Derbe is the end of the road for Paul and Barnabas in Galatia, but not the end of their work. As they arrive in Derbe, they begin approximately four months of intense spiritual labor*. It began with preaching the gospel as they did in every city they visited. But we are given a clue in Acts 14:21 of how intense the work was that went along with preaching the gospel; “and had made many disciples”. Though neither Paul nor Barnabas were present when Jesus gave the instructions, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (ethnos – people groups)” (Matthew 28:19), they had been taught by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) that this was part of the principle of planting strong, self-sustaining and self-propagating churches.
Notice the words “made many disciples” in verse 21. They put as much energy into discipling as they did into preaching the gospel. I am convinced we would have a totally different outcome in existing churches and in those that we plant if we took the same approach. Not only that, the time spent in planting would be much shorter (four to five months) versus the years that traditionally have been spent today in getting one church to a point where it can stand on its own.
Making disciples should begin at the point of conversion. So often new converts are told to join a “new member’s class” or some other “small group” or expected to grow spiritually mature on their own. This is not biblical discipling. As I understand discipling from the Scriptures, it is one-on-one as Paul did with Timothy (Acts 16:1-3) or as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (18:26). It is intense examination of the Scriptures and learning to depend on on the Spirit as the Teacher. New believers will become ready to stand on their own very quickly, and released to disciple others. The movement of God goes forward without us and we leave in total confidence in the Spirit’s work.
*Edwards, Gene, Revolutionary Bible Study, SeedSowers Publishing, 2009. Page 107.
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