Because of their faith, they became a model to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia. Paul wrote that the Lord’s message became known everywhere as they turned to God from idols and served the one true God only (1 Thess. 1:1-10). Here are some lessons from this letter that we can apply today.

Characteristics of Those Who Carry the Gospel 

Paul and his team shared the gospel without error or impure motives, despite the opposition they faced. They never tried to please men, used flattery, covered up greed or looked for men’s praise. Instead, they were like a gentle mother loving and caring for her children. These leaders shared not only the gospel, but their own lives as they worked hard not to be a financial burden. As a father deals with his children, Paul and His companions encouraged, comforted, and urged the people to live lives worthy of God.

Discipleship today is no different. Our efforts to help someone become more like Christ should include sharing the gospel from the right heart, not making it about “numbers” or getting another notch in our spiritual belt, but instead caring for the souls of individuals. Paul’s challenge to be spiritual parents to people should challenge us to balance care and accountability for younger disciples.

Characteristics of Those Who Receive the Gospel 

Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 2 that those who were being discipled in Thessalonica had received and accepted the message of God’s Word. Let’s consider Paul’s use of the words received and accepted. He says, “when you received,” and then “you accepted it.” Even though in our English language these words are pretty similar (they are synonyms), it is not so in the Greek. 

The word paralambano (received), means “to receive something transmitted from another.” This word is used in the New Testament when talking about receiving a message or doctrine. One commentator compares this Greek word for “receiving” to like signing a receipt at the post office so you can accept a package. Likewise, Paul is saying here in 1 Thessalonians that their beliefs/their doctrine about Jesus had become their own beliefs.

But Paul recognized that there is a difference between simply receiving a message, believing it as truth, and actually living it out. So, Paul says that they accepted it too.

The Greek word here for “accepted” is dechomai, which literally means to receive in the sense of “welcome.” This word is used of welcoming a guest into one’s home. John MacArthur adds that this means the Word of God was transferred from their minds to their hearts. In our discipleship today, we need to be encouraging those under us to have a proper attitude towards God’s Word.

Those in Thessalonica also allowed the Word of God to do its work in them. When the they received the Word of God, it became an active power that would operate continually in their lives. It would cause a change in behavior and bring forth fruitfulness. The Word of God still operates this way today. The phrase, “which is at work in you” is the Greek word energeo, from which we get our word energy. It really means “to work effectually, to work efficiently and productively.”

When we receive and accept God’s Word (through personal study or in a teaching environment) and welcome it by faith, it brings the power of God in our lives. This is the product of the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.