In 2001 a friend invited me to a Men’s Conference in Market Harborough. At breakfast on the last day one of the organisers asked me to take one of the speakers toLiverpoolfor his next engagement. This journey has changed my life.
The speaker was Gbile Akanni, a Nigerian Bible teacher. We had not spoken at the conference but by the time we had driven the 4 miles to the M1 I realised this was a really interesting Christian. Immediately I settled into the inside lane and adjusted my speed to 50 mph! Nearly 12 years later that conversation remains the longest I have had with Gbile.
Since then I have attended many meetings in theUKat which Gbile has spoken.
In 2009 at a weekend conference, at which he was the speaker, an Anglican minister from Salford (Rev Sue Timmins) asked me whether I had ever considered doing the MILERT course.
This course (Ministers and Leaders Refreshing and Training) was run by Gbile and his team inNigeria. My excuses did not hold water, so in July 2010 I set out on the course. What a privilege to be enrolled, as each year over 2,000 apply and only 250 are accepted. It was gruelling – 5 lots of 10 long days, yet it was an incredible experience and life-transforming. The commissioning service was one of the highlights of my life.
Gbile does not have a church; he equips the church by training leaders from many denominations and making disciples. A fundamental part of the course was to look at discipleship in some depth and so all 5 sessions covered this topic.
Whilst the teaching was fantastic, it was meeting disciples that made an indelible impression on me. These people who served at small (250) and large conferences (30,000) were clearly carrying the life of Jesus in a way that I had rarely seen in theUK.
I decided to pursue discipleship myself and to share this life and teaching with others.
The Methodist ChurchL~
From 2010 as I embarked on MILERT, I was also reflecting on discipleship in Methodism.
Here are some key points:
- Methodism mushroomed through discipleship groups.
- I am indebted to theMethodistChurchand the way it has nurtured me and has given me many opportunities for growth and service, not least by becoming a Local Preacher. Many of my growth experiences have been through small group work, i.e. discipleship classes.
- David Watson: “Discipleship sums up Christ’s plan for the world. Yet for all its brilliant simplicity, it is the one approach that most western churches have neglected. Instead we have reports, commissions, conferences, seminars, missions, crusades, reunion schemes, and liturgical reforms - the lot. But very little attention has been given to . . . discipleship.” Discipleship, Hodder and Stoughton, 1981, p.18 and quoted by Martin Atkins in Resourcing Renewal, Inspire, 2007, p.174
- “Methodism is, at its roots, a discipleship movement and a disciple-making movement.” Discipleship and the People Called Methodists p.9,by Martyn Atkins
- “The recovery of tools for enabling authentic disciples of Jesus Christ to be made today is a crucial aspect of renewal today” Martin Atkins, Resourcing Renewal, 2007, p.185.
TheMethodistChurchwas clearly a disciple making movement. A return to discipleship could clearly be used by God to bring a renewal impetus and growth back to our church. I could play a small part in this inWiganbecause MILERT had given me some tools!
So the revelation and teaching from MILERT combined with the genetic history and the needs of the Methodist church today resulted in a definite call for me to pursue discipleship.
So what is Discipleship?L~
Discipleship is not aseminary course, or a post conversion course, or a Bible study class, or a title, or a new doctrine. It is God’s method of forming men and women so they become like his son Jesus.
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” Eph. 4:11-13
Note there is a process going on, the 5 fold leadership equipping, building and bringing people to maturity so they attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. This is discipleship.
Similarly in Galatians 4:19 Paul says “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you”. This process of ‘forming Christ in you’ is discipleship.
Clearly then, discipleship is facilitated through relationships. It is essential for effective and efficient ministry and it is an ongoing process from which we never graduate.
How are people formed? Through: the word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, disciplers, other Christians and even Satan.
- I belong to a disciple group. Every two weeks on a Sunday afternoon I go toSouthportand meet with a group of up to 13 Christians from a variety of churches. We have been together for several years. Our leader is Goke Adejumo, a doctor of medicine who coordinates Gbile Akanni’sUKwork. Goke is also my personal discipler. As a group we are working through materials produced by Gbile’s organisation.
- In order to introduce the need for discipleship, I begin with a series of 11 one hour DVD’s; this series is called New Creation Life. In these DVDs Gbile speaks to 250 pastors about God’s three provisions: the blood of Jesus, the cross of Christ and the resurrection life. In order to understand the need for these provisions, he first establishes the severe problem of the fallen man and the tragedy of indulging in the flesh. This Biblical teaching is profound; it completely blows away the pastors. Gbile ends the series by explaining how to live in the reality of the cross by the dying of the ‘old man’ and how not to fade away. Having watched this series several times with different groups of people I have found that it touches most people deeply. For many it brings revelation and gives a new impetus to their faith and a new, deeper understanding of themselves and the gospel. Each session has notes with questions to reflect upon. After each DVD there is a quiet time for personal prayer and then there is a group discussion. The points that invariably come up underline the key teaching points.
- When the DVD series is completed a final session is held for testimony, prayer and an encouragement to continue. Since graduating from MILERT, I have shown New Creation Life three times, drawing people from different Wigan churches. Each one has produced a discipleship group of 12 people. In each case we have chosen to study ‘Concepts and Conditions of Discipleship’ by Gbile and his team. This is a small book of just over 100 pages. The core of the book is a study on Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: `if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’”. This study book is so densely packed with scripture that it is taking 18 months to complete and that is meeting on a weekly basis. These groups are wonderful: relaxed, full of fun and yet challenging as we are all growing together in our discipleship. Lives are being changed as we recognise “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20b New Living)
- As there are now three discipleship groups, I organise occasional joint meetings. In these we have a time of fellowship and usually a guest speaker, for example Goke Adejumo. As time goes on these disciples are getting more involved in mission work. In addition, this larger Wigan group, networks with other disciples in the North West of England, when the Southport group organises hub meetings and when Gbile comes to theUK(which is at least annually). All these meetings are profitable in building disciples and the church.
- Other leaders are coming forward. For example in December 2012 four of us from Wigan went toGboko,Nigeriato Gbile’s conference called ‘Ministers and Leaders Retreat’ (MLR). About 30,000 people attend this conference. We, non Nigerians, were also privileged to have our own conference prior to MLR. Both these conferences were deeply encouraging and motivating. We were being equipped as leaders.
It has been a privilege and a joy to see lives being changed to become more like Jesus. Here are a few examples:
- One man, who was confined to a wheelchair, had such an increase in faith that he had enough confidence to go to a healing service, giving his body over to Jesus. He walked out of the room and has not used his wheelchair for 18 months.
- An 18 year old was called toCliffCollegeto study theology.
- Some are voraciously reading the Bible.
- Others are experiencing such contentment in the Bible studies. They are resting in God and His promises.
- It seems that someone is impacted by some new revelation each week.
- Another man was led to open his home for the first time and host a regular Bible study group.
- Hearts are being changed.
- There is a lovely sense of fellowship in all the groups.
I am praying that God will continue forming more and more disciples as I initiate more disciple-ship groups. My aim is to have a network of disciples inWiganfrom a variety of churches who will be involved with others in changing the town. This will be dependent upon God bringing forward more leaders. In short my hope is that this network of disciples will then become soul winners and disciple makers in their own right.