Our church has been focusing on the importance of building joyful, passionate disciples of Jesus. The ladies were challenged at the If:Gathering to step up our discipleship relationships. The whole congregation has walked through a “core commitments” sermon series focusing on… yep, discipleship. And at our recent kick-off with the Calvary Family of Churches, we zoomed in on I Thessalonians 2:8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” You guessed it, discipleship.
Anyone who’s been around church for very long knows that term. A “disciple” is a student, a scholar, the follower of some great teacher—in our case, Jesus. We attach to ourselves His very name—CHRISTian. We are “little Christs,” imitators of the most perfect God/man who ever lived. We want to understand Him, to worship Him, to obey Him, to smell like Him. And because we want to multiply, to see the Body of Christ explode around the world, we want to “disciple” others. We want to replicate what we have learned, and teach others to likewise go out and make Him known.
Well, that’s all fine and dandy. But what does it mean, to disciple someone? What does it look like? Is there a difference between discipling someone and mentoring them? Between teaching and sharing “our own selves”?
A bunch of us spent a leisurely evening discussing discipleship last week over enchiladas, but as we wrapped up, I couldn’t help thinking that practically, we’re a little lacking. We have enthusiasm, dedication, even, but we need a plan.
Having been on staff for a number of years with Cru, Michael and I received a wealth of discipleship training, so much that I take it for granted that others have been equipped the same way. In fact, a lot of campus ministries do this exceedingly well—the Navigators are brilliant at it—but if you weren’t part of such a ministry, you may not have been systematically supplied with strategies for discipleship. You could certainly fill a library with books designed to explain discipleship methods, but I want to put in your hands a simple, brief starting place for your next adventure in discipleship.
I’m not calling it a plan, a procedure, or a how-to manual. It’s just a jumping-off point. But it’s easy enough for anybody to take that first, tentative step. And before you know it, you’re off to the races.
Aim: To Be Like Christ
Our whole goal in discipleship is to become more Christlike ourselves (that’s a lifetime pursuit, obviously), and to help the next guy do the same. Since Jesus gave us a nifty rubric for loving God (the most important task of a disciple), we’re going to borrow it for our discipleship strategy. Mark 12:29-31 says, “Jesus answered, ‘The most important is… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” So I’m going to give you a three-prong approach modeled on Jesus’ words.
Method: Heart (and Soul), Head, and Hands
The challenge of discipleship is to help a person grow, step by step, closer to Christ: knowing Him, leaning on Him, and acting like Him. Step one is figuring out where a person is spiritually. Sit down for a cuppa and begin by asking a ton of questions. Listen. Make sure, for starters, that the person has in fact responded in faith to Christ and can confidently say they have put their trust in Him. If not, begin there. If so, and if they are ready to dive in, you can come alongside, thoughtfully help them evaluate their walk with God, help them to shore up their weaknesses and “excel still more” in their strengths. We want to help people move along the spectrum from nonbeliever to Christ-follower to joyful, passionate, multiplying disciple.
You’re going to need to meet regularly. How often and for how long I can’t say. But it’s kind of like coaching a sport: without intentionality and effort, progress is going to be spotty at best. Every time you get together, you’re going to ask questions. A lot of questions. Sometimes you’ll focus on their head—their knowledge of Jesus, since you cannot grow to be like someone whom you don’t know. Those days you might spend time studying God’s word, leaning in with them to learn together. Sometimes you will focus on heart—questions of intimacy, priority, and prayer. Those days you might spend a chunk of time praying with your disciple, modeling by your own conversation with God what prayer can be. And some days you will focus on hands—serving God side by side; if possible, bringing them along to join you in ways you’re already putting love in motion.
Did you notice? While we might mentor someone through questions and conversation, when we get serious about discipleship, those conversations turn into action.
Here are three sets of questions to get you started. It’s going to look like a lot, but think of it like a big box of Crayolas. The more colors you have to choose from, the prettier picture you can draw.
Anytime you discover that there’s room to grow, pause there, and make suggestions. (You’ve never read the Old Testament? Here are some of my favorite parts. Here’s a reading plan you could try. How about if we both commit to reading Genesis this month? Or, You’re struggling with bitterness? What would forgiveness look like? What’s a step you can take towards reconciliation? How can I pray for you this week?)
Don’t rush past a sticky spot without taking time to get un-stuck. Try to always leave with an action step: How will you work on X this week?
