The Biblical Model for Discipleship

02 May

Philippians 4:9 “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (ESV)

Dr. Michael Mitchell, inLeading, Teaching, and Making Disciples gives a teaching meta-model, derived from Proverbs chapter two, that one can easily find given here in the text from Philippians. The Proverbs 2 meta-model he gives is as follows: 1. accept my words, 2. turn your ear and apply your heart, 3. then you will understand, 5. walk in the ways of good men.1 Dr. Mitchell also gives a meta-model he discovered in Creative Bible Teaching by Larry Richards called the HBLT model. This model is comprised of four steps: the HOOK, the BOOK, the LOOK, and the TOOK.2 The original model Dr. Mitchell gave from Proverbs two is contained in the HBLT system. Because this model is easy to commit to memory and still summarizes the Proverbs 2 model it will be the model of choice in examining the Philippians passage.

What you have learned – the hook: Before the student can learn anything from the teacher, he must submit himself to the teacher. Nothing will be learned or taught if there is not agreement on this matter. Solomon began his instruction of his son with the great conditional clause, “if you receive my words…” As much as Solomon had to teach his son, and as much as his son had to derive from his father’s teaching, if the son wasn’t willing to learn what was taught, then all attempts that followed would be in vain. Those in the Philippian church had submitted themselves to being taught by the apostle Paul. They had learned from him. This doesn’t mean they grasped everything he was trying to teach, that was to come later. When a student is truly learning he receives the material with the intent of taking the next step in making it useful. Ernest C. Reisinger makes a profitable distinction on the differences in learning in his book Today’s Evangelism. In speaking of what makes a disciple he says: “The usual definition says, ‘a disciple is a learner,’ but that is not an adequate definition. One may learn the teachings of Descartes and not be a disciple. One may intellectually lean the teachings of Jesus and not be his disciple. Therefore, let me give a full definition. A disciple, in the biblical sense, is: 1. A learner of the teachings, 2. A follower of the teacher, 3. One who is seeking to be conformed to the teacher and the teachings. Being a disciple is more than giving a little nod to Jesus or learning a few religious shibboleths.”3 The difference can clearly be seen in today’s realm of biblical scholarship. There are many unbelievers who have devoted their life to studying and critiquing the Bible. These scholars are learning about Jesus and the early church, but have not committed themselves to learning from Jesus. I was able to witness this learning difference first hand through my five year old son. He has begun K-5 and we have been teaching him basic math. He fought the learning process because he thought it was boring. He was learning the material, and working his math problems but his reception was just a surface level. He was learning just to get buy. About three weeks ago he saw the weather man on television and is currently fascinated with the thought of being on TV and telling everyone about the weather. His current desired occupation for when he grows up (which I’m sure will change at least as many times as he has years until then) is to be a weather man. With this new dream, my wife has found it easy to teach him his math as he knows he will need it to be a weather man. His reception of the information is quite different now than before. He is eager to learn as he intends to do something with it. He had unwittingly turned his ear to his mother as he was eager to learn what she had to say.

…And received – the book: This is the step where information is actually conveyed from the teacher to the student. It may take a variety of forms: books, videos, lectures, etc. In conjunction with varying methods of relaying information there are also different methods in which information is received. Michael Gurian, in Boys and Girls Learn Differently!, gives a six page chart of the physical differences between the brains of males and females and discusses how these physical differences affect the way each sex processes information.4 This is not to say one can stereotype the way a student learns by their gender, but to illustrate that the way one individuals learn are almost as varied as the individuals. It is important for the teacher to find out how each student learns and then structure the delivery of information in such an eclectic format so as each student can grasp what is being taught. Not only does gender and disposition affect learning styles, but culture plays a role in it also. Dr. Peter Masters,in The Necessity of Sunday Schools, makes note concerning I Corinthians 9:19-22 that Paul “always adapted his approach so as to be understandable to all grades of hearers.”5 It is vital the teacher be attentive to the learning differences of the individual pupils and have the ability to adapt.The two primary categories of learning styles are given by Paul and will be examined in the the next paragraph as it ties into the next step – the Look

…And heard and seen in me – the look: The look is the step in the HBLT method where the student takes what was learned and reflects on it. This reflective interaction may be mental or abstract as when one meditates on a passage of Scripture, or it may be more hands on interaction in developing working models. The student is not without guidance through this step, and sometimes this process is merely the instructor modeling the lesson for them. Paul said he not only taught them verbally but lived in exemplary fashion the very things he was teaching them. Paul expected the Philippian church to gain understanding of what he was teaching them by their examination of Him. If the teacher is to imitate Paul then they are to ensure that the lesson is taught in two primary forms – auditory and visual.

…Practice these things – the took: This final step in the meta-model is the end of teaching, life change. Paul, after having his hearers committed to learning from him, delivering the truth to them and living an example of that truth for them to see the application to life, expected them to take what they now understood and practice it for themselves. Dr. Mitchell notes that “learning, however, is not complete until that understanding is converted into life change and behavior ‘modification’.”6

Methods and Materials: Scott Filmer notes in an essay titled Making Disciples in the Modern Church, “The modern church uses a large variety of methods and programs to create disciples such as sermons, small groups, and the internet.”7 Many churches to day are utilizing the small group in order to make disciples without neglecting the primacy of preaching for worship.8 This approach permits the group to better model the early church as recorded in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The small group affords a community that fosters more of a familial atmosphere where Scripture can be discussed and the members of the group are able to hold each other accountable and encouraged in the application of Scripture. David Platt give four areas in the disciple making material presented to the Church at Brookhills that are helpful in modeling the small group in a way that is conducive to disciple-making: 1. Focus: Geared toward obedience based discipleship, 2. Time: spend life together, 3. Involvement: high level of participation among members, 4. Impact: much is accomplished in the mission of Christ.9 This approach is proving to be an effective means of making disciples and is a modern attempt at recreating the early church structure. Primarily due to its biblical structure and secondarily to the effectiveness of it, the small group is the pattern I would utilize if I were in a pastoral position. The resources would primarily be the gospels with the New Testament Epistles as supporting and expounding on the teachings of Jesus. This is the pattern and material of the early church and Scripture tells us that “the LORD added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)



Mitchell, Dr. Michael R., Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples, Crossbooks, 2010.

Masters, Peter, and Watts, Malcolm H., The Necessity of Sunday Schools, The Wakeman Trust, 1991.

Gurian , Michael, Boys and Girls Learn Differently!, Jossey-Bass, 2001.

Reisinger, Ernest C., Today’s Evangelism, Craig Press, 1982.


Scott Fillmer, Making disciples in the Modern Church,

The Church at Brookhills, Multiply – Making Disciples Conference, 2011,

1Dr. Michael R. Mitchell, Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples, Crossbooks, 2010, 158.

2Ibid., 331.

3Ernest C. Reisinger, Today’s Evangelism, Craig Press, 1982, 6.

4Michael Gurian, Boys and Girls Learn Differently!, Jossey-Bass, 2001, 20-26.

5Peter Masters and Malcolm H. Watts, The Necessity of Sunday Schools, The Wakeman Trust, 1991, 66.

6Dr. Michael R. Mitchell, Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples, Crossbooks, 2010, 190.

8The Church at Brookhills, Multiply – Making Disciples Conference, 2011,, 9-11.

9Ibid., 10.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Discipleship


Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: