In the first three posts of this series on disciple making (“Disciple making 1: The Command“, “Disciple making 2: Pupils or Disciples“, and “Disciple making 3: Paul and his disciples“) I suggested that “disciple making” includes much more than simply transferring information through instruction. Instead, making a disciple includes spending time with the person: “being rather constantly associated with someone”. Already, this implies that I should stop calling classes discipleship, even Bible study classes. Discipleship includes studying Scripture, but it cannot stop there. A class that only includes Bible study is not discipleship.
As I’ve studied Paul’s letters, I found something very interesting when it comes to making disciples. Paul desires for people to follow Christ. However, he recognized that many times people need an example of what it means to follow Christ. Thus, it was not self-importance or pride that caused Paul to implore his readers to “follow/imitate me” (for example, 2 Thes 3:7). Instead, it was in recognition that people need an example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. But, is Paul’s exhortation to “follow Paul” simply an indiation of his position and authority as an apostle? No.
According to the author of Hebrews, believers are to imitate the faith of anyone whose life demonstrates that they are following Christ (Heb. 13:7). But, aren’t we supposed to make followers (disciples) of Jesus Christ? How do we make disciples of Christ if believers are following us?
The difference lies in the goal of our discipleship. Our purpose is not to make disciples of ourselves, but to make disciples of Jesus Christ. However, on the way to that goal, we will have to teach people by example. Thus, a new disciple of Christ may begin by following a more mature disciple of Christ. In other words, the less mature believer becomes a disciple of the more mature believer by being “rather constantly associated with” the more mature believer.
This step in the process was very important to Paul, and it should be important to us as well. We should recognize that in many ways people learn by imitation, especially when it comes to learning a new way of life. So, the younger believer learns to serve others by observing and imitating the more mature believer as he or she serves others. The younger believer learns to study and apply Scripture by observing and discussing and studying with the more mature believer as he or she studies and changes his or her life in response to Scripture.
For many in the church today, this step in the discipleship process has been lost. Neither men nor women have had a more mature brother or sister to walk with, learn from, and imitate. Instead, the church has skipped immediately to the next step: having the discipler step out of the way so the one being discipled begins following Jesus alone.
Please, do not misunderstand me, making a disciple of Jesus Christ is our goal. We do not intend to make disciples of ourselves. We always intend to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We should also recognize that God can and does work with people who have never been discipled by another believer. But, this is not the way of disciple making that God describes to us in Scripture.
Just as Paul called believers to “imitate” him, we also must call new believers to “imitate” us, all the while teaching them to begin following Jesus themselves. Meanwhile, those making disciples should be real, physical examples of what it means to follow Jesus. In that way, young disciples are able to see something in us that they cannot physically see in Jesus (Col 1:24).
To wrap up this study then, I recognize two deficiencies in my own life related to discipleship. First, I have often thought of discipleship as transferring information about the Bible and about Jesus to another person. I now see that discipleship is much more than transferring information. It also means spending time with another person – sharing life with another person – being “rather constantly associated with” another person.
Second, I have often thought that all I needed to do to make a disciple was to point someone to Jesus. I have learned that besides pointing them to Jesus, I must also demonstrate what it means to follow Jesus. This goes along with sharing my life with others. Thus, a disciple learns how to pray by watching a disciple-maker pray. A disciple learns how to serve others by watching a disciple-maker serve others. A disciple learns how to be a good spouse by watching how a disciple-maker interacts with his or her spouse.
Finally, I recognize that it takes very little “Bible knowledge” to be a disciple-maker. Instead, it takes someone who is seriously following Jesus, and is serious about sharing his or her life with others in order to see them following Jesus.
Therefore, as you go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ISV)