Have we over complicated, over-systematized, and over-formalized making disciples?
That’s the question that Bill Mowry asks in his new book Walk With Me: Simple Principles for Everyday Disciplemaking and discusses in this podcast interview with Darryl Dash from Gospel for Life.
It may be that we formalized and professionalized and systemized disciplemaking to a point where it just seems too complicated for many people to practice. So how do you declutter and de-professionalize the Great Commission?
The typical believer thinks that discipleship is only for ministry professionals to do. One popular book on disciplemaking has, at the end of the book, 32 things you need to disciple somebody in.
I can't even disciple myself in 32 things. How do I do that with somebody else?
Are we doing discipleship right?
When it comes to disciplemaking, the church tends to condense disciplemaking like a 12-week curriculum type of thing, a series of videos or a program that everybody could complete. At the end of the time you have a little checklist that you mark off and you assume that you've been discipled through this program through these books that you've read.
But God often changes people through the context of a relationship with somebody.
Disciplemaking really is an intentional process. God has his way of interrupting our programs and our curriculums and he sometimes works out his own outline.
As I've experienced and practiced disciplemaking over the years, I think that we can simplify it.
Programs and curriculums are helpful tools, but it's really more than that. Disciplemaking has to be in the context of a relationship, knowing that God often works in some slow ways. We want to be about building depth in people's lives and not just completing a program.
We want to be about building depth in people's lives and not just completing a program.
What makes a qualified discipler?
A lot of people feel like they really aren't ready to disciple other people. They feel like maybe in 10 or 20 years when they've grown more, then they can tell other people, “Walk with me and I will show you what it looks like to follow the Lord”.
What would you say to somebody who feels just that they're not ready to begin to invite somebody to walk with them?
The twelve disciples
When you look at Matthew 28, the Great Commission passage, Matthew 28:16-20 describes how the disciples showed up on this mountain that Jesus instructed them to come to. That's a great principle right there: disciplemaking starts when we show up.
Disciplemaking starts when we show up.
It says that they worshiped him and that some doubted (v. 17). That's an interesting statement that some doubted.
As we reflect on it, I don't think the doubt was regarding his resurrection. They've had repeated encounters with Jesus and I don't think the issue was his resurrection. So what did they doubt? I think the doubt was related to the sense of mission that they knew that Jesus was sending them on.
Right from the beginning in Matthew 4, Jesus says, “Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men”. In Mark 3, he chooses twelve to be with him and to be sent out to preach. There's always this sense of mission that they knew they were going to.
God often changes people through the context of a relationship.
Now, picture what happened a few days prior to that arrival in that mountain top. They had all deserted Jesus. Peter denied him three times!
If you ever have a group of people that feels totally unworthy, totally defeated, totally embarrassed and humiliated, it's this group of men. They're thinking, “He's going to give me a mission? Who am I that I can accomplish this mission”?
What Jesus does next is interesting. In that command to go and make disciples, he bookends or borders it with, “All authority has been given to me”. Then he says, “I'm going to be with you wherever you go”. So he sends them out in his authority and with his presence to always be with them.
I think it's a kind of like Jesus is writing this blank check saying, whatever you need to go and do the mission, I'm going to give it to you on the basis of my authority in my presence.
We can identify with these eleven men. Maybe we haven't denied Jesus or retreated to the extent that they had. But we feel very inadequate, and maybe sometimes ashamed of who we are, thinking, “How can I do this”? And yet God empowers us to do it!
Walking together, together
Another side of disciplemaking is this word picture of walking with me. We invite people to walk with us. On any path that we're walking on, it's as if there are distance markers. Some of us are up to mile marker three, some of us are up to mile marker six, some of us are up to mile marker ten.
Now we can only walk with people to the mile marker that we're at. So if I'm a young believer and I'm just getting some things figured out, let's say I'm at mile marker three. I can help somebody up to mile marker three, but I probably can't help him to get to six. This is where the body of Christ comes in.
Disciplemaking is a team sport that involves the whole body of Christ.
In the body of Christ, disciplemaking often becomes a singles match rather than a team sport. So the body is to be involved in discipleship at a team level. I can only take people as far as I've come in my relationship with Christ, but this whole body of believers out there that can take a person to the two mile mark, six mile mark, or whatever it might be.
I want to encourage you: you've got something to offer. Start right where you are. If you can only make it to mile marker three, that's great. You've got other people that can take somebody further. You've got to decide, "Do I want to go further to mile marker six? Maybe I need somebody to help disciple me to get to that point".
Discipleship can be intimidating
It might be a little intimidating because we might have to be honest about some of our struggles. Maybe we're having marriage problems. Are we dealing with a particular area of temptation? What if we don't know the answer, and we get stumped?
How would you deal with those areas where either we have to be open and vulnerable about our own struggles, or we don't know something?
Being Vulnerable in Discipleship
There's an interesting passage in the Gospel of Luke in Luke 22:28. Jesus is talking to the Twelve and he says, “You have been those who have stood by me in my trials”. That's an interesting statement because when we think about standing by somebody, it's more than just the physical presence of standing next them. You're standing next to them as a source of support and help. You're in relationship with them.
Standing by someone is more than just physical presence. It's relationship.
Jesus says these twelve men had stood with him not physically, but at a relational level in his trials. We know that Jesus was tempted in all ways that we are, but without sinning, and we see this gut-wrenching scene in the garden. If these men stood with Jesus, he must have told them when he was being tempted and struggling, because how else could they stand with him if they didn't know the circumstance?
We don't want to carry this too far because he is the Son of God, but there are multiple examples in the gospel of Jesus revealing his heart and what's going on in his life. The Master sets the example for us in how to be transparent with one another.
When you don't have an answer
It's not about giving the right answer. That's what I've seen too in disciplemaking.
It's like evangelism when we're fearful about starting faith conversations because we're afraid that somebody's going to ask is something we don't know. I have to admit, “Well, if I don't know, there's probably somebody else that does. I can go and ask them and get an answer for it”.
Disciplemaking is not about passing on information and people accumulating the right knowledge or doctrine. That's part of it. We want them to believe the right things. But it's really about imparting our life in Christ. Part of that life in Christ is having him meet us at our point of need, in our trials and temptations, and inviting him in.
Discipleship is not about passing on information or accumulating the right knowledge.
If I'm sharing with someone, “I'm really struggling with this, I'm asking God to help me in this”, that's inviting them both into my life. It's setting an example of how Christ can make a difference in my life, right at this point of need that I have.
Disciplemaking is not reserved only for the spiritual few. I just don't see that in the New Testament. We're engaging people in a life, in a walk.
We don't have to be perfect walkers. We don't have to be perfect in our life, but we invite people into what's happening now, and how God's at work.
Other key ideas about discipleship from this podcast
- Disciplemaking can be as simple as reading the Bible with another believer.
- Organic doesn’t mean haphazard. Organic discipling is highly intentional.
- It’s important for us to have a picture in our minds of what a disciple should know, do, and be.
- Be careful about discipling people into your preferences and applications.
- One of the keys to disciplemaking is demonstrating love to others.
- When people change slowly, remember that God works on a different timeline than we do.
- In your disciplemaking, aim to help others become disciplemakers by keeping your process simple, and by sometimes explaining why you do what you do.
- Build accountability, application, and affirmation into your disciplemaking relationships.
- Disciplemaking needs to be modeled before it’s planned.
- God still works through our disciplemaking efforts even when we make mistakes.
- Nobody is too old to be a disciplemaker with others.
Listen to the podcast above for more on disciplemaking.
This was originally posted on Gospel for Life with the permission of Darryl Dash.