There are Two Steps in the Process of making Disciples
1) Determine what you want to Develop
2) Develop what you have Determined
Many organizations and churches have an interest in Discipleship. Most of these will even include some mention of the word “disciple” in their vision statement. The understanding of what a disciple is, however, varies widely. It is critical, as Howard Hendricks points out, to determine what we want to develop. Would it be better, for example, to have one hundred people who are ninety-percent committed or to have ten people who are one hundred percent committed? Is it enough to simply populate our pews and fill the seats at our conferences? Or do we wish to penetrate our neighborhoods and workplaces with the Gospel? Are we satisfied with emotion and activity, or is it reproduction we have as our target? Do we want to develop those who are flawless in their recitation of their creeds, or those who are being transformed into the likeness of Christ by the Holy Spirit? Our Lord had much to say about discipleship. His comments center around the disciples’ relationship to Him, to His word, to His love for others and to His work.
A disciples’ relationship to their Lord is seen in Luke 14:25-33. On three occasions our Lord declared that a relationship to Him takes precedence over our possessions, our own will and any other relationship which we have. To fail in any of these three is to result in the forsaking of our first love. (Revelation 2:4) It will lead to disqualification as His disciple.
In regard to His word, He says the following in John 8:31b. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” To hold to His teaching we must let our roots go down deep into the word of God as we read, study and memorize His word. The intent is not to merely have a better grip on God’s word, but that it will have a better grip on us.
Our Lord demonstrated His love to His disciples in the upper room as He washed their feet. In that same chapter He gave them a new command. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) Love for others is a foundation stone of our fellowship and witness to the world. The absence of love in our fellowship limits our penetration into that world with the Gospel message.
The work of Christ is described in Luke 19:10. “For the son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.” He shares this same work with His disciples as we see in the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:18-20
From these scriptures we are able to determine that we want as a disciple one who is devoted to the person of Christ, governed by the word of Christ, mastered by the love of Christ, and committed to the work of Christ.
Having determined what we want to develop, then, we must develop what we have determined. This is, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit. He works in our lives by circumstances and in ways that are beyond our comprehension. Some of the methods by which He works are readily discernible and it is to these that we will direct our attention. These include prayer, the word of God, the Body of Christ (The church), and individual personal relationships.
The Apostle Paul demonstrated the importance of prayer in the formation of disciples on numerous occasions: In Colossians 1:9-14, Ephesians 1:15-23, and Philippians 1:9-11. We see Paul praying for others throughout the book of Acts. Prayer places our desire for the spiritual growth of others before the throne of our Lord God, trusting Him to so act that many laborers for the kingdom would come from the lives of those for whom we are praying.
Paul also recognized the effect that the word of God has in our lives. He states in Acts 20:32. “Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are being sanctified.” The role of the word of God in our lives is included in the High Priestly prayer of our Lord. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John17:17) There is no growth in the spiritual realm apart from the word of God. If we sink our roots deep into His word, we will experience a firm foundation for our walk with Him.
It is impossible to disciple others individually apart from the body of Christ, that is, the church. An old African proverb states that “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” Our Christian faith is no different. We all need continuous counsel, encouragement by others, a place where we are accepted, one in which we are challenged, comforted and have opportunity to use the gifts which He has supplied.
In addition to the body of Christ, there is additional benefit to meeting with others individually to obtain maximum growth in Christ. As the Scriptures relate to us, “a cord of three strands is not easily broken.” We see this modeled throughout Scripture: Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Barnabas and Paul, and Paul and Timothy. The Apostle Paul describes the importance of learning individually from others in his letter to Timothy as follows “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecution, sufferings-what kind of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, the persecutions I endured.” In this list, Paul enumerated what he felt was important for Timothy to model in his own life. Paul did not shrink from exposing Timothy to problems, concerns of various sorts, and ever present danger. How, we may ask, are we discipling others today? Do we live, work and spend enough time with them so that they may see and benefit from our example; our low points as well as the high points? Do we relate to them our discouragements and our failures? It is only as we enable them to see that the treasure in our jars of clay is from the Lord that they are taught to look to the Lord in their lives.
Aristotle was once quoted as saying, “We can hit our target more accurately if we can see it.” In making disciples we need a target. Our Lord has given us numerous ways by which we can assess the growth and development of others for whom he has given us oversight. It is my prayer that as you look to the scriptures for His guidance, He will enable you, also, to determine what He wants you to develop and to develop what you have determined.
In Christ, Richard Spann