by Amy Simon
Jesus commanded us to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Trying to follow Christ’s command can seem overwhelming. How do we do it?
Jesus taught his disciples primarily through relationships in the context of everyday life. If we want to follow his example, we will make relationships a priority too.
Honest relationships are the vehicles God uses to change lives. Relationships give us a safe place to watch how someone further down the road navigates through life. Listening to teaching and reading books about the issues we struggle with can be helpful, but they will only get us so far. Most of us learn best by watching someone else demonstrate what the Bible teaches. It’s easier to accept correction and advice from someone you know and trust. Without a relationship, a disciple is less likely to share his struggles with you.
How Did Jesus Do It?
Similar to the other rabbi-disciple relationships of the day, Jesus’ disciples followed him wherever he went and sought to learn from him and copy his life. They attended a wedding with him (John 2:1-11), walked through the countryside (Matthew 12:1-8), and ate together (Matthew 9:9-13). Jesus spent time with his disciples in everyday life and used those circumstances as teaching opportunities. He took them along as he healed the sick, preached to the multitudes, and ministered to others.
You don’t have to have the Christian life figured out or have all the answers in order to disciple someone else. You just need to be a few steps further down the road of faith.
My Relationship with Alice
When I met Alice, I was newly married with no kids and she was a college student in the Bible study I led. She was new to the faith and had a lot of questions about how to integrate some of the things she had been taught growing up with what the Bible had to say. We began meeting outside of Bible study to answer her questions. Thankfully, my husband had grown up in a similar background to hers and was a great resource to fill the gaps in my knowledge.
Alice and I became good friends. We had similar priorities and personality types and enjoyed doing things together outside of Bible study. Our friendship grew even after she transferred to a different college. She met my husband and I met her family as well. She knew she could ask me about spiritual topics or anything else.
Navigating Life’s Changes
A few years later I had two children and she watched me adjust to life as a mother. I was honest with her when I struggled and didn’t try to show her only the pretty side of my life. She also saw the things I enjoyed about being a parent.
She graduated from college and spent a year in France as a missionary. We talked several times that year, especially when she became engaged. When she returned from France, life moved quickly for her. Alice was married and a few months later she and her husband were expecting their first child.
I had been through a similar set of circumstances, having spent time overseas after college several years ago. We decided to meet regularly again, even though we lived 45 minutes apart. We went through a Bible study book together that addressed some of the issues she was facing, and we also had ample time to talk about the role of a wife, keeping an orderly home, and motherhood.
Over the years it seemed my life experiences continued to stay a few steps ahead of hers. She suffered a miscarriage only a couple months after I did. Having dealt with the loss so recently myself, it put me in a unique position to comfort her and walk with her through it. When she had her second child, we had many discussions about how to juggle the care of a toddler and an infant. She decided to home school her kids, something I had been doing for a couple years, so I’ve been able to be a resource for her in that as well. Now that I’m expecting my third child, I’m sure I’ll learn some things to pass along once we get there.
There have been times when our relationship has been fairly structured and we’ve met at regular times and studied specific materials together. Other times, our relationship has been more informal, getting together when we’re able to and talking on the phone and by e-mail. Underlying every season, our friendship continues to bless us both. Alice has a degree in education, so I ask her questions related to my children’s development as I home school them. I’ve always appreciated someone I can be honest with and who will pray for me.
If you want to follow Jesus’ command to make disciples, ask God to point out someone in your sphere of influence who might be a few steps behind you in the journey. Take her out to coffee and get to know her. See if she would be interested in getting together regularly. If he or she has a family, invite them over for dinner. Talk openly and honestly about yourself and allow them to do the same.
Perhaps you’ll agree to meet for a specific period of time at first. A set amount of time can give you a way out if the relationship isn’t working as well as you’d hoped. If things are going well, you can always agree to keep meeting.
Discerning Your Disciple’s Needs
Every friendship isn’t a discipling relationship. Alice and I have not always met to study the Bible. But since we’ve had significant teaching times in our relationship, the door is always open to discuss spiritual things.
Your choice of study material depends on several factors. Is the person a new believer or unsure about how to walk with God on a daily basis? In that case, start by going though materials that teach the basics.
Once you’re ready to move beyond the basics, discern your disciple’s felt needs. What are the issues or questions that bother him or her the most? Marriage? Parenting? Studying the Bible? A specific area of sin? You can use published studies or you can look up Bible verses on your own.
Regardless of the material you choose, or how often you get together, your relationship with the person you’re working with will make the most difference. And what a huge difference it can make! Having someone a few steps ahead in the faith to be the hands and feet of Jesus can be a catalyst to help someone walk with God faithfully for a lifetime.
Amy Simon is a freelance writer in Jackson, Wisconsin.
Follow up materials for new believers:
Discovering God’s Story
Fully Illustrated Bible Handbook in Chronological Order
Growing in Christ
by The Navigators
Books on Discipleship:
by Christopher B. Adsit
(Thomas Nelson, 1992)
The Master Plan of Evangelism
by Robert E. Coleman