Why do we need disciples?
We need disciples now more than ever because of the powerful testimony of transformation that Christ-followers carry. Just as Jesus did not remain on the cross or in the tomb but resurrected from the dead after three days, disciples everywhere are eyewitnesses to the reality that people continue to be resurrected from spiritual death to a life filled with Jesus Christ’s power!
Why is transformation important?
A life transformed by God’s power is a life that can make a difference for our world. Transformation of a person can change not only a person’s circumstance, but how they view the world around them. They are transformed by God’s love to see others with His love, and in turn, can make an impact on others.
As disciples, we become His hands and feet, showing His power and compassion to others. As God continues to transform us and we live out that transformation to others, we realize what Matthew 25:35-40 describes, when we minister to the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and prisoners, we minister to Jesus himself. We actively love God and our neighbors when we live out our discipleship by ministering in Jesus’ name. We bring Christ’s peace, love, kindness, and joy to others.
According to Jim Putman in Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches that Make Disciples (2010), there are five basic stages of discipleship. In the first stage of discipleship, we recognize we are spiritually dead, and have not had an encounter with Christ. How do we have that encounter? We come humbly to Jesus, asking His forgiveness for our sins. We were all born into sin and until we come to Jesus for forgiveness, we cannot begin the discipleship journey. Then we are known as a spiritual infant (41). It is at this second stage that everything is new and therefore, we are “excited and eager to learn” (41). In stage three, which is known as the spiritual child (41), we have come to know the basics of our faith, but we are not fully mature. We are being developed into what God has designed for us. In stage four, spiritual children grow up into spiritual young adults (42). We are “eager to serve, think independently, and look much like adults” but we still have much to learn, especially regarding others (42).
In the final stage, we become mature disciples, spiritual parents, who care for and reproduce other disciples in the faith (42). Becoming a spiritual parent is a great responsibility, but not all will step into stage five as it requires sacrifice and obedience to God. In short, discipleship is a journey in which we continue to spiritually grow and move into full maturation of discipling others. When we mature, we desire to share the compassion that Christ has shown to us. Theology that is practical does not sit on a shelf waiting to be used. It is active sharing God’s love and compassion for all people. When we love others with the compassion of Christ just as He has loved us, we can see across the barriers that the world uses to divide people, which causes discord and strife. Christ brings peace, and as disciples of Christ, we are ambassadors of His peace.
One of the most referenced Scripture passages on discipleship is the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). One way that I live out the Great Commission has been serving as a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse. In 1994, I started packing shoebox gifts for children worldwide in poverty-stricken areas, war-torn regions, and natural disasters. I have always been drawn to children’s ministry because I was a child when I first heard about Jesus and His love for me. As a young child, Jesus gave me hope for the future as I, too, lived in poverty with an alcoholic and drug-addicted father who sexually assaulted me and my sister, but hope was on the horizon! So why do we need disciples more than ever? We need disciples who bring hope to our hurting world, bringing the peace of Christ.
I have found hope in Christ and because of that hope, Christ has given me deep compassion for children. I also train other Operation Christmas Child volunteers who serve children worldwide. As a team, we bring hope to the child who receives school supplies, hygiene items, and small toys that fit into a shoebox. It is a tangible gift with an eternal message – Jesus loves you! A key to the discipleship journey is understanding that Jesus loves us and is our hope and peace! That is why I have personally packed approximately 10,500 shoeboxes for children throughout the years. The journey has also taken me to Tanzania, Africa in June 2019 to distribute shoeboxes. The trip deepened my faith, and allowed me to share the hope, love, and peace that the world needs.
When you consider your own discipleship process, where are you? Are you a spiritual infant, just learning about your faith? Is it possible you are a spiritual child growing in the process? Could you be a spiritual young adult eager to serve? Have you become a mature adult in your spiritual life ready to teach others? Do you need to step out in faith to follow His call? Ashland Theological Seminary is a great place to continue the discipleship journey learning biblical truths and practicing theology. Wherever you are in the journey, Christ is there with you and empowers you to share His transformation message with others.
Dr. Dawn, as she prefers to be called, serves the institution with the leadership of the Doctor of Ministry program, providing a quality experience for students, courses, faculty, and expansion of programming. She also serves by leading in the assessment practices, student learning outcomes, and overall assessment for the seminary, serving on multiple committees for HLC (Higher Learning Commission) and working with The Association of Theological Schools. The accreditation review in November 2018 was successful, and the seminary passed with approval of ten more years of accreditation.
Dr. Dawn has good insight into the challenges that students encounter, having faced plenty of challenges along her own academic journey. In high school, a teacher insisted that Dr. Dawn should not go to college, suggesting instead that she choose a trade school to gain skills as she came from a poor family and the teacher didn’t think she was smart enough for an academic future. Dr. Dawn has certainly overcome those discouraging words by earning three degrees, including a doctoral degree in leadership, and excelling in her vocation and giftings. And she has a heart for ATS students, having received her MA in Christian Education from ATS.
She is grateful to have been raised in a church with two female pastors who became her mentors and affirmed her leadership skills. Click here to find her article on Christianity Today. These experiences strengthened Dr. Dawn’s resolve to encourage, teach and enable those stepping outside of the status quo and into God’s calling. She has served in the teaching ministry of the church for 48 years helping others to be formed to the image of Christ. She believes in being a vessel used by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, so that others might encounter transformation with Christ. And she believes this transformation can be part of higher education. She also travels to local churches mentoring others in the field of Christian Formation and Leadership.
Dr. Dawn serves as Children’s Ministry Leader at her church, Freedom Ridge, Mansfield, Ohio and is Area Team Coordinator of Operation Christmas Child for six Ohio counties, a member of SPCE – Society of Professors in Christian Education, a member of ACCESS – Christian Distance Education, She has traveled to Tanzania, Africa to distribute shoebox gifts in June 2019. She has also been a past President of the Board for Hope For Every Heart, a ministry to build water wells, provide education and medical care, and child sponsorship in Uganda, Africa. She is also an advocate with International Child Care Ministries through the Free Methodist Church and supports four children from Ecuador, Kenya, India, and Cambodia and is the Missions Coordinator at her church. She works with Thailand missionaries bringing hope to a hostel for impoverished children. She also enjoys family genealogy and plays with her three orange tabby cats. She is also an avid reader and writer, researching Christian education and leadership. She is married to Dr. Russell Morton, Professional Fellow of Biblical Studies, Ashland and Adjunct Instructor in online courses for New Testament with another institution.