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Community Bible Chapel

Development Phases and Disciple Images

Development Phases and Disciple Images

It is easy to understand that disciples of Jesus should become like Jesus. It is harder, however, to picture what exactly this means and how to get there. So, what is the goal of discipleship and what does that look like practically? Thankfully the Bible provides numerous images of what a disciple is and does. The biblical picture of becoming like Christ is development, starting from new birth and growing into mature adulthood. Spiritual development then is what happens in discipleship. What do we develop into? We develop into specific characteristics and actions that Jesus had and did, and which He has also called His disciples to emulate.

Here at CBC we call the progress towards maturity and its various stages the Development Phases. And we have collected 10 images given in the New Testament describing aspects of the life of a disciple which we call the 10 Disciple Images. You can read about both below.

Development Phases

Throughout the New Testament disciples of Jesus are called to grow into maturity in their faith. For instance, 1 Peter 2:2 uses this phrase, “like newborn babies, long for the pure spiritual milk of the word.” New believers who have been given new spiritual life are similar to newborn babies. They need connection to more mature believers to be able to grow, develop, and become able to feed themselves. Once a believer has connected to the church and turned their attention towards growth, the focus becomes the 9 images. But obviously one does not become a superb Athlete, Soldier, or Ambassador, whether literal or figurative, in one day. There is a process by which we all grow.

Our development phases are Newborn, Infant, Child, Adolescent, and Adult.

 

 Newborn

A newborn has just entered life. Everything is new, they are not oriented, they need constant attention and support, as they enter a new life in a new world.

 

  Infant

Infants have a way to go developmentally, but some new growth has occurred. They are starting to figure some things out through trial and error. They have begun to explore their world and direct their paths. Their nutrition is transitioning from milk to solid food.

 

 Child

A child has developed significantly more than an infant. They are making choices, learning the basics, growing in strength, and beginning to gain some independence from their parents. But they haven’t developed enough that they are beyond their parents’ supervision.

 

 Adolescent

An adolescent has developed and mastered all the basic skills and is now venturing out into more advanced areas. They need oversight from adults without full supervision as before. They are close to full independence but still need support, guidance, and encouragement from adults before they launch on their own.

 

 Adults

Adults have developed enough that they are able to sustain themselves on their own. They have the basics down and have the full range of experiences open to them. They are self-sufficient, wise, experienced, and able to support others.

In similar ways, we have analogous patterns of growth spiritually. We begin our Christian lives totally dependent upon others to nourish ourselves, needing guidance, connection, and love. After some growth we begin to learn how to use the tools, such as Bible reading and prayer, on our own. We need less and less supervision and are able to help others at lower levels grow like us. Eventually we are self-sufficient and ready to lead our spiritual lives in accordance with God’s will.

The goal is to reach spiritual adulthood. Growth doesn’t end as an Adult as there can be continuous growth and development as one becomes better at the 10 images.

Development Dimensions

Spiritual development happens across several dimensions, of which we focus on are: Dependency to Independency, Ignorance to Knowledge, Naivete to Wisdom, Inability to Ability.

As with human development, we begin our spiritual lives completely dependent, ignorant, naïve, and incapable of much action at all. And yet, just as a child, we are able to love and be loved. And as time goes a newborn becomes an infant, and then, a child and eventually an adult, and throughout that process, in fits and starts, they grow more independent, they acquire more knowledge, they become wiser, and they grow in ability.

A few notes are in order with each of these as to how we use them to refer to a disciple’s spiritual state. Bear in mind that these are generalized statements not intended to be taken as absolutes, but rather general descriptions.

Although we say that maturity leads to independence, this does not insinuate that we do not need other believers nor are we supposed to go off and be Lone Ranger Christians. Rather, this is referring to how much we need another to be able to sustain our spiritual health, even if no one is around. A physical newborn needs others to feed them. The same is true for spiritual newborns. They may have access to Christ but they have a hard time accessing the nourishment. If you leave a spiritual newborn alone they will not thrive because they are dependent upon others for their growth.

When we speak of Knowledge v. Ignorance we do not mean how much one knows, but rather how much they are capable of finding, accessing, and understanding information. A person may have been taught many facts, but if they are not able to go to the Bible or to prayer and discover truth then they are more Ignorant. On the flip side, even if someone does not have a wealth of information they know, if they have the ability and comprehension to easily find truthful answers then they are on the Knowledge end of this dimension.

