Discipleship is the Key!
In this first part on discipleship, I want to firmly ingrain in your mind the calling that God has on your life to be investing in the lives of others. This investing can be done in a number of ways, but specifically I want to challenge you to see the necessity of discipleship. In one-on-one or small group discipleship (much like our Lord practiced), you have the opportunity to build a close relationship and influence others in a way that is not possible in a larger and impersonal group setting. Paul told Timothy to look for faithful men and to entrust them with the truth in a way that there would be a ripple effect (2 Tim. 2:2). We need to be in a place where we are impacting the kingdom of God by training other Christians to be faithful disciples and to multiply themselves.
I am convinced that much of the struggle that the Church has today is due to the fact that we are not following the Great Commission of making disciples. The Church has settled for getting people to a service on Sunday and has not taken up the challenge to specifically and purposely help Christians grow into maturity. Don’t forget that you are the church! You and I are the ones who need to realize the incredible need that exists in our church and to respond to it by bringing people along in their faith to maturity through discipleship. There are people right now in our church that need discipleship. I have been amazed and excited as I have met with men and seen God do incredible things in their lives through the process of discipleship.
Have you been mentored/discipled (formally or informally)? Think not only in your spiritual life, but also your professional or educational life. Consider how that process helped shape who you are today.
A Good Foundation
The foundation of discipleship includes both character qualities and personal growth through your Quiet Time. Having the character to commit to and discipline yourself by making the hard choices is key to discipleship. If you are not committed to train and follow-up your disciple, neither will he/she. Committing yourself to pray for your disciple will bear abundant fruit in his/her life. If you are not committed to a daily Quiet Time as the source of your strength and power, neither will your disciple (and he/she will see and feel that lack in you). If you are a man/woman of the Word and have an increasing love for God, He will use you greatly in others lives!
Discipleship is God’s Idea
For Jesus’ twelve disciples, they were able to see first hand the process that He used to disciple them. They were entrusted with His teaching and the example of His life and they were expected to go and make disciples. This is the process that is demonstrated in the book of Acts. This notion of discipleship is not only found in the Gospels, but throughout Scriptures. You see examples of this mentoring process: Moses with Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy are also clear examples to learn from of pouring into someone younger in the faith. That was Jesus’ purpose in His relationship with the twelve, and it should be yours. These mentor relationships throughout the Bible included teaching, encouragement, sharpening and strengthening someone’s spiritual life. The goal was to bring them to a place where the disciple was prepared for the ministry that God had for them of impacting others. That’s what Paul was emphasizing in 2 Timothy 2:2.
Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). When we begin to dedicate ourselves to following Christ and actually doing what He commanded, He will begin to tranform us (“I will make you”). Note that this transforming process is not just about ourselves and reaching maturity, but impacting others lives by becoming “fishers of men.” This illustration of fishers implies an active pursuit of the fish (i.e. men) that we need to embrace in our daily lives. We need to become active in reaching and discipling others. But note that catching fish is not the end of the process. Those fish need to be cleaned and prepared! No one ever catches a fish and just leaves in on the shore of the lake or even puts it whole in the freezer. You must follow the next step: cleaning and preparing the fish. Likewise, our goal must not be just to catch fish (salvation) but to clean and prepare them (through discipleship).
Discipleship Has a Goal and a Focus
When a fisherman cleans a fish, he knows exactly what needs to be done to prepare the fish. In the same way, these disciplers throughout the Bible both taught the truth and exposed their disciples to experiences that would prepare them for God’s purposes for their lives. Discipleship is not “just getting together.” It should be a focused relationship that has as its goal to help the disciple to grow in their faith and become all that God wants them to be. Relationship is a key element in a good mentoring relationship, but that alone is not discipleship, it’s fellowship. Discipleship is investing in another and helping them map out God’s calling on their life and helping them to get there. The father must have a relationship with his son, but to help the son to maturity involves the process of molding and refining that will help the son to realize God’s purposes for his life. Paul’s desire was to “present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28). This can be accomplished best through discipleship.
Your Call to Action
Please understand that there is no perfect discipler. We all need to grow in our maturity and obedience. Often people hesitate to get involved in discipling others from a sense of inadequacy. If there is an area of sin that is dominating your life, it may be best to work through that before you are ready to disciple someone else. If your conscience is clear, don’t listen to that sense of inadequacy, but understand that God uses earthen vessels every day to accomplish His will (2 Corinthians 4:7). Your age is of no consequence. If you have matured in Christ there is always someone younger in the faith that you can help along and encourage. God may already be placing or has placed someone in your life that He wants you to spend more time with. It’s a matter of responding to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to enter a discipleship relationship. There may be someone that you can help to mature and help spiritually already in your life. We next look at what discipleship looks like as you meet with your disciple.
