Jesus was the ultimate teacher. He “went around doing good” (Acts 10:38), and much of that good was centered on his teaching. At the beginning of his ministry he called the twelve disciples so that they might help him while he was on earth, but also that he might deposit in them the important message of salvation and consecration. They were to carry it on.
Disciple is a translation of the Greek word mathētēs, which means “learner.” Disciple making involves teaching, verbal or nonverbal, and hopefully, learning.
Jesus could have done everything alone, but he chose not to. God calls us to work in community, and Jesus’ training of the disciples included careful instruction, modeling, and practice.
What Jesus had in largest measure was his authority to disciple others. The Bible often tells us that he taught with authority, unlike the scribes and other teachers of that day. What was the difference?
First, you cannot think of this authority without understanding that he was the Messiah. This is something we cannot imitate, but that he wishes to share with us (Matthew 28:18-20).
Second, implicit in this authority was Jesus’ perfect obedience. The ones he was compared to were those whose lives conflicted with the teaching of the kingdom. They were proud and unkind, often seeking personal benefit.
A first step in being disciple makers is to teach with authority. This will be evident only in the life that has unhindered fellowship with Jesus. Those we disciple cannot see deeply enough to know whether our lives are consistent, but the One who supplies the ability to change lives does see this.
We simply cannot take a person where we have not gone. We may teach well, but if we do not practice what we teach we will not be able to significantly impact them. Some student of ours might surpass us (despite our influence!), but we will not be able to take them there. This is a spiritual work, and we should take it seriously.
Here some key areas where we can work to increase our authority in discipling.
This was first in Jesus’ life and should be in the disciple maker’s as well. In John 15, Jesus spoke about the vine and branches. The point in these verses is that Jesus is the vine, tended by the vinedresser, and we are the vines. From Jesus the nutrients flow, and if the branch is to be producing his fruit, it must be fully attached. We attach through obedience.
We have plenty of knowledge of his commands to go forward, but it is very simple after that: are we or are we not obedient to those commands? Two actions we need to take to be obedient are: 1) choose to serve the Lord in obedience (Joshua 24:15), and 2) seek the Holy Spirit’s help at all times. When we discipline ourselves in this way, the victories will follow. We will fall, but we should dust ourselves off and go at it again. How can we walk in the Lord’s authority when we are detached from the vine?
Which comes first, surrender or obedience? Neither, because they are simultaneous. Surrender should be total. We hold nothing back. God cannot fill an unsurrendered vessel, and we need Spirit-filling to accomplish the work of Christ.
Again, the Holy Spirit will accomplish surrender in us if we let him. None of us can do this alone. We supply the willingness and he supplies the will and the ability (Philippians 2:13).
In his book Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray wrote about interviewing a missionary leader and asking him what one quality he would look for in a new worker for the field. The man responded that “absolute surrender is the one thing.” If the worker is lacking in any other areas they would still come to fruition if they were surrendered.
We use this word in so many ways that it may be confusing to the modern believer. In this case, I am not speaking of starry-eyed rapture, but practical zeal.
As a discipler, it is true that our spiritual principles may be more caught than taught. A person hears our tone of voice, notices our mannerisms, sees us respond to challenges, and the lesson we are teaching in whatever context is driven home. Our demeanor needs to be changed by Christ through devotion.
We are devotional when we spend quality time reading the Word of God, when we worship with sincerity, when we walk in faith, and when we fellowship with believers. Devotion is closely tied to obedience, so the list could be longer, but let’s focus on the additional area of prayer.
As a young man listening to people in my church talk about prayer, I remember thinking, Prayer, prayer, prayer! When are they going to stop? They did not and they should not. Prayer is our primary connection with Heaven. Taken with careful biblical study, prayer is the power line to God’s effectiveness. In my recent book, I spent an entire chapter on prayer without intermission. Paul commanded us to do this in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. To pray without intermission means that we begin our day in prayer and Bible reading (an hour quiet time is good) and continue in prayer until the day ends. We are not always mumbling prayers, nor are we in constant and conscious prayer, but we are always in an attitude of prayer so that it becomes secondary only to breathing.
We breathe out our petitions and intercessions, and we breathe in fellowship with Jesus. He is always in unbroken fellowship with us, but we can break that fellowship by not communicating. We cannot hope to convey the things of God to those we teach without this vital breath of Christ in prayer.
Many times, just before Jesus healed or ministered he was “moved with compassion” (Mark. 1:41, Matthew 9:36, 20:34, Luke 7:12, 13, Hebrews 2:17). This is where we might be disconnected from the Spirit of Christ when we disciple others. We lack compassion. Our prayers are wooden, our teaching is rote, or our mentoring is perfunctory. This should not be; and indeed, cannot be, when we are walking closely with the Savior. He is compassionate in his ministry, and the Holy Spirit always displays this compassion. If our disciple making has become less than compassionate, it is not touched by God’s grace. We are coasting.
We can recover by repenting of our human effort, our sin, and our unbelief, and asking again for the filling of the Holy Spirit. The true request for this filling will never be denied, and we can go forward again, not in our compassion, but in his. He is more consistent than we are.
Those we disciple will benefit because our teaching will now reveal the love of God (1 John 4:8). This list is not exhaustive, as we could easily include more characteristics like humility, faith, energy, boldness, and others.
Perfection is elusive. The disciple maker will fail. This does not disqualify us unless we remain in the failure, unwilling to go back to Christ who restores and equips; however, our consistency should far surpass our failure or we need not be disciple-makers at all.
Dr. David Downey is a freelance writer and minister living in Fort Worth, Texas. He recently published His Burden is Light: Cultivating Personal Holiness which can be found on Amazon.