Here there is a difference between acquiring information as it is with the Ignorance to Knowledge dimension, and evaluating and judging situations and decisions. This dimension refers to the ability to assess a situation and what to do in it quickly, and properly.

The purpose of this dimension is to differentiate between how capable someone is of applying the other situations. It is one thing to be independent of the need for others in order to thrive, to know how to find information, to be able to know what the right thing to do in a situation is, and to actually do it. If I know I should not cave to the temptations of my friend or I know I ought to give my money to the poor but fail to avoid the temptation and fail to give to the poor than I am on the Inability side vs. the Ability side.

Having clarified what we mean and what we do not mean about these dimensions, here is how we describe each of the Development Phases looks across the four dimensions.

    

Newborn

  • Entirely dependent
  • Knowledge acquisition through experience
  • Minimal Wisdom
  • Almost entirely incapable

 Infant

  • Highly dependent and vulnerable
  • Rudimentary knowledge acquisition through trial and error and being taught
  • Slight wisdom gained through trial and error
  • Acquiring ability to do basic actions

 

Child

  • On a basic level, increased independence and ability to self-protect, but dependent and vulnerable in more advanced areas
  • Mastery of basic knowledge acquisition, beginning to explore areas they choose rather than just what is assigned by adults
  • Basic wisdom established and attempting to acquire more advanced wisdom
  • Basic actions mastered and exploring capabilities in more advanced actions

Adolescent

  • Independence with minor supervision and guidance
  • Exploring independent knowledge acquisition under minor supervision and guidance
  • Increased wisdom and perception, while needing minor guidance and support
  • Exploring advanced abilities and gaining mastery over them

Adult

  • Independent and able to self-sustain
  • Full capability of acquiring knowledge independently
  • Wise and discerning
  • Fully capable of action.

As stated before, the charge to disciples is to grow to maturity, reaching spiritual adulthood, and to help others reach that as well. This happens as disciples become more self-sufficient (Independent) in spiritually connecting with Christ, as they learn how to acquire knowledge, as they grow in Wisdom, and as their Ability increases. As this happens the disciple will grow stronger across the 10 Disciple Images described below.

10 Disciple Images

The first image is distinct from the other nine as it is the umbrella by which all the other images function. Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches… apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

We receive our spiritual life and nourishment from our connection with God. Apart from Him we are starving, and like a cut off branch, we will wither. But, connected to the vine we will thrive. So, this is the first image, Branch. As we connect with Christ we will grow into the other nine images.

Here are the other 9 images.

 

Image Trait

Son/Daughter Be intimate with God

Servant

Obey God’s commands

Soldier

Fight the Spiritual Battle

Athlete

Live your God-given Destiny

Fisherman

Proclaim the Gospel to the lost

Ambassador

Represent Christ to the World

Farmer

Assist others to grow as Disciples of Christ

Builder

Strengthen the community of Believers

Neighbor

Serve your Neighbors

 

You will note that the first four images have to do with aspects personal to the individual disciple, and the last five describe interactions and relations with other people. The first four are categorized as Personal and the last five as Communal.

Christ the Ultimate Example

As you can see from what follows, Jesus did not merely command His disciples to take on these traits, He in fact possessed each of these traits first. As His disciples we are called to follow His lead and have these characteristics increase in our lives as well.

 Son or Daughter

Jesus described Himself as the Son of God. He loved the Father. He gave His time and energy and effort to be intimate with the Father. He went away to pray, and He loved the Father through submission.

As Jesus was intimate with the Father, so we are to be intimate with the Father. We have been adopted as sons and daughters and have been given access to the Father’s presence.

 Servant

Jesus was completely obedient to the Father, served Him fully, and did everything the Father asked of Him, even going to the cross.

As Jesus obeyed the Father’s will, we also are to obey His every command as He is our master.

 Soldier

Jesus was fully devoted to fighting the spiritual battle against Satan. The two clearest examples were His temptation in the wilderness and His conquest of death through His resurrection.

As Jesus resisted the forces of darkness, we are also called to fight against evil.

 Athlete

Jesus had a unique life to live. He understood where He came from, where He was going, and what His mission was on earth. He saw counterfeits that aimed to distract Him off course but He always stayed true to the mission.

Just as Jesus had a unique life, so do we. None of us lives the same life as another. Each of us has an ordained path to walk, with its own unique duties, responsibilities, opportunities, gifts, challenges, and so on. We are to run our race well, meaning live our life as God directs us.

