Matt Willis has a simple reason why he and his wife worked together to revise his grandfather’s classic Baptist discipleship tool, “MasterLife.”
They want to see the Great Commission fulfilled in their lifetime – and they know “MasterLife” can help.
“We were making disciples using the ‘MasterLife’ material,” Willis said. “I really believe the best resources are not created in a vacuum, but rather as a result of a practical need. That’s how my granddad wrote ‘MasterLife.’ He was in the context of 2 million people coming to faith in Indonesia.
“We felt like there were people who we were discipling who were willing to reproduce and make disciples using ‘MasterLife,’ but some were saying, ‘I don’t know anyone who’s willing to commit 28 weeks, and do it this in-depth, with this much of a time commitment.’ We just felt like it needed to be simplified, so that more people could go through the material.”
Avery Willis, Matt’s grandfather, developed the “MasterLife” curriculum while serving as a Baptist missionary in Indonesia from 1964-78. Thousands of churches worldwide used the original curriculum, published by the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian Resources) in the 1980s, to disciple Christians. In English and Spanish alone, Willis says, the original material reached more than 330,000 people and was translated into 65 other languages.
Matt and Allison Willis’ revised book, called “MasterLife Together,” retains the key concepts of the original while refreshing it for a new generation of disciple-makers. The couple’s new book, a single 288-page volume, replaces the original four-volume series.
The revised edition includes content for 12 group sessions (plus an introduction and four additional sessions), personal study exercises that take 15 to 20 minutes daily, applicable Scripture, a leader’s guide and an appendix of helpful tools. The book also includes a recommended five additional sessions.
Matt Willis says the revised curriculum can be used for individual study, but it’s purposely designed for small groups, noting the subtitle, “A Discipleship Experience for Small Groups.” He believes studying the material in community is an important part of the discipleship process because it enables both accountability and relationship-building.
The couple also added a week into the plan where students go out into the community and share their faith.
“This was not going to be just a copy and paste of the original ‘MasterLife,’” said Willis, the missions and evangelism pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. “We had to do the harder work to really start with blank pages. Otherwise, it would have come across stilted and a little wonky. We wanted to still honor (my grandfather) and some of his words and influence in this, but we really personalized the stories to ourselves, rather than just using his older personal illustrations.”
Willis noted that the changing culture requires different discipleship strategies. The “MasterLife Together” curriculum reflects those changes.
“Great resources should be timeless and timely,” Willis said. “There are discipleship principles that are biblical, universal, never changing. There are some things from the original material that are still very relevant to today and will always be that way. But there are some ways where the culture has changed, and we must highlight some parts more than others. So, for example, we spend some more time talking about gender and sexuality in the book that wasn’t needed to be highlighted as much in 1980. It’s just the culture has shifted so much that we felt like we can’t make assumptions of people having a biblical worldview.”
Willis believes the resource can help churches disciple both new believers and mature Christians, but it still requires a significant commitment from participants. One of the struggles he experienced as the couple revised the content was in deciding how much they could simplify it without reducing its discipleship impact. Willis sees the material as an on-ramp to a life of discipleship.
“There can be people who’ve been a Christian for decades that will really see personal spiritual growth from going through this,” Willis said. “Because discipleship is a lifelong journey of obedience and love, we always have room to grow. A fresh perspective can help the most mature believers to keep growing.”
“MasterLife Together” is designed to not only help people grow in their own relationship with Christ but to encourage them to share their faith and begin discipling others. The material is divided into four parts: Your Relationship with God, Your Relationship with Your Inner Self, Your Relationship with Others and Your Relationship with the World.
Matt Willis sees two important ways that pastors can leverage “MasterLife Together” in their ministries.
“I would encourage pastors to, first of all, make disciples using this material,” Willis said. “That may be two or three people that they’re going to walk through (‘MasterLife Together’) with intentionally for the next few months. I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, too few of pastors are personally making disciples. We rely too much on sermons, and Sunday school classes or home groups, to make disciples. We have to keep that personal fire and faithfulness of making disciples and not become lost in the busyness of programming.”
Matt Willis also encourages pastors to open one or two pilot groups at their church with this material.
“At Calvary, we’ve talked about it being a slow burn,” Willis said. “We have two groups happening right now at our church. But there are a couple more ready to double and expand in 2023. So, if we keep reproducing the groups and double every few months in a systematic way, we’ll reach everyone who wants to be discipled.”
For more information about purchasing copies of the “MasterLife” curriculum, visit lifeway.com/masterlife.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tobin Perry is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of writing experience with Southern Baptist organizations. He can be reached at TobinPerry.com. This article originally appeared in the December issue of the Biblical Recorder magazine.
By Tobin Perry, BR News Correspondent