Disciple-making starts with prayer!
I sat in front of the funeral chapel three minutes before addressing a packed house. Every seat was filled and people were standing around the room. It was a funeral for a 23-year-old mother of two small children. I had been asked by her grandparents to conduct the funeral and knew no one else in the family.
I came well prepared, but then realized I wasn’t prepared at all. Most of the people in the room were in their early 20s. I had planned for the wrong audience. I came to speak to the Christian grandparents and parents. I sat facing a room full of young adults. Many of them had issues with addiction, and all of them were confused and hurt.
Fear filled my heart as I prayed, “Lord, I can’t say what I’ve prepared; it’s all up to you now. Use me today to reach at least one of these lost people for Christ.” I don’t remember what I said in the crowded chapel. I only remember leaving the service frustrated and fully aware I had wasted an opportunity by forgetting that discipleship of the unchurched begins when we reach people where they are. Feeling a little guilt over the missed opportunity to meet those desperate needs, I repeated my prayer on the way to the cemetery: “Just reach one.”
The funeral was soon forgotten; the lesson I learned was not. I had no idea what was to come from my prayer. Optimistically, I chose to believe that God honored it.
Years later a young man introduced himself to me after a Sunday service. He was a family member of the young lady whose funeral service I had conducted. Three years, three months, and 29 days after the funeral, I baptized this young man who walked away from a very tough life and made his decision to follow Jesus. It reminded me of an important truth. Discipleship starts with prayer. In this case, a desperate prayer for an unknown face in a crowd.
A few months ago I started a new discipleship group with three men eager to learn and grow. The young man I baptized was one of them. He and another young man in the group had recently concluded that Jesus was the only sure way out of the harsh world of drug abuse. Because of their experiences, they understand grace better than most. They have an appreciation for a God who believes in them, loves them unconditionally, and has a plan for them far better than anything they could plan for themselves.
During the group’s second week we signed a covenant to attend, complete our weekly homework, and pray for men to come into our lives whom we will disciple next year. I encouraged them to build relationships with people and think about how and when they will move from being disciples to disciple makers. We start every discipleship group by reviewing our expectation that every member of the group will become a disciple maker.
Biblical Precedent vs. Current Reality
I’m not sure of the makeup of the crowd the day Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” But I’m sure there was no one on the hillside who had known Jesus much more than three years. He did not tell only his apostles to “Go and make disciples.” Nor did he say, “All of you who have been with me from the time of my baptism until now, go and make disciples.” Jesus simply declared our task to go and reproduce ourselves by baptizing and teaching. We are to be disciple makers.
It’s a tough truth to communicate in established churches where the majority of leaders haven’t committed themselves to be disciple makers. They feel called to keep the church operating, but they don’t realize God has called every congregation to be a church of disciple making disciples.
I encourage church leaders to try this. Ask everyone at your next leadership meeting two questions: 1) Who have you baptized? and 2) Who have you taught in a discipleship setting (which I define as a group of 1-4 people building relationships, learning, and growing while being highly accountable to one another)? Most will be surprised how few key church leaders are about the mission Jesus gave the church. The treasurer is keeping the books. The worship leader is busy with the next worship set. The youth sponsor is playing Nerf wars. The deacons are mowing grass. The elders are making sure the church staff stays in line. The church staff is trying to live up to the expectations of everyone else and, most of the time, Jesus’ purpose for the church is ignored in the name of “ministry.”
Turn Them Loose
In 2017, our church committed to being “a church of disciple making disciples” by the year 2020. The women are off to a great start, and the men are beginning to gain traction. Every group starts with our covenant to attend each week, complete the homework, and immediately pray for three people they can disciple next year. We use a book by Robby Gallaty called Foundations. It contains five weekly readings with commentary and discussion questions for our group time which takes about 20 minutes. It’s a useful resource for building a foundation on the Word of God. I use a follow-up book by the same author called Growing Up to equip group members to lead their own group. The expectation is for each disciple to be a disciple maker within 18 months.
Acts 18 provides an encouraging story. “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John” (vv. 24, 25).
In the next verse, two disciple makers named Priscilla and Aquila invited Apollos to their home to explain the truth more accurately. Apollos became even more effective. They didn’t insist on a 36-month course on “How to become an Effective Disciple Maker.” They turned Apollos and his “great fervor” loose to carry out the mission of Christ!
When Jesus sent the apostles out in groups of two, he turned them loose. They made a few mistakes, but he sent them out, continued to mentor them, and celebrated their success. Jesus sent six groups of two out before the end of their training, and if we follow his example, we will start them in the mission and continue to mentor them as they make disciples.
In 2017, Buckeye Christian Church had two discipleship groups. We now have seven. I am very optimistic that we will be a church of disciple making disciples with 40 disciple makers by 2020. We begin the process with real prayer and the right heart. Then we build strong relationships with high expectations and send them out helping and mentoring them along the way so that each disciple will come full circle and be a disciple making disciple.
Stan Kirtlan has served as the lead minister for Buckeye Christian Church since 1994. While he loves to preach, he also enjoys discipling men and doing marriage mentoring with couples alongside his wife, Christy. When Stan and Christy are not busy with ministry, you are likely to find them enjoying time with their seven grandchildren.