By Bob Mize
My goal in writing this article is to motivate kingdom people to disciple others. Modern believers have largely concluded that winning and maturing disciples is artificial and difficult, rather than a natural part of Christian living. Jesus modeled the process before he ever asked his followers to do the same.
The Jesus approach—somewhat akin to modern-day apprenticeship—was a personal investment in a few people over an extended period. We are familiar with the process in education as a student teacher or in a trade as a journeyman and in other professions as an intern. Why have we not viewed making disciples in the same way? We understand it with Christian parenting—older lives poured into younger lives, with the full expectation that they will repeat the process. After all, that is the nature of heritage and family.
Consider these specific biblical instructions about discipling. Paul wrote to young Timothy: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). These words are certainly for all of us, not for ministers only.
After a person comes to Christ, there is a lifetime ahead. Jesus taught not only baptism as initiation, but also follow-up nurturing: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Discipleship must be as intentional as conversion. Many who have claimed Christ have never been shown or taught how to be ardent disciples. Along with introducing people to Christ, are we then helping them understand what it means to follow Jesus? Are we equipping them to pass it on?
Another directive in Ephesians 4:11-13 is to ministers: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature . . .” Ministers, are you trying to do it all instead of equipping others for ministry? Do you have an organized plan that includes apprentices?
Another specific discipleship directive is to mature women: “Older women . . . teach what is good . . . urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:3-5). Ladies, are you training younger women to follow Jesus?
Prayer is a given. This is not our work, but the Lord’s. Through daily prayer I depend on him for guidance and wisdom. I often ask others to pray for me as Paul requested:
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel . . . Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19, 20).
Serious commitment is another given. As an old saying goes, a disciple “cannot teach what he does not know,” and he “cannot lead where he does not go.” The Greek word for disciple is also translated “follower.” If you plan to make and mature disciples, you must first be a serious follower. This is where knowledge leads to practice and where professors become practitioners. What does it mean to follow in the steps of Jesus, to have the mind of Christ?
Together with Jesus
One challenging book I have read on discipleship is by Leonard Sweet: I Am a Follower—The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus (Thomas Nelson, 2012). Sweet’s thesis is that kingdom people have emphasized the need for leadership without first learning to follow Jesus. He explains that discipleship is a joint mission with Christ:
We are commissioned not to begin a new ministry but to carry on Christ’s ministry on earth. “As the Father has sent Me,” Jesus said, “I also send you.” But we are not carrying on his ministry for him. The perfect tense in the phrase, “as the Father has sent Me,” means that Jesus is continually being sent, that he exists in a state of “sentness.” The ascension means Jesus is both with his Father in Heaven and with us on earth; it does not mean he is no longer the “sent One.” We don’t take over Jesus’ ministry now that he’s gone. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he is still here. Jesus’ ministry continues in and through us, every one of us. We follow Jesus and walk beside him. Together with him, we carry his mission forward into areas where it has never gone before.
We, the Lord’s people, are called to be growing disciples, helping others follow our example.
In the early 1970s I received a life-changing call from a minister in another city. He asked if I would visit a young man who was brought to our hospital following a serious accident in the neighboring state. I was very tentative about going since I knew only the patient’s name and that a spinal cord injury had left him paralyzed.
When I arrived I learned that Billy was 20, that he had served in the Marine Corps, and that he had prided himself on being able to hold his liquor and win fights. That is until the accident had left him a quadriplegic. His near-fatal moment happened at his brother’s apartment, where he and others were playing keep-away in the swimming pool. Billy was so drunk that he didn’t realize he was at the shallow end when he dived in to retrieve the ball. After striking his head, he was submerged and almost died before he was rescued.
In the hospital when I met Billy and his young wife, Sharon, they were frightened, contrite, and searching for answers. I began reading the Gospel accounts to them. They were so receptive and responsive, and I was excited that my feeble efforts were welcomed. Then Billy had to be moved to a different hospital in a different city. I contacted good friends there who took up where we had left off.
Billy and Sharon both gave their lives to Jesus, and were baptized in a hospital therapy pool. I kept in close touch with them as Billy improved and eventually was released to return home. Their house and vehicle were equipped for a motorized wheelchair, and their new lifestyle unfolded. They were exuberant about living for Jesus. They became involved in a local congregation. During the many hospitalizations that followed, Billy always shared his faith.
Sharon wrote to tell me that Billy had been responsible for many people becoming disciples of Jesus. I felt so completed when she added, “You now have grandchildren in the faith!”
In the early ’80s we were ministering in a university city where our congregation sponsored a Christian campus outreach. The new assistant director had come out of the business world and had no ministry training. Both he and his wife had given their lives to Christ at young ages but had never had anyone disciple them. We began weekly meetings, which were designed to help deepen our faith and mature us in our walks as disciples. The goal was to repeat the process by becoming mentors for others.
Eight years ago, Mike decided to devote his full time to The Timothy Network, a very intentional and structured multiplying ministry which has produced over 250 people who are now discipling others. Mike believes there is a difference between warming a pew and growing as a disciple. One participant named Rachel wrote:
I am a wife, a teacher, and most recently, a new mom. I have been so blessed by all of God’s goodness, but I still felt there had been something missing deep inside of me. I had become stagnant in the one relationship I needed the most—my walk with the Lord. I started praying to God for an opportunity for transformation. Through this discipleship network, I have refocused on why I wear the name “Christian.” I am rediscovering the basic reasons God has called me to holy living and to be his disciple. Each week I am developing a better understanding of the God I serve and his purpose set before me.
I am asking our Lord to stir us and help us be intentional about making disciples, following Jesus’ example and command.
Bob Mize is a freelance writer in Lubbock, Texas.