Ready? Here we go.
1. Heart and Soul: Pray like crazy! Discipler, pray for your disciple. Ask for wisdom — where do they need to grow? For that matter, where do you need to grow? Does your disciple P.R.A.Y. (love a corny acronym!) in the following areas:
Praise: Do you have a thankful heart? Are you active in corporate worship? Do you stay alert for God-sightings? Where have you seen God working today? Would you say you are lukewarm, red hot, or stone cold? What makes you fall in love with Jesus? How can you give thanks in difficult circumstances? Are you joyful?
Repent: Do you keep short accounts with God? Are you aware of your pet sins? Do you confess areas where you have stubbornly disobeyed? What about the areas where you’ve simply had a bad attitude? Do you often ask God to help you recognize temptation and flee from it? How does it affect your relationship with God when you try to brush past sin?
Ask: How do you press into Jesus in times of trouble? Do you remember to stay alert and ask for protection? Especially when you are discouraged, do you ask for perspective? Do you bring your anxieties to God and ask Him to replace your fear with faith? Do you pray for evangelism opportunities? Do you keep a running list of nonbelievers in your life to pray for? What about your enemies? Have you prayed through the Psalms?
Yield: Are you in the habit of listening to the Holy Spirit? Do you frequently ask for strength, power, and guidance from Him? Have you committed a willing heart to obey and surrender to His will? Are there areas you are reluctant to surrender? Do you make vows to God that you don’t fulfill?
2. Head: Get to know Jesus!
Have you studied what He said?
Do you know why He bled?
Do you read what He read?
Have you thoroughly digested Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Have you committed His words to heart?
Do you understand the implications of the gospel —not only for your salvation, but for your sanctification, for your vocation? Are you in the practice of studying the New Testament?
Jesus’ Bible was just the Old Testament. Have you neglected this part of God’s word?
How often do you read the Bible? Do you read both quickly for the big picture and slowly for understanding? Do you memorize it? Do you pray for insight before you study? For strength to apply it? Do you know how to study it well? Do you use good tools to help you? Do you rely more on other teachers or are you a self-feeder? Do you check your conclusions against reliable sources? Are you listening to any ear-ticklers?
3. Hands: Follow where He led. Obviously there are hundreds of ways to imitate Christ, since He was literally perfect in every way. Here are five major hallmarks of His life that we can copy:
Holy lifestyle: What are your pet sins? Have you made an effort to root out unforgiveness, pride, laziness, and selfishness? Whom do you allow to see you struggle? Do you welcome accountability? Discipler, be transparent and gracious. You sin, too! Pray for wisdom—when to be gentle, when to be firm. Don’t try to fix them, and don’t confront everything at once. Guide them to identify their own problem areas and agree to tackle them.
Love: Do justice and love mercy. To be Christlike, we need to be involved in compassionate action, as He was. Where is there need in your community? How can you be involved? Get active—do the work of love side by side.
Take up your cross: What might God be asking you to give up for the sake of His name? How can you love sacrificially? Where have you deemed the cost of discipleship too high?
Give grace: Where do you resist forgiving others? Has your understanding of the gospel penetrated your heart to the extent that grace comes naturally? What prevents you from being gracious? Do people perceive you to be kind and generous or stingy with praise? If you will be forgiven to the measure you have forgiven others, is that good news?
Preach the gospel: In season and out, using words when necessary, with love always, freely and naturally, as an overflow of adoration and compassion, with intentionality and forethought, with prayer and urgency, with skill and a continual pursuit of increasing excellence. When was the last time you shared your faith? How do you seek opportunities to do so? What weaknesses need shoring up? How often do you practice this skill? How have you equipped yourself?
Patience and grace, commitment and follow-through. That’s it. Heart and Soul, Head and Hands. One life pouring into another, simple enough for a bunch of fishermen.
Let me finally point you to some fantastic resources that others have put together if you want to take this further.
Here’s a resource from the folks at Lifeway. Has a great video clip at the beginning.
This one comes from David Platt, and echoes my thoughts above. I like his action-step questions.
Cru does a great job with discipleship, and is reliably straightforward. They emphasize “transferable,” or easily-repeatable resources.
I haven’t read this book, but Francis Chan is such a neat guy. He’s put together not only a book (Multiply) but an accompanying video series to equip disiple-makers. And hey, there’s David Platt again! (That guy is everywhere!)
And a classic, The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman.