The call for discipleship is the main challenge for every Christ-follower and all churches. As the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the heart of the church’s chief purpose and vision, the Great Commission is at the core of every church’s ministry and mission.
The local church’s health and growth depend on its overall disciple-making ministry. However, the quality making of disciples is not much about the strategic trends that promise growth without substance. It is about the call to raise mature Christians who are faithful to Jesus Christ and His message, and able to multiply as spiritual leaders. The E12 discipleship program is an answer to that call.
E12 was born from a dedicated pastor’s heart that first desired the local church to have healthy disciples and grow in ministry leadership.
The Rev. Jeremiah Lepasana is the Senior Pastor of BCINJ—Bible Church International of New Jersey, USA. He was a former seminary professor. To this author, Rev. Lepasana was his most respected expository preacher and teacher. Having lived with the Lepasanas—and volunteered at BCINJ—for more than five months, this article is focused on the essence and potential of E12 discipleship as applied in local churches in the Philippines.
Today, it’s disturbing to see spiritual leaders who simply wanted to use a system at the expense of substance. As such, the effect of mushroom growth has led to various problems of doctrinal controversies and leadership derailment that damaged the integrity of the church and ministry as a whole. For that reason, scholars and analysts prefer to focus more on church health, rather than mere church growth.
E12 and Its Message
Truth to be told, E12 discipleship was born out of the need for solid message and content in discipleship. Before E12 was made, BCINJ experienced an alarming state. The discipleship program they adopted could cause a huge split in their leadership and membership. The council leaders who were already deeply discipled in their historical faith and message of the Christian faith felt the threat. The system and strategies are building up, but the substance is bothersome.
How would you feel if your local church is on the verge of disintegrating because of doctrines that are not consistent with what you sincerely believe? Knowing the impending threats to their church health and growth, the leadership decided to choose substance above strategies and leadership styles. BCINJ chose Christian unity rather than controversy by regaining their biblical message and maintaining creative methods to disciple.
By the grace of God, Rev. Jeremiah Lepasana led the transition. His original intention was to create a discipleship process for BCINJ as a local church only with a strong and solid foundation on biblical teachings in every stage of the program. He focused on four Es as major phases of the ministry namely, Evangelizing, Edifying, Equipping, and Empowerment.
The Great Commission and its message cannot be divorced. In fact, what is being omitted and added are more dangerous than what’s just been said. This is not a choice between faithfulness to the truth or fruitfulness by the truth, but to have both. The worse thing that could happen to BCINJ and its daughter churches was to have a weak message with a strong method. Ptr. Lepasana took the initiative to make a new curriculum for the church with a solid biblical foundation and theology with very practical applications to Christian life and leadership.
As a result, many other churches followed suit. They also utilize the E12 discipleship for its solid biblical lessons. Every lesson is based on Bible exposition, explanation, and application. A story has been told of a pastor who adopted E12 and cried before his congregation, apologizing for teaching doctrines not consistent with the Bible. Such testimonial is one among many that benefited to the substance of E12 discipleship.
E12 as a Method in the Ministry
Despite the allergies of many pastors to the concept of “12” as it caused several splits and animosities in churches and conventions, the strategy of E12 does not claim to be a methodological “revelation.” E12 does not undermine the revelation of God. In fact, it highly regards the Scripture as the very Word of God, not as something that “contains the Word of God.” It’s not based on the hype that it is the best discipleship program there is in the world. E12 does not even guarantee that you’ll get the same results, but it is open that you or your church can be bigger as the Lord leads with due consideration to your unique spiritual gifts, skills, and spiritual leadership.
E12 is very clear that its message created the method. It is not confused in making its method the message. As such, E12 is not a rigid system where all participants are forced to get unified results. The biblical view is that every believer and leader has different gifts. If every believer has differences in gifting, does it mean each has different results? Discipling your twelve (12) is an ideal, but in E12 it is a goal, not everything. E12 deeply respects the uniqueness of every believer’s spiritual gift and “talents” to produce various results, even beyond 12 disciples.
The strength of E12 is not in unity through uniformity, but unity in the midst of diversity. Unlike the franchised mindset and system, the vision of E12 is in the process of multiplication, not the glorification of its founder or the pastor. Rev. Lepasana is candid to be a steward of truth. He affirms that the health and growth of the church are in the small groups that multiply. That’s the principle of church development and expansion.
The E12 discipleship’s origin was to fulfill the Great Commission. Its aim is to evangelize non-believers through the message of the Gospel and edify the new believers through the fundamental Christian doctrines and disciplines. E12 is not just a systematic approach to discipleship but a progressive method to train leaders. As such, its SOL—School of Leaders—program is focused on equipping leaders with the essentials of spiritual leadership and empowering leaders to do the evangelizing, making disciples, and mentoring.
E12 as a Movement
When E12 spread out from the walls of BCINJ, it spread like wildfire among other leaders and churches in different parts of the world. The E12 discipleship material is now being used in various denominations, not just the Philippine Southern Baptists. With the translations of the English material into Tagalog and Cebuano/Visayan versions, the contextualization is getting deeper and gaining broader users and acceptance.
In fact, E12 discipleship is an integral part of CPM—Church Planting Movement in the Philippines. CPM founder, Dr. Alexander Arceno, requires all CPM students and workers to go through the E12 for their 2-year program ministerial training. E12 is even credited in his seminary and college extension programs where more than a hundred Christian workers who went through the curriculum planted churches. The fact that E12 is being utilized in workers’ training means its leadership potential is deeper and wider.
As E12 is crossing denominations and groups, it has been observed that E12 is becoming a spiritual movement. The BCIP–Bible Church International Philippines has repositioned itself to reset, regroup, and refocus on their discipleship effort. This restructuring process is in view of their awareness that more churches are becoming more productive in their disciple-making process.
Don’t take these words too quickly. E12 is not a quick fix to your problems on church health and growth. E12 is not a silver bullet to discipleship, neither a one-size-fits-all approach to Christian disciple-making. E12 demands strong and authentic spiritual leadership, a significant amount of time to nurture believers into leaders, a small investment in your workbooks, and tons of grace to love God and have compassion for all people.
You may have already started to notice that desperate leaders succumb to any teachings and systems as long as it promises results or prosperity. But E12 is otherwise. There is no money-string attached to it. The bonus of the ministry is yours and for the church. It means the result belongs to you as a leader and a local church.
More importantly, E12 is not a shortcut to spiritual growth. It’s not raising false hope for you to become a mega-church or be a replica of BCINJ. Its process may take a year or two. But you can be assured that you’re raising leaders rooted in historical faith and bearing, not just a fruit, more fruit, and much fruit, but fruit that last.
Glenn Plastina © 2017
Originally, this article for a Christian publishing in South Korea was entitled The E12 Discipleship by the same author.