It’s one thing to know that you are supposed to do something. It’s another to know how.
Understanding that we are supposed to go out and make disciples is great, but if we as believers are actually going to make disciples, we also need some help understanding how exactly we can go about doing that.
That is why at our church we have been working through some of the key elements in the disciple-making process. We began by looking at the apostle Paul and the way he describes his ministry in 1 Thessalonians 1 and 2, as an illustration of that. We talked about how a disciple-maker shares the gospel, depends on God, encourages the saints, models the faith, perseveres in trials, maintains his aim, cares for people, and teaches the truth.
And I was thinking, even as we were working our way through that passage, that while it provides us a good overall picture of some of the things a disciple-maker does, some of us might still need some more help with understanding the specifics of the actual disciple-making process.
Maybe because I grew up in a counselor’s home, I am always thinking, did I give them what they need to know to put it into practice, because discipleship isn’t something we are just supposed to be good at talking about, but doing.
So what I want to do, is just give you a basic discipleship process, model, method maybe; where you have someone that you really want to intentionally influence for Christ and help them become influential for Christ as well, and you are wondering, what’s involved in being of a real help to this person?
And the way we are going to go about this, you need to understand at the front, is by walking through a model or method, and this model or method I am giving you is not really new to me, I didn’t make this up, I am going to walk you through some steps, eight steps in all, and they are not really steps, but components that others have taught me, mostly my father really, so I guess he discipled me in this, and I have found it very helpful to work through when trying to disciple others.
We’ll start in this post with a phrase that summarizes step number one.
This is where I think we should begin when we disciple others.
Before we look at the person we want to disciple, before we ever pick a book or curriculum to walk through with them, we need to take some time to look at ourselves.
And ask ourselves, am I actually following Jesus.
The principle here is simple:
“I can’t lead others to Jesus, if I am not following Him myself.”
You see, we often use the word disciple as a verb, something you do to someone else. You disciple them. That’s how we are using it now. We are talking about discipleship as in, what we are doing to help someone else. But most often in the Bible, the word disciple is a noun. It is not something someone does to someone else, it is something someone is.
The word disciple was actually the first name for Christians. There’s a verse in Acts 11 that’s interesting, Acts 11:26, it says, “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” So before Christians were called Christians, they were known simply as disciples and the word disciple had to do with them being a learner, a student, a follower of Jesus.
And the reason I am bringing that up is to say that before you disciple as a verb, you need to be a disciple as a noun, you need to be a learner, a student, a follower of Jesus in order to really help someone else learn from and follow Jesus.
Because a big part of discipleship is not just talk or giving information; it is actually showing. One of the big goals of discipleship is to show someone how to live, but you are not trying to show them how to live in order that they become just like you, but how to live to be like Jesus and so if you are not following Jesus, then you obviously are going to have a hard time showing them that.
We often read Paul saying, imitate me. But ultimately, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, it was, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” You can imitate me, because I am imitating Christ. And when you begin thinking about discipling others, you want to ask am I doing that, am I imitating Christ?
I think one of the dangers we face when it comes to discipleship is that there are some people who are always feeling so inferior. They don’t feel like they can ever disciple someone because they know they are sinners and obviously we don’t have to be perfect to disciple others because then only Jesus could do it. There’s only one perfect person, that’s Jesus. And when Jesus spoke to the disciples in Matthew 28 and commanded them to disciple, they had made a lot of mistakes, he knew they weren’t perfect, I mean, most of them had only just come back from running for their lives, betraying Jesus when he needed them most, so we do have to get over the inferiority complex when it comes to discipleship, because it can be an excuse. We really should be discipling others, but we just try to get out of it by saying, I am not good enough.
But at the same time, on the other hand, there are some people who feel so superior to others, that they never really evaluate their lives, and ask am I actually following Jesus; so even though they are pretty much going the opposite way as Jesus with their lives, they feel like they can go around telling other people what to do, and I am just saying, that as we go to disciple others, we should use that as an opportunity to look at our lives and evaluate how well we are following Jesus ourselves.
Look, maybe just to put this in an African context, you know, so you get what I am trying to say. It’s not, who here is white, o.k., you disciple a black guy or I am black, I can’t disciple a white guy, or I am rich, so I guess I am ready for discipleship, no, this is absolute craziness, what matters is not your color or your wealth, but are you actually following Jesus.
Because a big part of what we want to do in discipleship is set an example. That’s why your life does matter.
Jesus actually gave a warning about discipleship, that I think illustrates this point. He says in Luke 6:39 and 40, Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall in a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
This is more a warning, not to follow the wrong teacher, but we can apply it the other way. What happens in discipleship is that the people you are discipling become a little bit like you, and that can be a bad thing if you are not like Jesus, but it is supposed to be a good thing, really. I mean, this is supposed to be how the church works.
As we are around people who are living like Jesus, we become more like Jesus.
That’s actually why God gave the church all these qualifications for elders and deacons. If you look at those qualifications and you can do this on your own, 1 Timothy 3, there are all these character qualifications, and they don’t seem that radical really, when you look at them, most of them, seem kind of ordinary, but I think the point is that what we need in our churches are these men who are living lives that show us what ordinary Christianity looks like.
I am supposed to be able to come to church and find men who can show me in their lives what loving and living for Jesus looks like.
That’s why if you ever take the time to study the responsibilities of church leaders, you won’t find a lot of talk about a lot of the things that people seem to think are important today, but what do you find is a lot of talk about being holy, because God knows what we so desperately need are examples.
And that is why I am saying if you want God to use you to help change others, the first big thing you should be asking Him is that He would change you.
I guarantee you, if God is using you, changing you, He’s going to be using you to help change others. It’s inevitable.
One of the things you might do is to work your way through Scripture, answering the question, what does it mean to be spiritually mature? What are the characteristics of a spiritually mature person, and then evaluate how you are pursuing that.
Another thing you might do, is enter into a discipleship relationship yourself. Don’t wait around for someone to come and disciple you, go, find someone and ask them if you can watch them and learn from them so that you can be mature enough to disciple others.
Look, I am not saying again you have to spiritually perfect in order to disciple someone else, because I think part of maturing is discipling someone else, you can’t mature without doing it, but I am just warning you, that you are going to be dangerous if you think you are spiritually mature when you are not, so it helps as you go to disciple someone else to take advantage of the opportunity to evaluate how well you are actually following Christ.
Maybe it will help you to say this, so you know what I am not saying and what I am saying.
I don’t want any believer to think I can’t disciple people until I graduate from seminary. Discipleship is for all of us who are Christians. You just want to know a little more than the person you are discipling. What we are talking about is not so much your knowledge, what we are talking about is more your attitude, are you growing, because you know what I will take a guy for discipleship who doesn’t know much but is willing to obey Jesus whenever he learns something new over someone who knows all kinds of things but isn’t willing to obey, any day of the week. Maybe what we are talking about is spiritual warmth, that’s what we are looking for, a person who loves Jesus and is obedient to the light that he has. When it comes to elders, we need spiritual maturity obviously, when it comes to disciplers, we are looking for spiritual warmth, someone who is trying to follow Jesus.