Discipleship – How Do I Disciple Someone?
“Go and Make Disciples” Is Not a Suggestion, It’s a Command.
Are you obeying that command? Are you making disciples? Note that the Great Commission is not to make converts or church attendees, but to make disciples. We looked at the biblical basis for discipleship and suggested that discipleship is more that just friendship. Discipleship is allowing God to use you to help mold a person to fulfill God’s purposes in their life. Dr. Keith Phillips says, “Discipleship is the only way to produce both the quantity and quality of believers God desires.” It is an exciting life-changing process for both the disciple as he grows and for the discipler as he sees that God can and will use him to impact another believer. Oswald Chambers wrote, “Our work begins where God’s grace has laid the foundation; we are not to save souls, but to disciple them. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God’s sovereign grace; our work as His disciples is to disciple lives until they are completely yielded and surrendered to God. One life wholly yielded to God is of more value to God than 100 lives simply awakened by His Spirit. God brings us to a standard of life by His grace, and we are responsible for reproducing that standard in others.”
Paul saw that responsibility and saw himself as a spiritual father to others when he wrote, “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” Spiritual fatherhood, like biological fatherhood, is not just an event but it is a relationship. It is a relationship of shaping and encouraging toward maturity.
Please note that I am asking you to take on a younger man/woman for the purpose of discipling him. But these principles also apply to your relationship with your wife and children. As a husband, you are the spiritual leader and have the calling to disciple (Paul writes to cherish and nourish in Ephesians 5) your wife. As a father, it is your responsibility (not the church’s) to disciple your children (Deuteronomy 6:7)!
For you as a Christian, I want to be very clear and specific in giving you a picture of how to disciple someone. But please understand that it is not a stiff program, but the process of discipleship will vary based on how God has created you, the needs and spiritual level of your disciple, and the direction and promptings of the Holy Spirit to make the relationship most effective. Nevertheless, I do want to lay out some guidelines and suggestions for effective discipling.
Living the Life
One clear principle lays the foundation for effective discipleship: modeling. Kevin DeYoung said, “The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.” The most effective way to communicate the practices and truths of the Christian life is through your example. Much more than what you say, what you practice and value will have an impact on your disciple. Your actions (and life) speak louder than words. If you are not practicing the disciplines of the Christian life, if you are not living for Christ and pursuing a passionate relationship with Christ, it communicates to your disciple that these things are not really important. If you are living your faith, you will be an inspiration and a living model of biblical truth. Jesus said in John 13:15, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Paul also said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” You need to be able to say that confidently to your disciple.
Time for Action! I wanted to give some principles to help you be effective in your discipleship:
- Be a friend. If you are approachable and easily able to relate to people, this will open up doors for discipleship relationships. The ability to be at ease socially and to carry a conversation will help you as you look to encourage others. Are you shy or reserved? That is a learned habit that can be broken. Push yourself to greet others. Push yourself to start conversations and work at being able to hold a conversation with ease. Remember that your disciple is not just a project, he is a friend! You need to work at developing your relationship with him.
- Listen. I find in counseling how important it is initially and as we continue to meet to be careful to listen. It is only through listening that you find out where they are at and pick up clues of issues and needs that should be addressed. Discipleship is not just teaching. Jesus spent time asking His disciples questions to see where they were at in an effort to know how to help them. You will know where to go and what to discuss in your meetings by listening.
- Be flexible! As I have already stated, though I give some guidelines for meeting and things to cover, you have to be flexible and start where they are. Tailor your meetings to their needs and areas that need to be refined.
- Be intentional. Meeting with your disciple should have a framework, a direction and goals. Discipleship is not just about hanging out. It’s more about having a plan of areas to stimulate their growth and bring them to maturity and effectiveness. You must be intentional in the relationship to impact their lives.
- Be authentic. Your own honesty about yourself, your past and where you are right now can help your disciple learn as he sees in you the process of growing past the struggles to greater victory in the Christian life.
- Don’t be hierarchical. That means that though you are leading them, realize that God can (and most likely will) use them to encourage you and help you grow. Don’t view yourself asabove or higher than them. Don’t think in terms of “I am the discipler” and “he is my disciple”as much as seeing the relationship as a chance to help him move along in his faith.
- Be consistent. You must be faithful as a man of action- faithful to pray for him, faithful to meet with him (and be on time). Faithful to include him in your life. Don’t commit to disciple someone and then be unfaithful to the commitment!
