Dr. A. R. Javed

Disciple or Disciple maker? Evaluate Against the Five Stages of Christian Life

According to Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman there are five stages of discipleship. Each stage is an essential part of the discipleship process because they develop upon each other. None of the stages is better than the others because without the previous stage of discipleship the next would not be possible. At the inception of our Christian birth (born again) “God gives us a new identity in Christ and it is as saved disciples that we grow into our new identity.”[1]

Stage 1 – Spiritually Dead: The first level of spiritual growth is nothing but what the scriptures teach in Ephesians 2:1-5; that man in his natural state is dead in his sins. It is the miraculous power of the Spirit that brings us to life so that we may receive the free gift of salvation. Like a physically dead person, a spiritually dead person cannot perform any function, he is expected to decay and become nothing. Jim Putman et al., write, “As you interact with those who are spiritually dead to God, you may encounter some who exhibit unbelief or pen rebellion…there may be some level of spiritual interest-or non at all!”[2]

Therefore, one should not be surprised when a spiritually dead person does not understand the things of God. Paul presents a simple plan how to not dead any longer in Roman 10:9-13:

  …. if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (ESV).

However, later in verse 10 he writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). This raises a very crucial point, how to have faith? Again, one can not even have faith unless God produces faith in one’s heart so that he or she may have faith and thus receive the most precious gift of the Gospel and be saved. “They need to be introduced to Jesus and to see the life of the gospel lived out. They need answers to their questions about the Bible, God, and Christianity….they need a clear explanation of the gospel and an invitation to trust and follow Jesus”[3].

Stage 2 – Infants: The second level or stage is being a spiritual infant. The Bible teaches about this stage in these words, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3 ESV) and “ For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14 ESV).

At this stage, people know Christ but they are simple yet crucial questions about the Christian faith and doctrines. “They don’t understand yet what it means to follow Jesus. They aren’t aware of the ways in which they need to change.[4]” They are an easy target by the cults and heretics. Their hunger to learn and to be acquainted themselves with the simple teachings of the Bible and the harsh reality of this world may put them in a conflict within. They are to be carefully taught “the truths of the Christian faith.”[5]

Stage 3 – Child: At this stage a Christian infant has grown to be a child. He understands the simple truths of the Gospel and is willing to learn and grow in how to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ. This is the stage where a believer will start forming and developing relationships with other Christians. “They are beginning to apply God’s Word in their lives and are walking with other growing disciples in their spiritual journey.”[6] They are capable of doing something for themselves yet they are still in need of constant encouragement, comfort, and the urge to continue to their walk with Christ.

Jim Putman et al., suggests that “It’s not the amount of time that passes that marks the difference between mature and immature; It’s what has happened or not happened in a relational discipleship process during that time. How has he or she allowed the Holy Spirit to bring change and develop the likeness of Christ?”[7]

Stage 4 – Young Adult: Young Adults are those Christians who have overcome the Evil one and the Word of God abides in them as stated in John 2:13-14. They are moving away from self-centeredness to God centeredness and expanding their worldview. They are becoming global Christians with the desire to reach out to others. Although still the process of shifting from being self-centered to being God and other centered is in its early stages yet “they are involved in ministering to others, putting the needs of other firsts, and being doers of the Word-not just people who hear it and accumulate head knowledge.”[8] They want to serve God. They do it with zeal, energy, and joy that the Spirit provides. They see the world as a place that needs changing. [9]

Stage 5: Parent: They have a solid understanding of the Scriptures, and they have deep relationship with God and others. They are disciple makers. They qualities include being “Kingdom-centered and God-dependent.”[10]

References:

[1] Jim Putman, Bobby Harigton, and Rober E. Coleman, Discipleshift: Five Steps that help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 60.
[2] Ibid., 61.
[3] Ibid., 63.
[4] Ibid., 64.
[5] Ibid., 65.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., 67-68.
[9] Ibid.,68.
[10] Ibid.,69.

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Dr. A. R. Javed

Dr. A. R. Javed is on faculty of New York School of the Bible, offering and heading the department of Missions and Understanding Islam. He is a lecturer at Davis College's NYC site and regularly gives lectures on Islam, Missions, Christian Theology nationally and internationally.

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