In part 5 of this series, we looked at how “being” must precede “doing” when it comes to discipleship. Having established abiding in Christ as a priority, we now look at the critically important work of making disciples.
Who Makes Disciples?
Before he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, Jesus told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” The short answer to the question “who makes disciples” is “other disciples.” Each disciple of Jesus has a part to play in the work of making disciples. Yes, pastors play an important part in teaching the church God’s word. Yes, some will have a particular giftedness for discipleship. But nowhere is the command to make disciples restricted to one special group or class of God’s people. All are called to the important work of disciple-making.
How Is a Disciple Made?
So let’s say that you agree with everything we’ve said so far about every disciple having a part to play in making more disciples. But now maybe you’re bumping up against a very practical question: “exactly how am I supposed to make a disciple? What all does that entail?”
The first (and most important) question to ask is “who am I in relationship with?” Disipleship can include a lot of things – classes, trainings, counseling, projects – but the bullseye of the target is simply life-on-life relationship. What do you know about Jesus? Share it with others. What have you learned about your heart and how to combat sin? Encourage others with some insight. What have you learned about the bible or the gospel? Tell someone else. The words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 model this for us: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (NIV).
Maybe you’re a new Christian and you feel like you don’t have much to share. That’s fine! It’s likely that you have lots of friends and family members who are not believers. Can you share the basic truths of the Christian faith with them? You might not realize this, but a lot of long-time Christians find themselves in a place where they don’t have many friends who aren’t also believers. You play a critically important role in the life of a church and the discipleship continuum.
Maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time – decades even – and you feel like your spiritual walk has hit a bit of a dry spell. Perhaps you should consider taking a younger believer under your wing and directly mentoring them for a period of time. Maybe you could do a systematic theology study with them. Or go through a book on defeating a particular sin or struggle. Perhaps you should offer to lead a class or a community group. Younger Christians need you, so don’t believe the lie that it would be bettter for you to just retire.
The Spiritual Disciplines
Let’s close this discussion with a brief exploration of the spiritual disciplines. Many people react negatively to the word discipline because it sounds like punishment or correction. Discipline can be corrective to be sure, but it can also be formative. For example, if someone gets up early every day to exercise, we say that they are a “disciplined” person. In our Christian journey, God has graciously given us a wide variety of disciplines that we are to use to help us grow and mature as disciples. Here are the main ones:
The starting point of all the spiritual disciplines is knowing God’s word. This includes sitting under biblical teaching and preaching, but should also include diving into God’s word for yourself. Reading the bible is the foundational spiritual discipline (Acts 17:11, Romans 12:2, 2 Timothy 2:15)
For many people, praying does not come naturally. Even Jesus’ own disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. In the bible, there are many good examples of prayer, including the prayer that Jesus himself taught his disciples (the Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13. There are many ways to pray, but the starting point is knowing that you are talking to your loving Father in heaven (Psalm 5:1-2, Luke 11:1-13, 1 Timothy 2:8).
This discipline is related to scripture reading and prayer, but it can take various forms, such as journaling, a day of silence & solitude, or Christian meditation. Please note that while various non-Christian forms of meditation focus on emptying the mind, the point of Christian meditation is to fill ones mind with the truth of God’s word (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 62:5, 119:15, Luke 5:16).
A biblical fast is abstaining from food for the purpose of focusing on prayer. Fasting is a helpful way for Christians to be reminded that God is the source of all life and that we are totally dependent on him (Nehemiah 1:4, Isaiah 58:3-7, Matthew 6:16-18).
Our sin nature makes us selfish. Serving others is one of the best ways to combat that selfishness and to grow as disciples. There is no shortage of ways that one can help and serve, both inside the church and reaching outside of the church (Mark 10:43, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 1 Peter 4:10).
Money is a very powerful tool. It’s so powerful, in fact, that Jesus speaks of money as a god who competes with the one true God for our hearts’ attention. Tithing to the church, supporting orphanages, giving to the poor, etc., are powerful ways for us to grow as disciples of Jesus and to combat our sinful tendency to worship money instead of God (Luke 16:13, 18:22-25, Acts 4:36-37, Romans 15:26, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15).