- Develop in them the vision of 2 Timothy 2:2. It is important for them to know that through the process of meeting that one biblical goal is that he comes to a point of being ready to disciple someone else.
So, What Does Discipleship Look Like?
My suggestion is that you follow a few disciplines that will help you be effective as a discipler:
- Pray for the disciple daily.
- Meet with the disciple once a week.
- Read the agreed on materials and be prepared to discuss them.
- Contact the disciple at other times during the week by phone/text to encourage and help
- them keep on track.
As you meet together and get to know each other, issues will come to the surface and needs will become evident that can be discussed. You should cover some basic areas of the Christian life as you meet and encourage the disciple. Both the discipler and disciple should be working on these areas:
- Baptism – If your disciple has not been baptized, you should discuss this step of obedience and have him listen to the Baptism Class on the web site under Membership Training.
- Assurance of Salvation – It is essential that he know for sure that he is a child of God, he is secure in his relationship with God and will not lose his salvation.
- Quiet Time – a daily time in the Word and prayer. The Quiet Time must be the starting point to help your disciple grow in his relationship with God. Review the handout on Quiet Time and provide him/her a copy.
- Love for God – Related to Quiet Time is the cultivation of a love for God as laid out in the greatest commandment. The book Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer is an excellent resource in this area.
- The Role of the Holy Spirit and living a Spirit-filled life that produces fruit. A good resource is Campus Crusade’s material, found here.
- Serving – your disciple should be involved in using his gifts in the local church. This should include listening to the “Spiritual Gifts” audio file and questionnaire on the church web site membership training page to help him find and use his gift(s).
- Overcoming Habitual Sin in the Disciple’s Life – If there is a spiritual stronghold in his life, he needs help getting past them through your meetings (I am available to help you to help him or provide more formal biblical counseling).
- Evangelism – Sharing the Gospel – This should be the practice of all Christians. All Christians should be able to share their faith and be in the habit of sharing their faith. The
- Way of the Master training is a good resource for learning how to share your faith.
With these basic areas covered and reviewed periodically, the following resources should be considered and used depending on the maturity and issues facing the disciple. It is suggested that both read/study a chapter each week in preparation for meeting.
- Fundamentals of the Faith, by John MacArthur (for new believers)
- Seeking Him, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
- Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer
- Crazy Love, by Francis Chan
- Radical, by David Platt
- The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges
- Knowing God, by J.I. Packer
- Disciplines of a Godly Man, by R. Kent Hughes (for men)
- Man in the Mirror, by Patrick Morley (for men)
- The Exemplary Husband, by Stuart Scott (for men)
- Lies Women Believe, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss (for women)
- The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace (for women)
- How to Ruin Your Life by 40, by Steve Farrar (for youth)
- Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris (for youth)
Typically when you meet, it’s good to have a flow and try to cover certain areas. It’s good to open in prayer and ask the Lord to work through your relationship and the time together. It’s important to get an update of the disciples’ week in general, discussing any problems/issues/victories that he may have had. This involves a lot of listening! You may find that some meetings focus on a struggle or question that he has. That’s great! You may also want to review the basic areas and review and discuss reading if you are going through a book together.
Discipleship-Moving to Action
We have looked at the biblical basis for discipleship and the specific and practical direction for being an effective discipler. At this point I want to cover areas of how to approach someone to start that discipleship relationship, barriers to effective discipleship and the process of graduating your disciple and transitioning him to making disciples himself.
Initiating the Discipleship Relationship
Luke 6 underlines the process that Jesus went through to select those few men that He was going to pour His life into as disciples. He had many “disciples” in general, but He narrowed it down to twelve that would be with Him during His earthly ministry. Those twelve He would care for, pray for, teach, correct, and prepare for the leading of the church. His relationship with these men was intentionally more intimate than with other followers. Note that Jesus spent a considerable amount of time in prayer before choosing these men. He knew that He needed to spend time in prayer as a part of the process of choosing the twelve. It doesn’t specifically say what Jesus prayed for, but the connection in the verses between prayer and the selection of His disciples emphasized the necessity of the Father’s help in choosing. You also must look to the Father and believe that He has sovereignly placed you in relationships and contact with individuals that He may lead you to disciple. You are not called to disciple everyone, but you are called to invest in a select few that He puts before you. As you have been praying, God may have already (or will) placed before you that person that He wants you to disciple. If that has not been made clear, continue to pray and keep your eyes open for His direction. In God’s wisdom He will place you in relationship with the person who will benefit from your life and background. God will use your life to build into your disciple’s life!
