‘Discipleship is pulling the weeds out of the lives of people.’ — Estriberto Britton
OLD HICKORY — When Estriberto “Estrie” Britton was a young pastor in Cali, Colombia, a group of young men showed up at his church one Wednesday night wanting to study the Bible.
The unusual aspect of their request is that they were unchurched and for the most part lived on the streets. They had long hair and could even be considered “hippies,” Britton recalled.
“I offered to meet with them and they came to my house every night with questions.
“I would open the Scriptures and help them understand the truth found in God’s Word,” he said.
Over the course of a few weeks, the young men began to change. They even cut their hair, he remembered.
One of those “hippies” later went back to school, earned his high school diploma and graduated from college and seminary.
That former hippie later became the pastor of the church in Cali where Britton had taken him under his wing. The young man later became president of the Baptist seminary in Colombia and today has an international ministry.
Britton didn’t know it at the time, but he came to realize that he discipled those young men.
“I had no idea at the time that it was discipleship,” acknowledged Britton, a former staff member with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and LifeWay Christian Resources.
“I was just responding to their needs.”
A member of Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Britton took early retirement in 2011 due to health reasons. But discipleship remains a major priority in his life.
He takes an active role in discipleship at Tulip Grove and it has extended into other churches as well. Britton also is helping to translate “More Life” materials into Spanish. More Life is an evangelism strategy of the Tennessee Baptist Convention to help Tennessee Baptists reach the estimated 3.5 million people in Tennessee who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Britton tries to help church members understand that “discipleship is not the book you study or the program you use. Discipleship is relationships,” he stressed.
Since his first experience in the area of discipleship, Britton has been mentored and has trained extensively in discipleship.
“I have seen the value of it,” he maintained. “I have seen lives changed and transformed and it is because of the power of God’s Word.”
Over his years of ministry, Britton said he has come to realize that the concept of biblical discipleship is not understood by most Christians.
“People think that coming to class or having a program or special class is discipleship,” Britton said.
While those are important, they are not truly discipleship, he stressed.
“Discipleship is an intentional investment of your life in other believers so that they will be more like Jesus,” Britton observed.
In turn, those who are discipled will “live biblical principles and become reproductive disciples themselves,” he added.
Britton is convinced that churches in general, not just Baptist congregations, are not doing a very good job of discipling new believers.
One reason for this lack of discipleship is that many pastors and ministers do not know how to disciple, Britton suggested.
“Normally, seminaries do not teach you how to disciple. They teach everything else,” he observed, but noted that he was never taught discipleship in seminary.
The second reason discipleship is lacking in many churches is that it is costly, Britton said.
“Many times, people know how to disciple but they are not willing to pay the price. Discipleship will cost you time, sleep and money. You must be willing to invest yourself in others.”
He compared discipling believers to raising a child. “A new believer needs attention like a newborn baby. That is costly.”
Though discipleship is costly, “it is even more costly if you don’t disciple,” he cautioned.
If new believers are not discipled, they will not mature and grow and they can easily be swayed by false doctrines, Britton said.
He compared discipleship to pulling weeds out of a garden so the vegetables will grow and produce.
“Discipleship is pulling the weeds out of people’s lives,” he observed.
Going to church once or twice a week and attending Sunday School is not enough to grow, he stressed. “You have to have three meals a day to grow, not once a week.
“Discipleship is a daily lifestyle. You invest yourself in others and help them see that they need to grow by spending time with Christ through prayer and Bible study.”
Last year Britton was asked by Ernie McAninch, then chairman of the deacons at Tulip Grove to help disciple the deacons. The idea was embraced by the church’s pastor, Gerald Bontrager.
“Discipleship is a relational journey whereby one life impacts the lives of others to become more like Christ,” Bontrager observed.
“This has been my experience with Estriberto. Through his life, Estrie has impacted me (and our deacons) to grow spiritually and become more like Christ. My life and ministry has been enriched as a result of my journey with him,” Bontrager said.
He noted that the spiritual quotient in a church body will never rise above the spiritual quotient of the spiritual leadership in the church.
“The work Estrie did with our deacons helped to raise the spiritual quotient in our congregation,” Bontrager observed.
Britton also was called to help disciple deacons at Bethel Baptist Church in Greenbrier.
Pastor Alec Cort noted the church has a new body of deacons who have a heart to disciple other men in the church.
He noted some of their deacons are currently discipling recent converts in their church.
“Bro. Britton taught us a lot about discipling,” Cort said.
He noted it is his goal to see discipleship spread throughout the church with men discipling men and women discipling women.
“We want our church members trained to disciple others through one-on-one relationships,” Cort said.
Britton is willing to assist other churches in the area of discipleship. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or at (615) 504-8813.