 Fisherman

Jesus shared the Gospel constantly and caught men and women with His message.

In the same way, we are to share the Gospel with those who do not know God yet.

  Ambassador

Jesus was the manifestation of God the Father to the world. He displayed God’s glory, showed His character, and displayed the power of God through His life to the world.

Jesus was the manifestation of God the Father to the world, and now we are being conformed to His image. As bearers of God’s Image, we represent Christ to the world. Therefore, how we act is a reflection on God, whether good or bad. Thus, we ought to live holy lives.

  Farmer

Jesus cultivated each of His disciples. He knew them, He tested them, He encouraged them, and cultivated their discipleship.

As Jesus cultivated each of His disciples, He calls us to assist one another to each grow to maturity. This can happen with a more mature believer discipling a younger believer, but it can also be done among peers. We are disciples of Christ. He is the rabbi. We disciple one another when we help one another grow to maturity, whether or not we are more mature than them or not.

 Builder

Jesus built His church, both through His victory over Satan, sin, and death, and through showing love to His disciples.

As Jesus' disciples we are called to develop and support the health of the church universal and our local church. We do this through our use of spiritual gifts and the way we love and interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  

 Neighbor

Jesus served human allies and enemies alike. He was gracious and served the world.

Just as Jesus served other people, we are also called to be good neighbors, like the good Samaritan, to other disciples and unbelievers alike.

 

The Goal of the Disciple Images

The goal of these images is give a specific picture of what we are called to be and do as disciples. These images provide that target and introduce the basic aspects of living as a disciple of Christ. These images answer for us, “where am I going?”

Putting it all together

How do all three aspects of the Discipleship Pathway (the Pathway Steps, the Development Phases, and the Disciple Images) interact with each other?

Everyone in the Explore Step is not a disciple yet. So, since they are not a disciple they are not expected to pursue developing or maturing in the Disciple Images. Rather, their focus is on learning about them as part of their decision whether they want to become a disciple or not. We want to encourage them to explore what it would mean to be a disciple so that they have an accurate idea of what they would be agreeing to join. As such we want them to watch and see as much as they can from our disciples and our church.

Connect Step, Newborn Phase, & Branch Image

  

Once someone becomes a believer they thereby become a disciple. They enter the Connect Step at the Newborn Phase of development. Before they can grow into maturity in the 9 images, focus should first be given to the Branch Image. They need to Connect to grow. God has a few avenues by which nourishment comes to a disciple, 1) personal relationship with Him, developed through the spiritual disciplines, and 2) through the local church as disciples equip and strengthen one another to grow in maturity. These two avenues, the spiritual disciplines, and the life of the church are what we mean by connecting to the Branch, and this is what the Connect Step aims to accomplish. Once Connected to the Branch, it is time for the disciple to move to the Grow Step, which usually corresponds with entering the Infant Phase.

Connect Step for believers new to the Church

The Connect Step is also applicable for believers who are coming from another area or another church. They may be a mature believes, but as a newcomer to our church they have not connected to the life of our church and need that avenue of nourishment to grow as best as possible. Once they get used to how we operate and how they can plug in, both to serve and to be served, then they advance to the Grow Step.

Grow Step, Infant-Adult Phases, & 9 Disciple Images

 

Having connected to the Vine as the Branch through the spiritual disciples and the life of our church, the disciple enters the Grow Step and focuses on growing to full maturity as a disciple. It is in this stage that through the nourishment of being connected to the Vine as the Branch we continue to grow from Infant to Child, from Child to Adolescent, and from Adolescent to Adult.

Now we can use the Phases of Development (Newborn-Adult) in a general way and in a specific way. We can use the Phases of Development to describe generally where a person is in their maturing process, meaning across the board we can see that a person is in a Child Phase, or an Adult Phase, or one of the others. This general usage is the most typical usage. Paul speaks this way about the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:1 “1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.” Generally speaking, they were more like spiritual infants than adults.

We can also apply these Phases more specifically by examining each Image individually. For instance, someone may be very mature in the Son/Daughter category, say they have Adult maturity, but they are not very mature in sharing the Gospel, being a Fisherman, where they are only in the Infant Phase.

Being specific allows greater clarity in the details of our growth as disciples, and using the Phases generally has the benefit of easy and simple evaluation of a disciple’s current place along their Pathway.