Once you have a fix on whom you believe the Lord is leading you to disciple, give them a call and try to set up a meeting. Invite them out to lunch or for coffee to get more acquainted. In this meeting, you are seeking to build a stronger rapport and learn about where they is at in their life spiritually, in their relationship with their spouse/kids and others, their background and profession. This is where listening is crucial. Once you have developed a connection, discuss with them the concept of discipleship. Explain how the process works and the goals of discipleship. It important that they understand what they is committing to in discipleship. Invite them to begin to meet with you on a regular basis and answer any questions they may have.
Allow your potential disciple time to prayerfully consider your invitation. Just as you have prayed for direction, trust that God will direct them if this is the right time for them to begin this process. You have to believe that God is in charge of the process and that He will direct both of you. If they do not accept your invitation, they may not be ready to commit to the process. Don’t take it personally! God will use your invitation as a part of a process to challenge them to grow and to consider on a deeper level God’s call on their life as a follow of Christ. God will direct you to the right person – be patient and persistent.
Roadblocks During Discipleship
Once you have set up a time to meet with your disciple, begin the process that has been laid out. At times there may be roadblocks and obstacles to the progress that you expect in his life. Each year I enter a car in our AWANA Grand Prix. I work at evaluating and removing every hindrance to the car running with lightning speed down the track. To effectively disciple, you must evaluate the progress of your disciple and remove every hindrance to his progress. You need to deal with these issues honestly and forthrightly to help him develop spiritually and not become stagnant in his journey to become a more fruitful disciple.
The symptoms of a lack of progress may become clear as you meet week to week. You may find that your disciple is inconsistent in meeting and not calling when he is not able to meet. You need to set up a time that is convenient for both of you. If you have laid out the process and the time commitment and he has agreed to it, it is important to address that and challenge him to work on the qualities that are crucial to becoming effective as a Christian. He may not be interested in focusing on spiritual issues or it may seem like the work expected as a part of the process is a burden rather than a joy. It’s important to realize that a lack of focus is an issue that you must help your disciple move past. You are there to help him move these roadblocks aside as you pray for him and discuss these issues honestly and patiently. If you find that in your meetings he veers off onto rabbit trails frequently, he may be avoiding certain issues or again he may not be interested in putting serious energy into his spiritual life.
There are many obstacles that can hinder his progress. Some of them are:
- Wrong Priorities – Your disciple may be putting other things before his relationship with Christ. Jesus in Matthew 8:21 challenged a potential disciple to set Christ and obedience to him as the top priority and not allow other pressing needs to degrade his commitment.
- The Cost of Discipleship – There is a cost that must be considered in being a disciple. The cost of time and energy that calls him to die to self. (Luke 14:25-35)
- Distractions – Many other good things can prove to be distractions to His devotion and growth that need to be put aside. (Luke 10:39-40)
- Lack of faith – He may fail to see the great power of God to not only save but to sanctify the believer. Years of failure may be blocking the confidence that he should have that God can use this process to help him to live a life of victory and purpose. (Mark 9:23-24)
- Ignorance – You must discern if there is a lack of understanding of biblical truth in an area of his life. If so, a process of teaching must take place to correct the deficiencies in his understanding.
- Sin – The greatest hindrance to a believer’s spiritual growth is hidden and unconfessed sin. God desires for the child of God to confess his sin to be cleansed and begin to make real progress in his faith. (1 John 1:9) If you find a lack of progress, one reason may be unresolved issues in his life with the Lord.
Pushing Him Out of the Nest
As you continue to meet, your relationship will grow stronger and richer. It is important to keep in mind that the goal is to help him to grow and prepare him for ministry. One goal is to bring him to a point of being ready to have a disciple of his own. When does discipleship end? When he is at a place in his spiritual life where you have worked through these issues and he is ready to move on. It may take 4 months or 4 years. When he is ready, don’t hold him back at that point for the sake of your relationship. You will continue to be close friends, but remember to be kingdom-minded and realize that there is an individual out there that needs his investment. Make sure that you do keep in contact with him to ensure that there is an ongoing consistency in his spiritual life and fruitfulness. Once you have become a spiritual father to him, he will always be your son! You will always need to be available to help and encourage him as a father is there for his adult son.
Sound exciting? It is! And now’s the time for you to step forward and put feet to what you have learned. Please let me know that you are interested in discipling someone as I want to pray for you and encourage you along the way. I would like to answer any questions regarding the process of discipleship so that you feel comfortable and ready for the task. I also may be able to put you in contact with someone that needs to be discipled. Like a mother or father has joy as their child grows, I know that you will have great joy as you raise spiritual children!